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European Broadcast Union argues case for future 4K HDTV

The EBU Technical Assembly met in arctic Norway recently to plot the future of video production and distribution with a strong focus on HD. One of the main talking points was whether the emerging 4K standard gaining ground for movies and computer graphics will be adopted for broadcast TV, with differing views among EBU members.

4K is a standard for video display, so called because it specifies around 4000 pixels in the horizontal direction. The adoption of 4K by the EBU and other bodies would represent a standards convergence between film and TV, since standards for the latter including 720p and 1080p specify the number of pixels in the vertical direction rather than the horizontal. The film industry decided to specify in the horizontal because this made it easier to handle the many different aspect ratios, which could then be addressed by varying the vertical resolution.

Current HD services around the world are either 720p or 1080i, while the gold standard that many believe will be deployed over the next few years is 1080p with double the resolution. But the question is whether the industry will regard 1080p as representing too small an improvement to be worth the effort and instead jump to 4K. The version that could be deployed is in fact called Quad HD/4K, providing more than four times the resolution of 1080p HD, and at 3840 x 2160 pixels, is just slightly less than the current 4K digital cinema specification.

In favor of Quad HD/4k is the fact that it will not be too difficult to incorporate in new TV sets, and it should be transmissible over existing HDMI cables. Furthermore, if the quality really is mind blowing, it could usurp 3-D as the next big thing, avoiding the need for viewing goggles. On the other hand, as some at EBU argue, 4K of any kind may be overkill for most domestic TVs, only providing a noticeable improvement over even 720p and 1080i, never mind 1080p, on the largest TV monitors. By this reckoning, 1080p may be the way forward after all, slipping in almost unnoticed by the public without any significant hike in prices. But the TV manufacturers may not agree, preferring a radical step change in technology to justify a new generation of premium products at high prices.