LAS VEGAS -- NAB Show -- Is the market for 4K video ready to take off after several years of hope and hype?
Sony Pictures certainly hopes so. As reported late last month, the major Hollywood movie and TV studio has just launched a 4K/Ultra HD movie streaming service. Known as Ultra, the new streaming service serves up new and classic films from the Sony Pictures store to viewers with Sony 4K Ultra HD TVs for a pricey $30 a title. (See 4K & VR Trickle Out... Slowly.)
Univision hopes so too. The big Spanish-language broadcaster streamed the first live 4K soccer broadcast in North America two months ago, using OTT distribution. Based on that successful pilot, Univision Deportes plans to stream several more live soccer matches in 4K to North American fans this summer and fall. (See Live 4K TV Sports Picking Up Speed.)
And so does AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T). Its new DirecTV unit made 4K history earlier this month when it teamed with CBS to deliver The Masters golf tournament in full UHD glory, becoming the first US pay-TV provider to stream a live event in 4K. Emboldened by that move, DirecTV has now started streaming 25 MLB games live in 4K to subscribers with the right home equipment, even though it struck out with its first attempted broadcast last week.
Yet, even with these notable advances in UHD delivery, the consumer market for 4K video programming remains largely nascent and unproven. It's still by no means clear whether viewers will embrace UHD as the new HD or dismiss it as another consumer electronics industry gimmick, like the gone-but-not-forgotten 3D TV effort.
Moreover, as the annual National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) convention unfolds here this week, significant obstacles to 4K's success remain. These obstacles include a lack of established standards for 4K production and delivery, the high bandwidth needs of UHD video, a lack of integrated 4K-enabling hardware, high production costs, an extremely complex delivery ecosystem and a lack of strong consumer demand for the technology. These are all good reasons why the 2016 Olympic Games from Brazil will not be carried in 4K this summer.
Nevertheless, there is still plenty of optimism in the video industry that UHD will prove to be the new HD, not the new 3D. Especially with the incorporation of promising high dynamic range (HDR) technology to highlight UHD's sharper resolution, many TV technologists believe that 4K will take hold over time and are feverishly preparing the way for that day.
These technologists are addressing both the opportunities and challenges of 4K at the NAB Show this week. In a special roundtable session hosted by NeuLion Inc. and moderated by me Tuesday evening, for instance, leading technologists from Sony Corp. (NYSE: SNE) NEP, Univision, NeuLion Inc. and Limelight Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: LLNW) will tackle these issues and more in what promises to be a spirited debate.
To find out more about this free one-hour session, "Building the 4K Live Streaming Ecosystem," and sign up for it, please click on this registration link. We'll do our best to make the 4K picture clearer.
This blog is sponsored by NeuLion.
— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading