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4K/8K Video

What's Blocking 4K TV Today

AUSTIN, Texas -- Big Communications Event – At least three major challenges are still hampering the rollout and adoption of 4K/UHD TV right now, including heavy bandwidth demands, a lack of available content and the cost and complexity of 4K set-top boxes, according to a panel of experts assembled here last week.

As has been spelled out before, bandwidth continues to be a major constraint for 4K, especially as programmers start ramping up with UHD content. The three panelists participating in the 4K session in Austin agreed that each stream/channel in UHD requires at least 25 Mbit/s, although that can vary widely depending on a number of factors, including whether the content is delivered on-demand or live, and what type of content it is.

Bandwidth isn't necessarily the big concern for all service providers, though. Wesley Hicks, senior product manager at EXFO (Nasdaq: EXFO; Toronto: EXF), noted that he's seeing a number of 4K rollouts in Asia, where many deployments are greenfield and thus are more likely to be carried out on all-fiber networks (FTTH). As a result, he said, bandwidth seems to be less of a constraint for these operators.

Content remains another key challenge. While there's some UHD programming being offered today by such providers as Sony Corp. (NYSE: SNE), Univision , Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX) and Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN), the content pool is still limited for the most part.

Monica Revare, director of content partnerships at Layer3 TV , said many programmers are still wary of committing to 4K after getting their fingers burned with 3D TV, which turned into a major fiasco. She noted, though, that Layer3 TV viewers love the 4K content they can see today, stating that almost all 4K content uploaded to Layer3's VoD service ranks among the top 10 most-viewed titles within 24 to 48 hours.

For its part, BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA) has invested heavily in UHD sports, originally building a specialized facility to support coverage of the London Olympics back in 2012. Neil McRae, chief network architect at BT Group, said the provider has since expanded on that initiative by buying the rights to top-flight European and English soccer and launching sports channels of its own, built from the ground up. Coverage of these games is offered in 4K, and BT subscribers in the UK can get 4K-compatible set-top boxes to view it. (Games are also available via the web and mobile devices for subscribers.)


Want to know more about video and TV market trends? Check out our dedicated video services content channel here on Light Reading.


The three panelists disagreed over the depth of the problem in deploying 4K set-tops. While such major service providers as Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) in the US have delayed their rollouts of UHD service due to unresolved issues with set-top boxes, others, such as BT in the UK, have moved forward quite briskly. (See Comcast Has a New Timeline After 4K Delay and Comcast Appears to Soft Launch First 4K DVR.)

Hicks said some of EXFO's clients in Asia are worried by the higher costs of UHD STBs. But other panelists said that there wasn't really an issue here. For example, Revare said Layer3 had just gone ahead and built its STB based on what it felt was required for a robust 4K service. And in fact, it is now delivering UHD services using that STB.

McRae agreed. Like Layer3 TV, he said BT defined the STB specification required and went on to build the box. However, he noted, the complication that is constraining several providers today revolves around High Dynamic Range (HDR). All panelists agreed that in testing, viewers see even high-definition video with HDR as superior to UHD without HDR. As such, supporting HDR is critical, because UHD itself will not have the same impact on viewers. But today there are competing approaches to HDR, and most operators want to develop a STB that addresses HDR requirements, as well as other technologies like wide color gamut (WCG) and high frame rate (HFR), to create a better experience than today's HD video. (See BT Sport's COO Discusses UHD, UHD Forum's Fautier Clarifies UHD Growth Path and Sales of 4K Sets to Rise 40% This Year, Says CTA.)

Despite these and other issues, the panelists agreed that UHD would bloom and grow, unlike 3D TV a few years ago. They also believe that the UHD transition will take place faster than the HD transition did. But they expressed more caution about the prospects for virtual and augmented reality.

BT announced during BCE that it will be covering the finals of both the UEFA Champions League and Europa League in virtual reality/360-degree video. But, while he's excited about the potential of the technology, McRae said he sees VR as primarily experimental right now. Warning that the market for VR is still "unclear," he said most industry players are not likely to make a move right away.

Revare said she doesn't see much of an opportunity for augmented reality, but was generally positive about VR in the long term. Even beyond sports, she believes there are VR opportunities for fashion and travel programming. But she also said that for now the potential is more in-store for demo purposes and that she doesn't see a clear consumer market opportunity yet for VR.

Although Japan and South Korea are working toward broadcasting the two upcoming Olympics in 8K video, the panelists pooh-poohed the idea of actually delivering anything in 8K to TV viewers any time soon. As McRae pointed out, the challenges posed by 4K would simply multiply with 8K, while the revenue potential and consumer benefits are even murkier.

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

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kq4ym 6/5/2017 | 10:46:37 AM
Re: HD, UHD, 3D It will be interesting to watch how fiber will or will not become a factor or 4K here as noted that "in Asia, where many deployments are greenfield and thus are more likely to be carried out on all-fiber networks." Those virgin territories are not so prevalent here and how the industry will cope with that factor and the associated extra cost will be interesting.
Joe Stanganelli 5/25/2017 | 10:18:08 PM
Re: HD, UHD, 3D That is the obvious (and the truly important) question...and, alas, I've had difficulty finding studies that report on this particularity -- although I have seen it, personally.

But, then, anecdotal evidence and $5 will get you a cup of coffee.
Mitch Wagner 5/25/2017 | 11:17:20 AM
Re: HD, UHD, 3D Are they watching one video on their mobile devices while watching another video on the living room TV? 

 

 
Joe Stanganelli 5/24/2017 | 11:36:00 PM
Re: HD, UHD, 3D @Mitch: I tend to think the living room TV market is staying put for at least the foreseeable future.  Mobile is great, sure, but the same studies that show that people (esp. Millennials) are using and engaging with video content on their mobile devices a lot also show that people are also doing this while watching something else on (presumably) the living-room TV.
Joe Stanganelli 5/24/2017 | 11:32:28 PM
Re: HD, UHD, 3D Worth mentioning (which perhaps you and a lot of people already know, and I'm the sheltered one): I only just learned recently that a thing that particularly moneyed and classy people regularly do is buy custom-made televisions at custom sizes, to accommodate their particular homes/room arrangements.

Meanwhile, I only got rid of my last CRT just over a year ago.  (Hey, it was working fine!  Plus, old-school video games aren't the same on flatscreens.)
jbtombes 5/24/2017 | 2:30:40 PM
Re: HD, UHD, 3D Makes little sense for MSOs to deliver UHD without HDR. As for 8k, it may not have a business case, but it's truly mesmerizing. Almost worth booking a flight to Seoul or Tokyo to watch the Olympics next year. (Though if you're going to ROK, might as well head to PyeongChang and see the games live - all this assuming the DMZ hasn't 'remilitarized.')
Mitch Wagner 5/24/2017 | 10:45:32 AM
Re: HD, UHD, 3D As with email, we will see large screens refined for what they're good at. 

Email remains a vital form of communication, even as other forms replace it for some things. 

Similarly, we'll see big screens used for long stretches of relaxed viewing in groups, and viewing where picture quality really matters. Such as sports, and movies. 

Small screens will be used for shorter viewing, on the go, where picture quality isn't as big a deal.

That suggests the living room TV market will get smaller, but UHD may well turn out to be a bigger part of it and might even grow overall.
brooks7 5/24/2017 | 10:41:01 AM
Re: HD, UHD, 3D  

I think the trend to more streaming on personal devices means that the content that will be 4K is likely to be more sports.  Sports tends to be less compressible for quality (the NBA is the gold standard of testing compression quality).  Are we seeing the start of decline for the large screen device over a generation?

seven

 
Mitch Wagner 5/24/2017 | 9:31:16 AM
Re: HD, UHD, 3D I wonder if HD is simply good enough. After a certain point, do improvements in image quality actually matter to anybody but a few enthusiasts?
ChiefEng45876 5/24/2017 | 5:36:03 AM
Re: HD, UHD, 3D You can definitely see the UHD/HD difference on a big-screen TV *if* you sit close enough (or look at the screen from a couple of feet away). But at typical viewing distances (9-10 feet), you can't see any difference *due to the resolution* for screen sizes smaller than 84":

http://i.i.cbsi.com/cnwk.1d/i/tim/2013/01/27/resolution_chart.jpg

However given that none of the manufacturers make high-quality (contrast, HDR, motion processing...) HD TVs any more (only cheap low-end ones), if you want a top-quality TV nowadays you have to buy a 4k one.

But don't fool yourself that it's better *because* it's 4k...
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