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Mass market UHD a decade away

The ecosystem for Ultra HD (UHD) services will be ready by 2017, but mass deployment will not follow until at least 2023.

This is the finding of a report by media analyst group IHS, whose author Tom Morrod suggested it will take 10 years for there to be enough homes, content and distribution capability for large scale deployment of UHD. However he suggested that the Olympic Games in 2016 would give a powerful leg up to UHD since by then some broadcasters would be able to deliver pilot services, while this would not really be the case in 2014 for the World Cup. There will though be some 4K content around the World Cup, with FIFA having announced that it will be working alongside Sony and HBS to produce at least the event’s Final in UHD 4K format.

But Morrod identified 2017 as the pivotal year for UHD, by which time it will be about where HD was in 2002. By then, about 3 percent of homes in the U.S. will have a UHD set, which is a tipping point for early deployments, making production of UHD content commercially viable. At the same time. the rest of the ecosystem will also be sufficiently advanced in the U.S., although the same level of maturation would not be reached in most other developed countries until 2018 to 2021.

Looking further ahead, the IHS report predicts that by 2020, there will be more than 200 UHD channels worldwide, rising to more than 1000 by 2025, when UHD TV will have completed the journey from technical standards to commercial mass market. This is broadly similar to HD TV, which became a technical standard in 1990, but took 12 years more for ecosystem availability in 2002 before the mass market arrived in 2006. IHS believes that UHD will come faster, driven by the higher levels of investment and greater experience of infrastructure deployment. IHS also predicts that take-up of UHD-capable TVs will be accelerated by TV manufacturers bringing out screens of 50in or bigger, suggesting that by 2025, almost half of all TVs shipped will be UHD-capable.

Yet attendees at the recent Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineeers’ one-day symposium on UHD TV might have concluded that IHS is painting a rosy view of 4K’s prospects. The feeling expressed there was that although UHD-capable TV sets will become widely available, there is a danger it could be a repeat of the “full HD” 1080p HD story. Despite the fact TV sets are fully HD-capable, few services at that resolution are available.

One suggestion is that the UHD movement will finally deliver 1080p. So rather than having 1080p capable TV sets displaying pictures at the lower 720p or 1080i HD resolutions as at present, we could end up with UHD-capable sets displaying 1080p.