The Future, Ultra High Definition Television

August 31, 2013 in Tech Talk by Sam Davisson

84" UHD TV

84″ UHD TV

Ultra High Definition (Ultra HD) television isn’t just about an increased resolution. While that will usher in larger display devices and an enhanced home cinema experience, it’s just the beginning of a whole new television experience. Apple CEO, Tim Cook, in an interview with NBC said “When I go into my living room and turn on the TV, I feel like I have gone backwards in time by 20 to 30 years” and that’s true. The way people watch TV really hasn’t changed since TV’s inception. That’s all about to change in the coming years. But first lets discuss Ultra HD.

The Technical Stuff:

What we know as HD (high definition), most commonly thought of as1080p (16:9 aspect ratio, 1920×1080 pixels), is known in the professional digital cinema world as 2K (1.85 aspect ratio, 1998×1080 pixels or 2.35:1 aspect ration, 2048×858 pixels).

4K, known as Quad HD in digital cinema, is four times the resolution of 2K or 4096×2160 pixels at 1.85 film aspect ratio. For the home television HD aspect ratio (16:9), 4K represents 3840×2160 pixels. The commercial term for 4K for the home is Ultra High Definition or Ultra HD or even UHD

To put this in perspective that might be more understandable, let’s compare these video resolutions to the pixel resolution of a digital still camera. UHD translates to approximately a 8.5 megapixel picture for each frame. Conversely, HD (1080p) only translates to an image of 2.1 megapixels per frame.

What makes Ultra HD significant?

Ultra HD enables displays, 65" diagonal and above, to look fantastic. It provides for a much more detailed and less pixel visible images than 1080p. For 3D video projectors which currently employ the passive polarized glasses method of viewing 3D movies the resultant 3D image is cut to 540p (960×540 pixels) for each eye, which is 1/2 1080p resolution. However, by employing a 4K resolution projector, 3D images viewed in this manner are displayed with 1080p (1920×1080) resolution for each eye.

Where’s the content?
Good question and most of the naysayers of UHD technology point to this as if it is some insurmountable problem.
The truth of the matter is that film studio’s have been transferring film to 4k resolution for about 15 years. The odds are that the video you just watched was mastered to 4k and then scaled down to HD for distribution on blu ray. So, as always, the content is owned by the film studios in abundance. The real issue is a method for delivery.

Sony and Panasonic are jointly working on a disc technology that would allow for 300GB of storage to a blu ray type device. But it’s doubtful that this technology will be used for UHD distribution. It seems most likely that UHD video’s will be delivered via the internet.

Sony is selling a 4K Ultra HD Media Player. It comes pre-loaded with 10 bonus feature films as well as a variety of Indie films, shorts and 4K gallery videos. But they know you’ll want more so Sony will be launching Video Unlimited 4K. They claim that it is the only network video service that gives you access to a regularly updated library of full-length 4K Ultra HD feature films and TV shows. The catch… the 4K Ultra HD Media Player is available exclusively for use with Sony 55" and 65" 4K UHD TVs. It comes standard with their larger UHD TV’s.

At this time, I have yet to find any press releases from Paramount, Warner Bros., Fox, and Lionsgate detailing their strategy. I would assume that they have, instead, developed a "wait and see" strategy. First waiting to see if 4K even takes off and second to see what other streaming options present themselves.

That doesn’t mean Sony is the only game in town. RED, the digital cinema company has introduces the REDRAY. A 4K playback system that supports 3D capabilities, offers 802.11N wireless connectivity/playback, is DCI-compliant (Digital Cinema Initiative), and debuts with new security and file formats. Using the advanced RED codec technology 4K video files will be capable of being stored on a 64GB USB flash drive.

Odemax, while still in beta, is currently streaming limited independent films to the REDRAY player.

But how is all this changing the way we TV?

This fall, possible as early as September, the ATSC, Advanced Television Systems Committee, is set to release the ATSC 2.0 standard. This standard will enable over-the-air video-on-demand, online interactivity, push alerts to sleeping TVs, and the ability to watch two channels simultaneously on a single screen, among other functions. Adopting this standard is a “fairly low bar” for broadcasters and TV manufacturers to reach. Authoring tools need to be developed for broadcasters, but are not particularly daunting in terms of complexity and cost, and many of the needed changes in TV sets are software-based, at least for smart TVs that are by definition Internet-enabled, so manufacturers won’t have to deal with a large bill of material increases in the sets and the sets being sold today should be capable of updating.

In the future, broadcast TV signals will accommodate 4KTV, immersive audio, interactivity, multiscreen viewing, mobile devices and hybrid services. This is the underlying goal of ATSC 3.0, the TV transmission methodology now in development. The goal is to produce a candidate standard by 2016. Which means over the air broadcast of UHD material is still 5 years away.

What the Apple iTelevision could look like

What the Apple iTelevision could look like

But that’s not the real game changer, this is. The rumored Apple iTelevision or if not an actual television some device that will forever change the way people interact with their television set. Whatever it is the consesus seems to be that it will be different than anything we’ve seen so far and that it will be as evolutionary to the TV industry as the iPhone was to cell phones.

But, you ask, what does that have to do with Ultra High Definition. As the UHD’s market expands many cable providers are looking for a strategy away from the delivery of television content to the home. Streaming services have already made a dent in their market share and with the most viable delivery of UHD content being streaming, I believe many will simply become internet service providers. Others may look to provide streaming services of their own along with internet services. Apple seems to be positioning itself well to pick up the slack with a new television device and iTunes integration.

So while things are slow to sort themselves out there is a lot of positioning going on with manufactures and service providers. I think it’s safe to say that the broadcast industry is going to be late to the party and that the way we watch TV is about to evolve dramatically. I also think it is safe to say that the real push behind these developments is the evolution of Ultra High Definition.

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