Gentlemen, Start Your 4K Engines
As anticipated, the race to deliver 4K video programming to the home is now on among pay-TV providers, consumer electronics makers, and other major players.
In a flurry of moves at the CES show in Las Vegas this week, Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), DirecTV Group Inc. (NYSE: DTV), Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX), and Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN) all announced deals with Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (Korea: SEC) to deliver UltraHD video programming to Samsung's new line of 4K TV sets later this year. In addition, Samsung will team up with M-Go, a joint venture of Technicolor (Euronext Paris: TCH; NYSE: TCH) and DreamWorks LLC that streams movies and TV shows, to deliver 4K programming as well.
The CES announcements were not terribly surprising. Most, if not all, of these companies have already said (or at least broadly hinted) that they would start delving into UltraHD in 2014 as more 4K TVs hit the market, set prices keep falling, and the new, bandwidth-saving High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) technology is put into service.
But the speed and breadth of the Samsung announcements, along with the other 4K alliances revealed at CES thus far, are still enough to take one's breath away. With the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, taking place in February and the soccer World Cup tournament in Brazil set for the summer, 4K could soon become a household word around the planet as content and service providers produce and distribute their UltraHD fare.
At first, the new 4K content will predominantly be streamed to the new UltraHD TVs. For instance, Comcast said it will launch a special 4K app on the new Samsung sets that will enable the MSO's Xfinity TV customers to stream "a variety of 4K UHD movies and TV shows" from the Internet on an on-demand basis. Comcast said it's also working with programmers, including its own NBC Universal unit, to develop a "library of 4K UHD choices" for Xfinity TV subscribers to sample.
The service providers don't plan to stop with streaming, though. They also intend to deploy new 4K set-top boxes that will use the new HEVC standard to decode 4K video and deliver it to UHD TV sets without consuming nearly as much bandwidth.
To take Comcast as an example again, the MSO said it aims to start deploying new 4K-capable X1 set-tops sometime later this year. With these new set-tops in place, Comcast will be able to deliver 4K programming to all UHD TVs, not just Samsung's new family.
As for 4K programming, look for the first UHD content to emerge from the Sochi Games, which begin February 7. Speaking on a 4K panel at CES Tuesday, Comcast CTO Tony Werner said NBC will produce some 4K content from Sochi. But, according to various press reports, he declined to say what or how much.
Beyond that effort, NBC Universal and such other major players as Netflix, Amazon, and the big Hollywood movie studios are working on developing 4K content as well. At CES, for example, Amazon said it will team with Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. , Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: LGF), 20th Century Fox , Discovery Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: DISCA, DISCB, DISCK), and other programmers to produce UHD titles for Amazon Instant Video subscribers.
So the race to deliver 4K video to consumers is clearly on. Now the big question is whether consumers will actually want to take it or whether 4K, like 3D TV before it, will prove to be out of focus.
— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading