nScreenMedia OTT multiscreen media analysis

Despite progress, UHD channel a year away at least

There was plenty of evidence that Ultra HD remains a sharp focus of vendors at this year’s NAB. Production and distribution equipment for it was everywhere, but how much closer are we to seeing it in our homes? I spoke to three industry insiders to find out.

The biggest shift from IBC 2013 was the move to 60 frames per second (fps). Every vendor was showing at least some UHD content at the higher frame rate. However, UHD does not have an exclusive on 60fps: I saw an excellent demonstration of standard HD resolution video at 60fps from Benjamin Bross at the Fraunhoffer Institute booth. That said, the higher frame rate is specifically included with some of the Ultra HD video profiles.

60fps is important because is dramatically lessens motion blurring, particularly in sports. While you could argue that Ultra HD resolution makes little difference to the viewing experience on televisions smaller than 60 inches, 60fps makes a visible difference on a television of any size. Tying the high frame rate to UHD should help the technology be embraced across many screen sizes, rather than just the super-sized ones.

The other thing that was universally agreed amongst the people I talked to was that sport would be the catalyst for adoption of Ultra HD. Every vendor believed that events like the World Cup, taking place in June and July of this year, and the Olympics would be the bell-weather for progress of UHD. However, there was little consensus around which would be the break out event. Keith Wymbs of Elemental (see video interview at the end) thought that a large amount of UHD content would be available at this summer’s World Cup, while Ken Davidson of Cisco (see another video interview at the end) thought we would have to wait until next year’s UEFA cup final.

It seems unlikely that a mass of games at the World Cup will be available in UHD. A recent announcement suggested that just 3 games would be shot at the higher resolution.

HEVC (high efficiency video codec) seems to be progressing quickly. Last year, vendors were talking about targeting a 50% bandwidth savings over the existing AVC (advanced video codec) technology. At NAB, Fraunhoffer claimed to already have reached this for on-demand content, while Cisco claimed a 40% saving for a live 4k 60fps stream.

Finally, there was wide disagreement on when an operator will launch a UHD channel. Keith Wymbs and Benjamin Bross both thought it could happen this year, with Mr. Bross betting heavily on satellite to be the leader. Ken Davidson was convinced we are at least a year away from that happening. I tend to agree with Ken on this point. There is hardly any content available in UHD today; that much is clear from the total absence of Hollywood content in the demos at NAB. With most major production facilities just done with the HD upgrade, it will take at least a year before we see mobile UHD production vans to record the all-important sport.

Why it matters

Ultra HD and HEVC showed great progress at NAB.

Internet delivered 60fps 4k DASH encapsulated video and 4k 60fps live video were both on display.

HEVC compression is approaching the target of 50% greater bandwidth efficiency of AVC.

That said, the total lack of UHD professional content and early stages of sport trials suggest we will have to wait until at least until 2015 for the appearance of the first UHD channels.

Keith Wymbs, Elemental Technologies

Ken Davidson, Cisco

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