What Tom Said: Hatching the UHD Egg

Tom Butts

As our industry heads to Amsterdam for the annual IBC Show, decisionmakers and vendors alike will get updates on the latest technologies in the electronic media market. The trends will be similar to those we saw at the NAB Show earlier this year: the cloud, IP, mobile and 4K/UHDTV.

In addition to the new gear on the exhibit floor, sessions at the five-day show will include several papers on advances in high-resolution imaging, addressing capture and display, as the industry continues to debate the importance of contrast and frame rate over resolution in a UHD environment. SMPTE is hosting a session including panelists from Europe, Asia and North America to discuss whether it’s prudent to make an all-out effort towards 4K UHD or wait until 8K UHD-2. NHK will return with its 8K Super Hi Vision demonstration, including new footage shot during the FIFA World Cup, in stunning 8K resolution and 120 progressive frames per second, and 22.2 channel audio.

Despite continued skepticism over delivery methods and content availability— as well as an increasing tendency for millennials to give preference to mobile video—UHD marches on. A number of developments over the past several months have helped clarify the necessary elements for the format’s success around the world:

• In May, Netflix began streaming 4K versions of its original “House of Cards” series and added the entire “Breaking Bad” series and several recent theatrical flicks to its Ultra HD streaming service a month later.

• In June the Consumer Electronics Association adopted core characteristics for UHDTVs, voluntary guidelines for consumer sets that take effect this month, including color bit depth of eight bits and native content resolution at 3840x2160, at 24, 30 and 60 fps;

• In July, the DVB confirmed specifications for UHDTV and OTT in Europe, which now includes an HEVC Profile for the DVB broadcasting standard and adopts 10-bit color depth, as well as support for frames rates up to 60 fps.

• In August, SK Broadband, South Korea’s second largest broadband Internet service announced the launch of a service that upscales full HD content into UHD using a “proprietary solution.”

While not overly groundbreaking, these incremental steps are needed to address the missing pieces to the UHD pie: standardization, content and delivery.

As retailers attempt to transition consumers from boring old 1080p HD to eye-popping UHD, the manufacturers are banding together to prime the pump, in advance of the all important holiday season as well as the equally important 2015 Consumer Electronics Show in January. Last month, Sony, Sony Pictures, Samsung, LG and Best Buy announced a collective multi-industry 4K promotional campaign, dubbed “Believing Begins Here,” developed in coordination with the Consumer Electronics Association. The effort will include in-store demonstrations every Saturday from now until Black Friday as well as an advertising campaign in movie theaters.

As consumers attempt to navigate the variety of formats and options in determining whether to take the UHD plunge, they’ll have more options than they did 15 years ago when the HD transition got underway, including curved and OLED displays and OTT streaming. But the one common factor tying the two transitions is content and delivery, leading to a conundrum not unfamiliar to our industry. As Peter Ostapiuk, vice president of media product management at Intelsat, described the current lack of UHD content and delivery options in Peter Sucio’s story on 4K, “it is a ‘chicken-and-egg’ situation.”

TV makers and Hollywood are determined to hatch that egg a lot faster this time around.

Tom Butts

Tom has covered the broadcast technology market for the past 25 years, including three years handling member communications for the National Association of Broadcasters followed by a year as editor of Video Technology News and DTV Business executive newsletters for Phillips Publishing. In 1999 he launched digitalbroadcasting.com for internet B2B portal Verticalnet. He is also a charter member of the CTA's Academy of Digital TV Pioneers. Since 2001, he has been editor-in-chief of TV Tech (www.tvtech.com), the leading source of news and information on broadcast and related media technology and is a frequent contributor and moderator to the brand’s Tech Leadership events.