& cplSiteName &

Is 4K Ultra HD in Cable's Future?

Craig Leddy
Heavy Lifting Analyst Notes
Craig Leddy

During the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), exhibitors displayed new television models with much clearer pictures. The sets created a buzz despite questions about consumer demand, high prices, transmission capabilities and a lack of content for them.

But this wasn't 2014. The year was 1998, and the new marvel was high-definition TV. The first HDTV sets hit the market that year, bearing a hefty retail price of about $8,000, according to The New York Times.

At that time, New York Times writer Joel Brinkley, who later wrote a revealing book about HDTV (Defining Vision: How Broadcasters Lured the Government into Inciting a Revolution in Television), said, "Properly displayed, these images are so sharp, so clear, that for many people the improvement changes the way they relate to television. Often, first-time viewers say they have the impression they are gazing through a window rather than looking at a picture."

History appears to be repeating itself. 4K Ultra High Definition TV has arrived and is producing similar buzz, questions, and pronouncements. And once again, the US cable industry is being asked to support a technology that barely exists yet. Is Ultra HD as inevitable as HDTV, or just a flash in the pan like 3DTV?

While the marketplace sorts out that question, the technological pieces are coming together to enable service providers to deliver 4K Ultra HD, according to a new Heavy Reading Cable Industry Insider, "4K Ultra HD: Big Opportunities, Big Challenges for Cable". The new report explores the key technologies, requirements and prospects throughout the distribution chain for cable to deliver 4K Ultra HD (also known as UHD).

For cable operators to distribute UHD, they must make changes throughout the video distribution chain, including UHD bandwidth capacity, higher video compression, and UHD-capable devices in the home, Heavy Reading says. But by meeting these requirements, cable will be poised to not only offer UHD content, but also revitalize HDTV, premium services, and video-on-demand (VoD).

Comcast is taking the lead with an Xfinity 4K app for Samsung UHD TVs and 4K-capable X1 set-top boxes later this year. Comcast sees UHD as part of an effort to implement high-efficiency video coding (HEVC) -- a next-generation video compression technology that is critical for delivering 4K UHD -- and expand IP bandwidth capacity. Comcast's interest is not only to add UHD to its service mix but also to push the boundaries of HDTV itself.

"We wanted to get an early start on this. It's going to make HD look better. All boats rise on this tide. We're not going to sit back on this one," said Mark Francisco, a fellow in the office of the CTO for Comcast, during an interview with Heavy Reading.

While cable operators could face competition similar to the satellite competition for HDTV, multiple system operators (MSOs) face a new competitive threat from over-the-top (OTT) providers, the report says. Netflix, Amazon and YouTube are among those planning to stream UHD content starting this year.

Despite the competitive threats and technical challenges, UHD will enter the market gradually enough to enable cable operators to prepare to meet the level of consumer demand, Heavy Reading says. UHD provides another motivation for cable to embrace HEVC and IP infrastructure upgrades. The report includes profiles of seven cable suppliers that have announced UHD technology products.

— Craig Leddy, Contributing Analyst, Heavy Reading Insider

4K Ultra HD: Big Opportunities, Big Challenges for Cable, a 16-page report, is available as part of an annual single-user subscription (six issues) to Heavy Reading Cable Industry Insider, priced at $1,595. Individual reports are available for $900. To subscribe, please visit: www.heavyreading.com/cable.

(7)  | 
Comment  | 
Print  | 
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View        ADD A COMMENT
4k Fanatic
4k Fanatic,
User Rank: Light Beer
1/8/2015 | 10:12:28 AM
4k will be an app on your TV
I think the intital thrust to 4K will focus on an app on your Smart TV, just like Comcast is doing now on Samsung TV's. This allows the cable providers to leverage customers existing equipement and avoiding the cost of upgrading their cable box.

Perhaps we will finally see the end of cable boxes as we know it.

User Rank: Light Sabre
3/11/2014 | 2:51:47 AM
Let's not go crazy here
My Comcast channel lineup has 25 pages of channels (about 18 or so channels per page).  Of these, 7 pages are for HD channels.  So about 18 pages of SD channels, or about two and a half times as many channels in SD as are in HD.  Now certainly some of these we don't care about, but there are lots we do.  I only have a couple of HBO channels in HD, while in SD there are eight.  And this is on a system where Comcast has completely reclaimed the analog channels.  If Comcast does deploy 4K anytime soon, it *will* be like the initial 3D deployments, which only worked on a limited number of STBs, and only supported a few channels.  Doesn't mean its going to stay that way, but there won't be a lot of 4K on TV anytime soon.  None of the existing boxes can handle it--most of them can't even handle h.264 video let alone the h.265 video required to allow 4K in reasonable bandwidth.  Add that to the fact that encoders are in the early days of their development and Comcast would have to devote a LOT of bandwidth to a 4K channel that very few people would ever watch.  Certainly its worth doing for the experience for a limited number of channels, but we won't be seeing a lot of this for several years at least.
User Rank: Light Beer
3/9/2014 | 10:13:28 PM
Re: 4K is awesome!
Yes I think the cable companies will broadcast what they will call 4K HD, but in Comcast's case at least, I expect they will rate shape the content as they do for HD today. Rate shaping allows them to call the content HD and fill a 1080 screen but large amounts of information have been removed. If you have the ability rent a 1080, good quality movie on itunes, or get one on Blu Ray and watch the same movie via comcast. By contrast the Comcast one will be lighter, less contrast because of the massive amounts of shaping they do, to conserve bandwidth.  
User Rank: Light Sabre
3/9/2014 | 3:17:55 PM
4K content
My cable bill tells me the MSOs are rolling in money.  They darn well better be able to get 4K content to me at $160 a month...
Liz Greenberg
Liz Greenberg,
User Rank: Light Sabre
3/7/2014 | 7:06:55 PM
Re: 4K is awesome!
@Moosh01, I don't think that the cable companies have a choice...it is either upgrade or go away.  Their competitors are the OTTs and to stay relevant they have to compete.  Additionally, they must meet the demands of their customers for higher bandwidth so that they can still deliver the OTTs (although the loss of net neutrality might affect this).  Either way, I know that both AT&T and Comcast are both installing a lot of new fiber where I live so they know the bit-writing on the wall.
User Rank: Light Beer
3/7/2014 | 6:05:01 PM
Re: 4K is awesome!
I don't see this happening.  Cable Companies would have to upgrade their copper infrastructure or it won't work well.  
User Rank: Light Sabre
3/7/2014 | 12:44:59 PM
4K is awesome!
I use a 4K monitor for my computuer.  Awesome for programming.  There isn't much 4K content out there though...
More Blogs from Heavy Lifting Analyst Notes
Fixed wireless broadband is the flavor of the month &ndash again &ndash but with a number of not-insignificant number of hurdles still to be overcome.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is building excitement, but still finding some barriers hard to overcome – specifically the need for very low-cost, power-frugal and ubiquitous networking. Enter low-power, wide-area (LPWA) networking, making powerful and inexpensive long-range networks for the IoT a reality.
AT&T and Amazon Web Services have planted flags in the ground that will shape the new landscape of collaborative partnerships for many years to come.
Huawei CEO Eric Xu finds inspiration in an unlikely place -- Harley-Davidson's drive to transform itself into a digital enterprise for the 21st century.
The ability to holistically analyze, in real time, any network data impacting customer experience is one reason why big data and analytics (BDA) will become a key network element in the near future.
Light Reading’s Upskill U is a FREE, interactive, online educational resource that delivers must-have education on themes that relate to the overall business transformation taking place in the communications industry.
Wednesday, October 26, 1:00PM EDT
Security: Tackling DDoS
Gary Sockrider, Principal Security Technologist, Arbor Networks
Friday, October 28, 1:00PM EDT
Security: The Plusses and Minuses of Open Source Software
Nick Feamster, Acting Director, Center for Information Technology Policy, Princeton University
Wednesday, November 16, 1:00PM EST
SDN 101
John Isch, Practice Director, Network & Voice, Orange Business Services
Friday, November 18, 1:00PM EST
SDN & Open Source
Christopher W. Rice, Senior Vice President of AT&T Labs, Domain 2.0 Architecture and Design
in association with:
From The Founder
Light Reading today starts a new voyage as part of a larger Enterprise.
Flash Poll
Live Streaming Video
Charting the CSP's Future
Six different communications service providers join to debate their visions of the future CSP, following a landmark presentation from AT&T on its massive virtualization efforts and a look back on where the telecom industry has been and where it's going from two industry veterans.
LRTV Custom TV
Next-Generation Technology Beyond DOCSIS 3.1

10|20|16   |     |   (0) comments

At SCTE 2016, Huawei's Liu Jianhua speaks with Alan Breznick for an exclusive interview.
LRTV Custom TV
Hybrid Video Solutions to Change TV, Change Future

10|20|16   |     |   (0) comments

At SCTE 2016, Huawei's Ian Locke speaks with Alan Breznick for an exclusive interview.
LRTV Custom TV
Huawei Future-Oriented Giga Coax Network

10|20|16   |     |   (0) comments

At SCTE 2016, Huawei's Allen Wang speaks with Alan Breznick for an exclusive interview.
LRTV Custom TV
Huawei at SCTE 2016

10|20|16   |     |   (0) comments

Join Alan Breznick of Light Reading and take a sneak peek at the Huawei booth at SCTE 2016.
LRTV Custom TV
Assuring Network Quality in a Rapidly Changing Environment

10|20|16   |     |   (0) comments

As the rate of change and complexity increases in agile networks, the importance of introducing DevOps methodologies for integrating active test and assurance solutions throughout the full service lifecycle becomes critical to ensure that customers are experiencing the service quality they demand. The industry landscape is changing, and software-based test and ...
Telecom Innovators Video Showcase
A10 Networks on Service Providers' Industry Needs

10|20|16   |     |   (0) comments

Light Reading's Steve Saunders hears how A10 enables service providers to accelerate, secure and optimize their application delivery to drive down costs, enhance service availability, and better respond to customer requirements, so they can improve customer satisfaction, monetize their network, and grow revenues.
LRTV Custom TV
New NFV Use Cases for Cable TV

10|19|16   |     |   (0) comments

A large number of NFV use cases are focused on the enterprise domain, looking at virtualization of customer-premises equipment (CPE). To date, there has been little focus on the use cases and business case for virtualization of the video content delivery networks required to deliver unicast and streaming video to consumers. Amdocs commissioned Analysys Mason to ...
Women in Comms Introduction Videos
Meet the Future Workforce: New Faces, Expectations & Motivations

10|19|16   |   5:33   |   (1) comment

Millennials and their younger peers, Gen Z, expect more out of their network and more out of their work. Intel's Lynn Comp shares how the industry can prepare for this new generation of workers.
LRTV Custom TV
ZTE Global Services User Congress 2016 Highlights

10|19|16   |     |   (0) comments

ZTE held its 2nd Global Service User Conference in Dusseldorf on October 13-14. Representatives from network operators, leading industry analysts and ZTE senior expertsattended the event, exploring the best practice in managed services and the vision to transform network operations into the operations center of the future (OpCF) in the software-defined networking ...
LRTV Custom TV
Cliff Grossner on Cloud & Network Synergy From Carrier Service

10|18|16   |     |   (0) comments

Local carriers offer the collaborated cloud and network service that benefits from their understanding of the regulations operating in different vertical markets.
In this interview, Cliff Grossner from IHS Technology talks about how this advanced service can support business agility and flexibility.
LRTV Custom TV
VeEX: Live from SCTE Cable-Tec Expo 2016

10|17|16   |     |   (0) comments

Cyrille Morelle, VeEX's President and CEO, talks with Light Reading's Alan Breznick live from the SCTE Cable-Tec Expo 2016. They discuss DOCSIS 3.1 technology, deployments and early lessons learned. New products on display include the CX350s-D3.1, CX380s-D3.1, CX310, AT2500-3G, FX150 OTDR and MTT WiFI Air Expert.
LRTV Custom TV
Smith Micro's Carrier-Grade WiFi Component

10|17|16   |     |   (0) comments

Join Carol Wilson of Light Reading as she interviews the CTO of Smith Micro, Dave Sperling.
Upcoming Live Events
November 3, 2016, The Montcalm Marble Arch, London
November 30, 2016, The Westin Times Square, New York City
December 1, 2016, The Westin Times Square, New York, NY
December 6-8, 2016, The Westin Excelsior, Rome
May 16-17, 2017, Austin Convention Center, Austin, TX
All Upcoming Live Events
Hot Topics
Attacks Have Major Internet Sites on the Ropes
Brian Santo, Senior editor, Test & Measurement / Components, Light Reading, 10/21/2016
Trump: Dump AT&T/TW & Comcast/NBC
Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading, 10/24/2016
Layer3 TV Comes to Town, Hints at Future
Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, 10/21/2016
Verizon Wants More Data on Yahoo Breach
Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading, 10/20/2016
WiCipedia: Grace Hopper Promotes Diversity, Girl Scouts Code & How to Thrive
Eryn Leavens, Special Features & Copy Editor, 10/21/2016
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed
BETWEEN THE CEOs - Executive Interviews
Join us for an in-depth interview between Steve Saunders of Light Reading and Alexis Black Bjorlin of Intel as they discuss the release of the company's Silicon Photonics platform, its performance, long-term prospects, customer expectations and much more.
There's no question that, come 2020, 5G technology will turn the world's conception of what mobile networking is on its head. Within the world of 5G development, Dr. ...
Animals with Phones
'Oh, Were You Looking for This?' Click Here
'I was just playing some games...'
Live Digital Audio

A vital part of increasing the number of women in comms is transforming the ways companies can support and empower women. While progressive company policies that support both men and women in achieving work-life balance are a step in the right direction, creating a company culture that supports those policies can at times be more challenging.

During this show, we'll talk to Lynn Comp, Senior Director of Industry and Sales Enabling (ISE) in the Network Platforms Group at Intel, about why those challenges exist and how companies can overcome them. She'll provide insight into how Intel has worked to create a culture that supports work-life balance, and provide steps and guidance for other companies wishing to do the same. We will also leave plenty of time to get your questions answered live on the air.