Updated: OTT, HDR, 4K and Last Rites for 4:3

INDIAN WELLS, CALIF.—The usual suspects and then some fielded questions about where the industry is going during the annual broadcast panel at the Hollywood Post Alliance Tech retreat this week. The discussion ranged from ATSC 3.0, HDR, 4K, OTT and when protecting for 4:3 will go away.

“Now that there’s nearly 90 percent penetration of HD sets, when can we drop shoot-and-protect?” Mark Schubin asked the group.

Bob Seidel of CBS said that while there are a lot of high-definition sets in homes, fewer actually get HD content through the set-top, and fewer still actually watch HD content. He said about 36 percent of the TV audience still watches standard-definition fare... (...not!Ed Note: Adam Wilt believed this was 36 percent watching in HD. I have the query in to Mr. Seidel. ~ DMc.... And here is what Mr. Seidel said:
“The Nielsen study says 86 percent of U.S. households have at least one HDTV set, however only 36 percent of U.S.HH are watching in ‘True HD,’ which is defined as:
1. Having an HD set top box.
2. Have the HD set-top box connected to the HDTV set correctly (HDMI or component Y.Pb.Pr) (i.e. not with a coax cable for viewing Ch.-3/4 or NTSC composite).
3. Tuned to the HD version of the signal vs Standard Definition. (Ex ch 702 vs ch-2)
So 64 percent of USHH are watching in SD in 4:3. This is true for all broadcast, cable and satellite channels.”)

Mario Vecchi of PBS said the majority PBS viewers watch in standard def.

“In addition to that, there’s the multicast aspect, and those are in standard definition,” he said. “We all would like to see everything in HD, but there’s still a long ways to go.”

Fox’s Richard Friedel said all of his network’s HD content is protected for 4:3, the aspect ratio associated with standard-def. Dave Siegler of Cox volunteered that Cox stations stopped center-cut protecting news about a year ago, and they haven’t heard a word of complaint.

With regard to over-the-top TV, Seidel offered an overview of CBS All Access. It starts with an app from iTunes or the Google Play Store that enables reception of local CBS stations signals on smartphones via Wi-Fi, then 4G, then 3G, he said.

“It will determine if you are in the coverage area of the station,” he said. “As you move from city to city, it will track you, change the local station that you’re watching and report back to Nielsen” with preview data.

“Underneath is SyncBack, which uses geolocation technology, cellphone triangulation, hotspots, etc., to determine where device is.

“We grant licenses to local affiliates,” who get a cut, he said. “If you’re between coverage areas—Baltimore and Washington for example—you’ll get both stations.”

If the geolocation function is punked in a jailbreak, the jailbreak itself is punked the next time a song is downloaded from iTunes, he said.

Seidel said users get everything they would get over the air, except NFL football, and they also have access to the 5,000-title CBS library.

In other acronym-related news, Maxime Caron of Radio Canada/CBC said UHD and HDR—ultra high-def or almost 4KTV and high dynamic range—could offer “a much better experience, but you also need to control that across different devices, particularly in the color space. On the handset, the color space changes. We need to control the experience as much as possible.”

Mark Aitken of Sinclair said the key is to apply visual enhancements as needed.

“All those acronyms are the marketplace of the future, but it comes down to bit allocation for me. If you’re doing ‘I Love Lucy,’ you probably don’t need 4K with all the letters involved.

“From a transitional point, there’s a large role for scalable video codecs,” he said. “It’s the notion of providing higher quality HD as a base layer and an enhancement layer that scales up to 4K, HDR, etc… It may be across multiple platforms.

“There’s no avoiding the fact that the consumer sees high dynamic range and wider color gamut, but the viewing environment may not provide the best circumstance to view 4K,” he said. “If you look at what’s happening with scalers and interpolation, you end up with great looking 4K display device presentation with high-quality.”

ATSC 3.0 sparked a wide-ranging conversation that covered what the goals of doing it, when it might be completed, and how it could be implemented. See more at “ATSC 3.0 Prototypes Expected in 2016.”