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Video Vendors Bet Big on 4K in Vegas

Alan Breznick

LAS VEGAS -- NAB Show 2014 -- In case there were any doubt, 4K Ultra HD video will soon be coming to a TV set, tablet, smartphone, camera, and/or other video-enabled device near you.

That much is evident from a quick glance around the vast exhibit floor at the annual National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) convention here this week. Video technology vendors of all stripes are showing off beautifully crisp 4K pictures on one big screen after another while hawking the equipment and software tools needed to deliver the Ultra HD signals to home viewers without breaking the bank or clogging the distribution pipe.

In one prime example, Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Sony Corp. (NYSE: SNE) are joining forces on the convention floor to demonstrate the live delivery of full-frame-rate 4K video for the first time. The demo, which is taking place at both the Cisco and Sony booths, is showing what live events look like when streamed at the 60-frame rate, which is considered optimal for the new video format.

Befitting this notable event, Cisco and Sony are going to great lengths for the 4K demo. Captured on Sony's F55 4K video cameras, the event is being encoded in the new High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) format by Cisco's Videoscape AnyRes platform. The stream then gets transported from New York, where the event is taking place, to Las Vegas via a fiber optic network. At the Las Vegas Convention Center, the live stream is decoded by a Cisco 4K-enabled set-top box and displayed on Sony's XBR 4K Ultra HD TVs. (Got all that?)

In another prime example of 4K's rise to prominence here, Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) is showing off its own vision of the 4K-enhanced video future. In a private meeting room at its booth, Ericsson is using a huge, 84-inch TV screen to demonstrate all the interactive features, navigational enhancements, and social media goodies that it plans to bring to home viewers over the next couple of years, along with the ultra-crispy Ultra HD pictures.

Tech executives said they're doing the demos and showing the displays this spring because 4K's development is coming along fast and furious. With 4K TVs already coming on the market and dropping in price, such online video powers as Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX) starting to stream programming in the Ultra HD format, such major pay-TV providers as DirecTV Group Inc. (NYSE: DTV) and Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) gearing up to distribute 4K content to their subscribers, and HEVC encoding chipsets in development, they said all the necessary elements are now coming together.

In fact, Joe Cozzolino, SVP and GM of service provider video infrastructure for Cisco, confidently predicted that 4K video will be a force in the US consumer electronics market by the fall. "It's really going to hit its peak as we hit the next holiday season," he said in a phone interview late last week. "It's starting to feel like it's just going to happen."

Cozzolino, who was quite skeptical about the similar industry hype over 3D-TV just a few years ago, argued that 4K is very different from 3D because Ultra HD is a more natural upgrade from standard HD, actually produces a sharper picture, and doesn't require viewers to wear those goofy, annoying 3D glasses, among other things. "I think we'll see a lot of chatter around 4K at NCTA [the Cable Show]," he said. "It's just the next evolution."

When standard HDTV first emerged in the video market more than a decade ago, satellite TV provides got a big jump on cable operators in rolling it out to their subscribers, leaving MSOs scrambling to catch up for years. But Cozzolino doesn't believe that will happen this time around with Ultra HD, despite vows by DirecTV to be first US pay-TV provider with 4K.

"We're already working with a number of cable operators around 4K," he said, without naming names. "I don't think there's going to be this big gap." If the HEVC chipsets arrive on time, he expects to see cable operators start to deploy set-top boxes and IP client devices capable of 30-frame 4k resolution in the second half of 2015, followed by full-fledged home video gateways capable of full 60-frame resolution shortly after that.

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— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading

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Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
4/9/2014 | 7:22:55 PM
After 3D
After the fiasco of 3D, I'm skeptical of further TV upgrades. The world seems to be moving on to watching video on mobile devices, rather than big boxes in the living room. 
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