[opendtv] TVTechnology: A Missing Piece of the 4K Puzzle

  • From: Craig Birkmaier <craig@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: OpenDTV Mail List <opendtv@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Wed, 10 Sep 2014 12:58:11 -0400


TVTechnology: A Missing Piece of the 4K Puzzle

NEW YORK—While there is no shortage of “repeats” on television, the pay-TV 
industry may be about to go through a repeat of its own. The arrival of 4K 
Ultra HD could in many ways be a replay of the roll-out of high definition a 
decade ago—arriving first via satellite operators.
In July, DirecTV CEO Mike White said that the satcaster will be able to supply 
on-demand 4K content later this year, with full 4K transmissions expected to be 
on track for next year or at the latest, 2016. White said he expected the 
satellite pay-TV service, which is currently in merger negotiations with AT&T, 
to offer VOD by the end of this year.

“We believe 4K will have broad appeal when there’s a convergence of reasonably 
priced 4K sets and more 4K content —similar to circumstances that sparked the 
HD revolution,” Jade Ekstedt, spokesperson for DirecTV, told TV Technology.

The arrival of 4K VOD via satellite thus is very much how HD first arrived to 
the masses, and it could also be used to position satellite pay-TV as an option 
for those earlier adopters who don’t mind breaking the bundles offered by cable 
providers, which typically can include phone and Internet.

Satellite could also have some early advantages in infrastructure according to 
some experts.

“Satellite could have the edge now,” said Peter Ostapiuk, vice president of 
media product management at Intelsat. “There is a lot of bandwidth required to 
transmit 4K to a mass audience, and satellite is probably the most effective 
way to do that and the most cost-efficient way to reach that mass 
audience.”Fabio Murra, head of TV marketing at Ericsson concurs. “Satellite 
providers will have that advantage in being able to manage bandwidth,” he said. 
“The transponder availability from satellite gives that advantage.”

Internationally some satellite providers have already begun rolling out 4K 

In Korea and Japan, satellite pay-TV operators are already broadcasting a few 
hours of UltraHD content daily, with KT SkyLife in Korea planning to offer 
three UltraHD channels commencing in 2015, according to Alan Crisp, analyst at 
NSR in Hong Kong. “Cable TV and terrestrial platforms are generally taking a 
‘wait-and-see’ approach in the short term to 4K/UHD,” he said. (NHK is setting 
its sights higher, with the goal of launching 8K broadcasts by the 2020 
Olympics in Tokyo.)

Last month, in an NSR report, Crisp forecast that satellite broadcasters could 
provide more than 820 UHD channels worldwide by 2025, predicting that falling 
TV set prices and the increasing availability of content will prime the market.

This isn’t to say that the cable providers will be left behind. Comcast has 
pledged to distribute content in 4K as soon as the industry is ready and at the 
2014 International CES, announced a partnership with Samsung Electronics to 
deliver 4K VOD content to 2014 Samsung UHDTVs via the Internet through the 
Xfinity TV 4K app. A spokesperson for Comcast told TV Technology last month 
that the companies are “on track” to launch the app by the end of the year.

“While advancements in 4K are happening quickly, much the way HD did a few 
years ago, the fact remains that there is currently very limited content 
available in 4K UHD,” the spokesperson said. “Most programmers are still 
delivering programming in 1080i [or below] today and the number of consumers 
with a 4K television or device is also very low. If/when adoption by networks 
and studios is greater, more content is produced and ready for distribution in 
4K, our network and set-top boxes will be ready to distribute it.”

It won’t be just cable vs. satellite in delivering 4K content as over-the-top 
players including Netflix have also announced efforts to deliver content in the 
coming months as well. However, the bandwidth issue is one that will again rear 
its ugly head.

“We’ve heard that Netflix and other OTT services will have 4K content,” Murra 
said. “However, they face an opposite issue including a bandwidth constraint 
because they can’t get enough bandwidth from the ISPs, but they will have an 
advantage as they are targeting a variety of devices.”

While cable and even satellite services will be faced with the issue of 
updating set-top boxes for the OTT providers, this will be far less of an issue.

“OTT will target devices including the TV and tablets that support the 
resolution,” Murra said. “These devices are replaced every two years whereas a 
set-top box is replaced every 10 years or so.”

There are other hurdles for 4K adoption that won’t be easily overcome however. 
One factor that is in essence a replay of an issue that occurred with HD— 
namely that consumer demand was slowed due to limited content—while content 
creators were slow to roll out content in HD because of low adoption rates.

“On the business side there is little value proposition,” Ostapiuk said. “It is 
a ‘chicken and egg’ situation, as there is precious little content in 4K 
available right now.”

Moreover, lower resolution content, including a lot of today’s 720 offerings, 
won’t look all that good on the sets especially because to truly appreciate 4K 
will entail having a much larger screen. However, this time many content 
creators are already future-proofing for the next generation TV sets as content 
is being produced.

“A lot of studio content is already shot in 4K,” said Keith Wymbs, chief 
marketing officer at Elemental Technologies in Portland, Ore. “In addition, 
current HD content can be upconverted from HD to 4K, and moreover 4K will have 
a dramatic effect in sports.”

However, as noted, pay-TV operators will have the issue of updating those set 
top boxes as well.

“This is an expensive thing for the pay- TV operator but the quality will 
counterbalance the cost,” added Wymbs. “The adoption of 4K is also different 
from HD in the fact that many TVs are now being launched in the market that can 
decode 4K at the set. Samsung, Panasonic and Sony are providing HEVC decoders 
built in so users can view the content via apps in the TV.”


Whichever content delivery method is utilized to deliver 4K to the consumer at 
home there is finally some agreement on what 4K will be required to offer, 
including 60fps content as well as HEVC encoding, which can ensure the content 
quality to be on par with what the TV manufacturers have promised. This codec 
is the successor to H.264, and has been used in numerous 4K trials over the 
past year including content recorded at the Sochi Olympic Games and the recent 
FIFA World Cup.

“HEVC encoding today can encode 4K video streams into 10-25 Mbps without 
issue,” said Crisp. “Indeed, satellite operator Hispasat found that increasing 
the bitrate beyond 18 Mbps had no perceptible difference for a typical viewer. 
At this bitrate, it is feasible for satellite operators to broadcast multiple 
channels directly to consumer’s homes, or for satellite distribution to cable 
TV and IPTV platforms.”

Ericsson has conducted more than 40 trials using HEVC, which Murra said could 
provide as much as twice the differential in bitrate. HEVC could also help 
solve some of the bandwidth issues.

“While HEVC provides approximately a 64 percent reduction in the amount of 
bandwidth for the same level of video quality, it is also able to include a 110 
percent increase in the breadth of colors available—color gamut—but also a 
greater color precision; 10-bit color,” added Crisp. “What this means is that a 
10-bit screen can produce over a billion colors, as opposed to most content 
today which is 8-bit or about 16 million colors.”

He noted that this helps explain why consumers are much more excited about 
UltraHD after seeing it in person. “It’s not just the higher resolution, but 
also the increased color ranges that can’t be appreciated from existing 
screens, and content, today,” Crisp said.


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