The State of 4K/Ultra HD

Dr. Sean McCarthy, Ph.D., Fellow of the Technical Staff, ARRIS

Next week, the industry will discuss the future of content delivery at NAB. I’ll be participating in a seminar examining how new dimensions in video technology will impact the business of video distribution.  It’s hard to discuss this topic without hitting on 4K (also called Ultra HD or UHD) and its ramifications for the industry.

Last year, I wrote this column on what’s next for Ultra HD. My points about the phased approach to implementation still apply, but as this topic continues to heat up, I think it’s a good time for an update on where 4K is today and how it is shaping the roll-out on a global scale…

The 15-year plateau of HDTV is undergoing a dramatic change thanks to HEVC and UHD.

Here is some quick background: Ultra HD represents a truly new era of television beyond HD. It refers to higher 4k resolution (3840×2160), but also involves higher frame rates, higher dynamic range, and better color. And consumers will soon see new programming broadcast in 4K, starting with the 2014 FIFA World Cup Finals. Furthermore, the Japanese and Korean governments are driving 4K and 8K video transmission trials for this year as well.

So, Ultra HD is very different from HD, and it’s already here in some respects.

Many of us at ARRIS believe that UHD should be considered a roadmap for improving TV in the years to come. We also believe that the underlying HEVC standard that makes 4K content possible on today’s networks is also what will enable many of these improved TV experiences.

HEVC is two times as effective as the current H.264 standard and has the potential to cut bandwidth costs in half. It will even enable telco providers to extend their reach over current DSL networks.

With that in mind, the phased approach to UHD that I mentioned earlier is likely to follow these four steps:

  1. High-efficiency path using HEVC to improve bandwidth economics for HD services. This will enable ubiquitous OTT services for media gateways, Internet-attached 4K displays and HD and 4K tablets and smartphones.
  2. Cinematic track that would support “optimized-for-4K” HD encoding. In other words, HEVC will provide a pathway to true 4K content at 24 and 30 frames per second. “Optimized for 4K” HD encoding would imply near-pristine HD content that looks great when upsampled on a 4K display. But, it leverages HEVC to fit in the same bandwidth as HD content compressed with today’s MPEG4/H.264.
  3. HEVC becomes more attractive to sports programmers. These programmers will emphasize frame rate over resolution to deliver 1080p HD at 60 frames per second, and later at 120 frames per second. All while providing a pathway to true 4K at 60 frames per second.
  4. HEVC becomes that much more attractive to all service providers. They will use enhanced efficiency of HEVC to deliver traditional HD services while freeing up bandwidth for UHD and data services.
  5. Ultimately, HEVC opens the door for content and service providers to deliver better consumer experiences without breaking the bandwidth bank.

I hope that you can join me, Kevin Wirick, and Hugo Gaggioni, Sony CTO for Broadcast and Production Systems, and others at NAB in exploring this topic as well as the trends and technologies that will determine the future of video delivery networks.

Join my seminar, Wednesday April 9th @ 10am PT in the Las Vegas Convention Center, Room S219 “Creating Value in MultiScreen and Ultra HDTV” to learn more.