HPA 2016: Broadcasters—HDR Yea, 4K Meh
INDIAN WELLS, CALIF.—High dynamic range or Ultra HD? That was the first
question put to the annual broadcasters panel at the HPA Tech Retreat
Wednesday. Matthew Goldman of Ericsson once again moderated
HDR vs. UHD
Skip Pizzi of the National Association of Broadcasters said there was no NAB
consensus viewpoint, but that “generally anecdotally,” there appeared to be
more bang for the big with HDR versus 4K.
“Especially with 4K upconversion at the set,” he said. “HDR has the most ‘wow’
factor for the consumer, and we figure high frame rate in sports.”
HDR increases visibility of motion artifacting and thus makes a case for HFR in
fast-motion imagery such as sports.
Sinclair’s Mark Aitken noted that if a media facility has just “spent a
boatload of money on a 3G plant, you’re not going to suddenly build a 12G plant
for UHD. HDR does give a noticeable enhancement to consumers…. HDR 60P 1080p
certainly is an enhancement that consumers recognize.”
Mario Vecchi of PBS said that without a real business case to increase the
capacity of the PBS plant, including storage, “it’s going to be a real
difficult decision to make.” HDR, he said, seems to be “a low-hanging fruit.”
Robert Siedel of CBS said the network was testing it
“One thing of interest to us is how television sets labeled HDR behave with a
regular signal, and you see an ‘S-curve,’” he said. “They’re going to have to
process our standard HD signals. So when you compare how they’re processing
that signal versus how they will process a true HDR signal… we’re looking at
how those sets are scaling HDR.”
Goldman asked about “video loudness,” where the brightness overwhelms. Siedel
said the International Telecommunications Union is testing issues of eye
fatigue. In Japan, they have instated regulations on photo-epilepsy, he said.
The ITU has considered similar concerns on HDR and whether or not it creates
Stan Moote asked Siedel if CBS has “control down to the TV now, because you
must have 4K viewers who can see the motion artifacts.”
Siedel said CBS specifies minimum data rates with carriers, and a quality
threshold, not only for over-the-air, but through the cable signal. They have
not yet increased the data rate for 4K sets, “because we feel upconversion in
the sets is pretty good,” he said.
Mark Schubin jumped in with a question about how the industry plans to
transition from ATSC 1.0 to 3.0.
Aitken characterized it as “more of a migration; an enhancement of the digital
standard, and in the context of the FCC’s own rulemaking, to continue the
development and advancement of digital standards.”
Deploying it will be a matter of market dynamics, he said.
“We can hang onto 1.0 as long as we want in a channel-sharing situation. Say
one station wants to convert to 3.0. They can sign a deal with another
broadcaster in the market and they can piggyback channels. Now you’ve cleared a
channel for the roll-out of 3.0. You basically have a six times multiplier in
the video capacity of that channel using 3.0. There have been discussions about
making that kind of migration across markets.”
Asked if a shared channel can carry two 720p signals, Aitken said he wrote
himself a note.
“I wrote down ‘least crappy,’” he said. “It’s a valid question, but it’s a
question of what’s being delivered to the consumer, and the least crappy thing
that is being delivered to the consumer. We know about grooming and compressing
in the cable plant and anomalies in displays. We believe broadcasters can
deliver two shared HD signals that look just as good or better than what’s
being delivered” over closed infrastructures. “It will require discussions
He then said 85 percent of Sinclair’s content is carried by MPVDs.
Gateway devices have been discussed for reception. The NAB is working on a
1.0-to-3.0 converter, much like the digital-to-analog converters made for the
2009 digital transition. Pizzi said the NAB is developing a prototype, but the
price is now around $150.
“We’re hoping it will come down,” he said.
At one point during the morning, the majority of folks raised their hands and
said 2K HDR would be something they would watch versus 4K. Fox’s Rich Friedel,
recently elected board chairman of ATSC, was asked if broadcasters would do 2K
He said, “ATSC 3.0 gives great flexibility. That certainly includes 1080p 60,
SDR and HDR. It has to be a business decision made by each broadcaster.”
In terms of codecs, Friedel said HEVC is written into it now, and while the
ATSC is anxious to get the standard out, Aitken said there is a need for more
than one codec.
“There are enough questions about HEVC for anyone who envisions a streaming
future to take a long, deep look at it,” Aitken said. “AVC is a perfectly valid
choice. It could also be a bridging technology. Ultimately, there may be a wide
variety, but many of these codecs are baked into the product they’ll be
There is a certain amount of tension between the business case and the
technical case, he said.
John Luff asked if the future of local broadcasting is moving toward
centralcasting. Aitken said that 3.0 would make it easier to virtualize the
local facilities and create a de facto national reach.
“All it takes is a Sinclair, a Nexstar and a Gray to enter into an agreement to
use a portion of the bitload for a national service,” for example, he said.
In terms of advanced audio, 3.0 has the juice for immersive sound, but the
question is whether or not people will take advantage of it.
Pizzi said the standard leverages AC-4 from Dolby and MPEG-H.3 from MPEG Audio
“What we’re doing to keep the deployment manageable, we’re asking for regions
to pick one or the other. Both systems allow for personalization and immersive
Pizzi also noted that with immersive, a speaker array isn’t necessary.
Soundbars can now decode immersive.
Asked how ATSC 3.0 dovetails into Internet delivery, Aitken said it 3.0 “was
envisioned from the beginning to be a hybrid platform” that would deliver bits
by broadcast and broadband, simultaneously.
Siedel, from a different perspective, spoke to CBS OTT delivery. He said CBS is
available on Roku, Apple TV and smartphone. CBS has 135 CBS market affiliates
up on CBS All Access, covering 85 percent of the U.S. population.
Asked of social media tools draw in a younger audience, Vecchia said PBS sees
the area as an opportunity for growth.
“We already integrate social media and interactivity with a number of our
programs,” he said.
Friedel said social was very powerful for Fox.
“We can see if we monitor social media, when mentions of our programs come up,
we can see a spike in ratings… up to 20 to 30 percent on shows with active
social media conversations.”
Siedel said CBS also sees increased linear viewing when someone in an online
community brings up binge-viewing a show.
The SDI-to-IP migration came up. Vecchia said that, “using an IP infrastructure
is so generic. I think in terms of control and management, that’s migrating
aggressively to IP technology. The actual transport of the signal will take
Siedel talked about the inherent security of an SDI plant and its resistance to
Friedel, also president of the Video Services Forum, which is actively working
on IP transport, conceded this bias.
“At Fox, we’re trying to make use of this technology. Prime time will be the
last place we use this, I agree with Bob. But sports now… NASCAR, is being run
through IP routing. We have IP routing in the plant, not for on-air yet, but
we’re making use of these IP systems for live content. We see it as a
format-agnostic platform, to handle UHD capabilities internally.”