With much less
was introduced in the
market 15 years ago, the
first UHDTVs started
appearing in major consumer
showrooms this spring.
Looking for a modest
55-inch set to replace your current one?
You can drop a cool $5,000 on the Sony
XBR55X900, which it announced at the
NAB Show. For even less than that, you
can purchase a Seiki Digital 50-inch screen
for $1,400. A digital cinema enthusiast can
splurge for a $17,000 LG 84-inch UHDTV.
Apart from a lighter wallet and neighborhood
tech bragging rights, what are you
really getting for all that? If you’re expecting
what the marketers tell you, you’re getting
state-of-the- art display technology but
you’re also in for some frustration if expectations
don’t meet reality.
What is the reality of UHDTV/4KTV
today? A lot like it was in the early days of
HDTV; that is, beautiful displays that looked
nice on the wall but very little to no content.
But unlike 15 years ago, expectations
weren’t as high as they are today either. Back
then, showing an analog picture side-by-side
with HD was an eye opening experience for
many consumers who were just beginning
to enjoy digital quality imaging via DVDs
(one could argue that it was DVDs that influenced consumers’ attitude about picture
resolution more than HDTV). Today, with a
TV life cycle replacement of 6-8 years, many
viewers are just beginning to replace their
first HDTV sets and many of them became
disillusioned with the rapid rise and fall of
3DTV and are understandably skeptical
about the next generation of TV technology.
A few of the major consumer electronics
companies are aware of this and are trying
to dampen enthusiasm. Several months
ago, a Samsung executive told a gathering in
Europe that when it comes to content, the
current crop of UHDTVs are not market-ready.
“No UHD TV today will be compatible
with UHD standards to come,” said Michael
Zoeller, Samsung’s senior director of sales
and marketing for the company’s Europe
market, according to TV Technology sister
publication TWICE. Zoeller added that although
Samsung’s line of UHDTVs offers an
“Evolution kit” that keeps its S9 85-inch UHD
backlit TV updated, even that will not last beyond four or five years.
With major manufacturers bleeding red
ink over declining profits from TV set sales,
the early decisions will go to those who
also own the content. Sony, for example,
is offering three 4K mastered 4K Blu-ray
discs with the purchase of a new Sony 4K
Ultra HDTV. For others though, the road to
4K content will be a long hard slog.
Some primetime television programming
is being shot in 4K and that’s only
expected to increase as production costs
decline. Such future-proofing includes the
ability to distribute that content to consumers,
but simply put, the lack of infrastructure
and evolving standards are standing
in the way.
There are intermediate solutions, however.
Upconverting 1080P content sounds
promising except when you consider that
very little of it is being broadcast to consumers
already due to bandwidth constraints.
Sharp’s new Ultra HD set offers advanced
upscaling technology but early reviews
have been mixed. Broadcasters are still years
away from sending 4K pictures over the air,
although the pressure of spectrum auctions
and market demand could put pending standards
such as ATSC 3.0 on the “fast track.”
Ericsson recently demonstrated the first
successful end-to-end transmission of true
4K UHD via satellite to Turner Broadcasting’s
facilities in Atlanta. Netflix’s anticipated
launch of 4K programming will present an
interesting look at how such files are handled
in an increasingly crowded broadband
environment. And new standards such as
6G-SDI and HEVC and the increasing use of
fiber in the facility make the future 4K facility
As recently as a year ago, there was a
high degree of skepticism in the broadcast
engineering community about the future
validity of 4K for the consumer market.
That has subsided somewhat with the introduction
of 4K-ready production gear
introduced at this year’s NAB Show and
the even more rapid market introduction
of UHDTV. But as we report in this issue’s
cover story on the format, putting all the
pieces together for a true end-to-end 4K
production/distribution workflow will
take a bit longer. If content is the lifeblood
of the media facility today, we’re going to
need larger, more efficient arteries.