Is 4K Ultra HD in Cable's Future?
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.