While working off my Christmas pudding wandering around the various halls making up CES it occurred to me that branding was more evident at the show than technology. Sure, curved 4K screens are impressive and I’m sure washer dryers large enough to clean an entire family in a single load are state of the art, but for video it was all about alliances. The latest generation of Smart TV’s had no place on the show floor this year if they lacked an App from the likes of Netflix.
CES last year was more technology focused with most vendors positioning HEVC as key for 4K and fundamental to ISP’s getting on top of OTT bandwidth demands. This year the use of HEVC was a given and attention turned to how broadcasters and content aggregators alike will operate in the brave new world where the set-top-box is no longer the dominant form of delivery.
While the commercial case became clearer for OTT 4K delivery, the shift of emphases towards alliances between screen manufacturers and content owners resulted in many manufacturers taking technical liberties. I was glad to see 50 / 60 frames per second being widely endorsed as essential for 4K to make the transition from the darkened domain of home cinema to the bright lights of the living room showing premium sports content. How many of the demos on the show floor were actually showing 50 / 60 fps content through the latest HDMI (2.0) interface is debatable, but as with presents at Christmas, it is often the thought that counts.
Even if technical liberties were taken, what is certain is the 4K bandwagon runs the risk of stalling in the eyes of customers if it doesn’t deliver a clear quality advantage over HD. Nobody wants to see a rerun of the 3D debacle inflicting redundant screen technology on unsuspecting viewers. Once bitten twice shy, as they say, which might make viewers cynical about 4K. Broadcasters are skeptical too, but VOD and OTT providers are enthusiastic. Look at the mileage Netflix got from 4K delivery of House Of Cards — all of the upside with none of the workflow, infrastructure and content issues facing linear broadcast.
Like Christmas, CES offers many opportunities for leftovers to feast on, so I will save the best snacking to last, namely an insight into high dynamic range and colorimetry for my next blog. Think of this as a late present since I promised it last week, but it has proved to be more than a week’s homework for me!
– Ian Trow, Sr. Director, Emerging Technology & Strategy, Harmonic