PixelPower

What do we need to do today to be ready for 4K?

4K TV

At the risk of sounding negative, it seems that 4K isn’t going to go away. It’s moved beyond development and is already being deployed for key applications like super slo-mo sports replays.

So as a manufacturer, how do we know when there is enough momentum for us to fully commit?

There’s clearly a wide range of opinion at the moment surrounding 4K. We noted with some scepticism in our post-IBC blog – The Difference Between New and Important – that 4K was everywhere at the show. But in the week before the event, Broadcast Engineering ran a blog from John Bourbonais, Cinematographer, titled “Why 4K is wrong”. It’s worth a read as a clear expression of anti-4K sentiment.

Just six weeks or so after the show, a new report by IHS Electronics and Media (highlights published by Advanced Television) now states that 4K will roll out much faster than HD. Author Tom Morrod says, “By 2020, there will be more than 200 Ultra HD channels worldwide, rising to over 1000 by 2025. The availability of Ultra HD TVs in the home and Ultra HD services by pay-TV operators with advanced set-top boxes will drive the commercial opportunity for channel launches and content production.”

Maybe.

The reality is that there are certain processes have it easier than others when it comes to embracing 4K. Image capture at 4K for certain types of footage is relatively straightforward. Some post-production has always been handled in 4K for film.

When we start to venture into transmission, delivery, live events and the other things that you potentially need in a real-time environment, 4K may be a factor of eight times more difficult to handle than HD if it ends up being 120Hz frame rate. So it’s twice as hard as going from SD to HD.

These are sobering numbers that affect every part of the business. If you have to shoot high frame-rate sports, how do you make a lens and a camera that will allow that? How do you make a sports lens with the depth of field that we’re used to? If you tackle that, how then do you make a real-time, Ultra HD H.265 transmission encoder? You will need each of these as yet elusive things in the chain.

This scenario gives us pause for thought.

Without defined 4K standards from SMPTE and the EBU it becomes very risky to move ahead. What we think might work may not be the way that the standard goes; standards also change. For example there’s a push to go for high frame rates. Some broadcasters are saying that 30Hz is fine; others are saying 60Hz; some are pushing for a minimum of 100Hz, even 125Hz. As a manufacturer we don’t want to risk designing for 60Hz if 120Hz will be the reality.

So what do we do? We get the fundamentals right. To start, we’ve been focussing recently on file-based delivery, producing graphics as media files rather than as a real-time output. In order to be able to deliver the same file-based content to cell phones and large screens - and all at different frame rates - we’re working to allow our software to freely adapt to whatever output resolution is required.

That puts us in a good place in terms of immediately supporting our customers’ needs to handle key post-production and file-based delivery work in 4K. Those are real needs our customers will have very soon, regardless of how the standards winds blow. As for the next stages, watch this space.

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