4K or 3D? The future remains unclear

This year’s Consumer Electronics Show was highly focused on the next level of television set technology, called Ultra HD. In the professional world, we call it 4K. While the technologies are similar, they are, in fact, not precisely the same. But that’s a topic for another discussion. In the professional world, 4K is a topic of high interest. Even so, that doesn’t mean broadcasters share the same interest level as do TV set makers. Manufacturers and others with vested interest are proclaiming the future is now for Ultra HD and that it (4K) will be the new 3D. (See 3D is dead--long live 4K) .

In order to get a more accurate look at this industry perceives 3D and 4K, SCRI Broadcast Pro Video Research, in conjunction with Broadcast Engineering magazine, conducted a February survey among the magazine’s subscribers. While the survey covered a range of topics and key technologies, survey respondents were specifically asked about their plans to implement 3D and 4K technologies.

4K: here or tomorrow?

The results indicate that engineers and managers remain unconvinced about the need to immediately begin 4K production. In fact, the largest proportion of respondents didn’t even know when 4K production might need to start: 40.9% of TV stations, 57.9% of cable stations and 42.4% of production/post facilities.

Of those that reported either already producing content in 4K or planning to do so within two years, production/post facilities’ were the most optimistic about the technology: 37.5%, compared to 10.5% of cable stations and 10% of TV stations.

More TV stations, 24.4%, believe that they will be producing 4K in 2015 or beyond, compared to 18.4% of cable stations and 15.3% of production/post facilities. Only 4.9% of production/post facilities believe that they will “never” produce content in 4k, compared to 16% of TV stations and 13.2% of cable stations.

Overall, production/post facilities are the most bullish regarding producing 4K content compared to both TV and cable facilities. Perhaps that to be expected because production/post houses may be more focused on content life, rather than transmission. Television and cable facilities may be more focused on getting content to viewers and right now those pipes will not accommodate 4K bandwidths.


Regarding 3D content production, there were fewer “don't knows” than for 4K – 40.9% of TV stations, 27.5% of cable and 42.7% of production/post. With respect to 3D, there were significantly more facilities that believe that they will “never” produce 3D content, 31.5% for TV stations (vs. 16% for 4K); 30% for cable stations (vs. 13.2% for 4K); and 23.1% for production/post (vs. 15.3% for 4K).

Of those that reported either already producing content in 3D or planning to do so within two years, production/post facilities were again the most optimistic – 28%. In the 3D arena, cable stations were also somewhat optimistic with 22.5% either already producing 3D content or planning to do so in 2013/14. TV stations lag behind in 3D content production – only 10.2% already do so or plan to this or next year.

TV and cable facilities are more likely to be putting 3D content production off until 2015 or beyond – 17.3% for TV and 20% for cable stations versus only 6.3% for production/post facilities.

Bottom line, production and post facilities are more supportive of 3D content production than either TV or cable stations. 

4K vs. 3D

When combining the responses from survey respondents, it is apparent that:

• There is still more uncertainty about 4K than 3D – 43.9% “don’t know” vs. 37.5% for 3D

• Slightly more facilities are already producing content for 3D --13.6% vs. 8.5% for 4K

• This reverses for those planning to produce content in 3D/4K in 2013/14 – 6.4% for 3D vs. 12.6% for 4K

• Similarly, slightly more stations and cable facilities expect to produce 4K content in 2015 or beyond (19%) versus 3D (11%).

• About twice as many stations and cable plants expect to “never” produce content for 3D (31.5%) as opposed to 4K (15.9%)

By When 3D 4K

Already doing 13.6% 8.5%

2013 3.0% 5.1%

2014 3.4% 7.5%

2015 or beyond 11.0% 19.0%

Never 31.5% 15.9%

Don't Know 37.5% 43.9%

* Measured over all survey responses:

4K technology comments:

In late January, SCRI ran a poll and asked for comments regarding the future of 4K. Many of the responses show skepticism in rapid adoption of 4K. Here are some of the responses. The entire comments section is available here.

• Paul Scott: Over and above the technical viability of deploying 4K, which I think can be sorted. This is very similar to the 3D question. It comes down to, “When will the consumer market demand higher resolution?” There has to be some value add hook. I see value in the “Multiview” application perhaps. That possibly would enable a single network to stream multiple HD feeds to a given user on multiple displays. But again with the consumer market moving to smaller more mobile devices does this make sense? We have all been working to create the “Bigger Better” viewing experience but I see the market moving towards a more mobile viewing experience. So in my opinion, we’ll have to create the hooks to make the market want to move to 4K. Bottom line!

• Patrick Sullivan: It’s just a little too early to scrap the 720P & 1080I systems. It’s barely paid for, yet, and there are some stations are not even HD yet…This is a set for a market that does not rely on current infrastructure. Theaters, etc.. Considering how long it took plain ole HD to launch, I think with 4K, and it’s big brother, 8K, it’s going to be years in just changing the infrastructure, much less Joe Average spending $10K + for a 55″ OLED 4K Flat screen!

• Ned Soseman: It’s a great production format but I don’t see it coming to living rooms anytime soon.

• Joel Appelbaum: I think the biggest impediment (in addition to major infrastructure costs) will be getting 4K content over existing cable and satellite distribution. It’s a lot more bandwidth and these providers are already maxed out.

Bottom line

• 4K appears to have the upper hand over 3D when it comes to the next level of content production

• Even so, 4K does not appear to be quite ready for prime time until at least 2015 or beyond

• This notwithstanding, the numbers show that 4K build outs could earlier as facilities seek to protect their investment in content life and delivery capability.

The full SCRI report, covering several technology issues (3D, 4K, Mobile TV, Video production in the Cloud) as well as equipment budget and purchase trends and brand and model shares is available from SCRI or contact SCRI Co-Founder & Research Director, Desmond Chaskelson at des_chas@scri.com

The data and report is based on the results of a closed-end structured questionnaire survey of Broadcast Engineering subscribers. A series of three emails was sent to the list in Feb 2013 to obtain survey responses. The survey’s $100 incentive winner was selected at random from those survey respondents, the winner is Mark Mohesky, Media production Supervisor, Wichita Public Schools.