What will 2014 bring for Ultra HD?

What will 2014 bring for Ultra HD?

With CES in Las Vegas showcasing the latest consumer offerings, this seems an excellent time to speculate on what will be big for video in 2014.

Certainly there will be plenty of Ultra HD/4K screens to impress, but the key issue for 2014 will be how content will be delivered and will it be of sufficient quality to justify replacement of newly acquired HD screens? Key to answering this is an understanding of what will motivate broadcasters and internet providers to make the jump to 4K. For some, it will be the prestige associated with associating their brand with 4K, for others, it will be challenging the status quo and using 4K to further displace linear broadcasting.

Undoubtedly, Internet-based delivery of movie content will be the first 4K services to emerge. True live-to-air linear channels will take some time to launch and will require both infrastructure and workflow refreshes to recently installed HD equipment to allow direct-to-home delivery. In the meantime, we can expect broadcasters to engage in proof of concept transmissions at key events like the Olympics and World Cup to further promote viewer interest in the format. Many prominent players are likely to make premium 4K content available through established OTT platforms using latest generation smart TVs, the latest games consoles, as well as tablets and PCs. The big issue for me is the readiness of the playout platforms and whether the compression CODEC of choice, HEVC, will be fully implemented and enable home delivery of 4K and eventually Ultra HD content.

Also of interest will be whether content protection is robust enough to enable the existing content lifecycles of movie releases to be challenged. As it stands, content owners reluctantly accept that as an asset gains a wider release, piracy will become rife, thereby signaling the end of that revenue stream. Broadcasters would love to bring new releases directly to the home, now wouldn’t that be an interesting development? To do this, content protection needs to be significantly enhanced to placate the concerns of content rights holders who are paranoid about the threat of piracy so early in the lifecycle of valuable content. While 4K will steal the limelight, making HD services co-exist with other IP-based traffic has to be a key goal for HEVC.

I’ll report back on this issue, reaction to Harmonic HEVC encoded streams on the Broadcom, Samsung and Sigma booths, and other items of interest from the show when I return from CES 2014.

- Ian Trow, Senior Director, Emerging Technology and Strategy

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