Technology

TV’s Next Target: 4K Displays

1/30/2012 12:01 AM Eastern

The next big leap in high definition TV is so eerily realistic,
watching it is almost like looking
out a picture window.

Amid the thousands of screens
at the 2012 International Consumer
Electronics Show, so-called 4K
displays — which provide four
times the resolution of today’s
HDTVs — were the most breathtaking
for the clarity and sharpness
of their picture.

LG Electronics and Toshiba
are expected to introduce the
first 4K-capable sets this year,
with LG teeing up an 84-inch
LCD unit. The catch: There’s
nothing available to watch in 4K
at home, yet. All the canned demonstrations
at CES used specially
commissioned content.

“It’s a gorgeous screen image,” Parks Associates principal
analyst Kurt Scherf said. “It’s something that’s nice to demo
at a trade show like CES. But in terms of being a market reality,
this isn’t crossing into the five-year horizon.”

ESPN and Discovery Communications — two of cable’s first
movers on HD a decade ago — are paying close attention to
the development of 4K television.

“The reason Discovery got in so early in HD is why we’re
getting interested in 4K now: The content that we own and
produce is enhanced so much by the viewing experience,”
Glenn Oakley, executive vice president of Discovery’s Media
Technology, Production and Operations group, said.
“It is perfect for what we do.”

But TV’s move to 4K will require another massive investment
in equipment, infrastructure and engineering, akin to
the years-long adoption of HD.

Right now, the cameras and other production equipment
that are able to handle the new format are not available commercially.
When they do hit the market, they are likely be very
expensive, ESPN chief technology officer Chuck Pagano said.

“We are experimenting with shooting 4K and understanding
the nuances associated with this new viewing experience,
but right now it is a science experiment,” he said.

ESPN’s new production facility in Bristol, Conn., dubbed
Digital Center 2, will be equipped for 4K production, according
to Pagano. The four-story, 193,000-square-foot building is
slated to be online in 2014, housing four studios, six production
control rooms and 26 editing rooms.

Reflective of 4K’s infancy, industry standards for video
formats haven’t been established
yet, with as many as five different
resolutions being used to capture
4K images. “There’s a lot of places
on the chain where you have
missing links,” Michael Bergeron,
strategic technology liaison for
Panasonic North America, said.

Different vendors are coming
up with their own formats and
standards. Eventually, Oakley
said, “there will be an inevitable
alignment of the industry —
that will be the key step.”

The question on the consumer
front, is what will drive people
to shell out a premium for
4K sets, particularly as millions
have bought new HDTVs (or 3D
sets) in the past few years?

“You have a replacement cycle
that is going to be a challenge, because
HD has not been around that long in the grand scheme
of things,” Marty Shindler, an independent entertainmenttechnology
consultant based in Los Angeles, said. “Only in
the last couple of years has the cost of flat-screen TVs come
down and become really affordable.”

Movies and sports are the likely first candidates for what
will motivate people
to purchase ultra
high-resolution 4K
sets. Some Hollywood
films are now being
produced with 4K resolutions
(and a few
theaters are equipped
with 4K projectors),
which is a potential
starting point for home
entertainment. Panasonic’s
Bergeron said
the H.264 codec in the
existing Blu-ray Disc
specification could
handle 4K video.

The video game industry
also should
take advantage of brilliant
4K screens for ultra-
realistic games,
Oakley said. “Initially
I think it will be
gaming consoles and
the game producers
moving to 4K,” he
said. “It’s going to be
Grand Theft Auto 4K
or Call of Duty 4K.”

But again, it’s early
days. The next milestone
Discovery is
monitoring is how the
first 4K sets fare in the
marketplace. “We’ll be
watching the CE space
for delivery of new sets
— are they going to
move in volume or is
it just something for
the CES floor?” Oakley
said.

EVEN HIGHER DEFINITION

What it is: 4K television provides four times the resolution (4096 by 2160
pixels) of today’s 1080i/p HDTVs; some manufacturers are pushing for
slightly different resolution depths.

How much bandwidth it would use: Compressed with MPEG-4 AVC, a 4K video
stream would be 17 to 24 Mbps, roughly four times current HD signals.

When it will arrive: 4K-capable TVs are set to debut at retail this year, but
experts predict it will be five or more years before the category starts to go
mainstream.

SOURCE: Multichannel News research

September