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4K UHDTV is a high resolution picture format (3840 × 2160 pixels per frame) which is emerging as the standard for new multimedia services. It has huge artistic advantages compared to conventional SD and HD production, both for content acquisition and special effects (such as zoom). 4K UHDTV offers opportunities for new service development and differentiation to broadcast and media organizations, many of whom have already started experimental production and services or announced their 4K UHDTV plans. For example, Netflix has announced plans for a 4K UHDTV movie service “within a year or two”, Sky TV carried out a 4K multi-camera live field test for a soccer match in February 2013, and Japanese broadcasters have committed to start 4K UHDTV services in time for the soccer World Cup in 2014.
However, catching the 4K UHDTV wave is not without its difficulties, not least of which is knowing what equipment to invest in while standards have not yet been fully agreed between industry players, and knowing how to take advantage of the new format. In the following discussion, we identify some key issues which broadcast and media organizations need to take into account when planning their transition to 4K UHDTV.
Market Opportunity or Hype?
4K UHDTV has generated a lot of excitement and press attention since the start of 2013. At the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), all the major display vendors announced and demonstrated 4K UHDTV consumer displays. In parallel, global broadcasters and media organizations have been testing 4K UHDTV production including Sky, Netflix, and RAI, with transmission tests supported by SIS Live, Ericsson and others.
However, experienced industry players maybe asking themselves if this is just a repeat of the hype generated around 3D displays a few years ago, which didn’t achieve the expected consumer take-up. With estimates of the cost to broadcasters of creating a 4K UHDTV channel in the range of $10 million to $15 million, i.e. five times that for a new HD service, according to Deloitte, the decision to upgrade existing equipment and infrastructure will not be taken lightly. Nevertheless, at Snell we believe that 4K UHDTV is a serious option, and we would suggest that the issue isn’t about whether 4K UHDTV is commercially important but more about how soon regular consumer services will start.
What’s Driving 4K UHDTV?
The biggest initial driver for 4K UHDTV came from the display industry, where manufacturers were looking for the next exciting innovation to tempt consumers to invest in new displays. By early 2013, there were a range of 4K UHDTV displays being offered to consumers, readily available in shops, including those from Toshiba, Sony, LG, Panasonic and others.
Such displays upconvert HD material to 4K UHDTV to get round the lack of 4K UHDTV content currently available. Also manufacturers are starting to offer playback devices so customers can watch 4K UHDTV content from a hard-disk while the broadcasters and media distribution companies work out their delivery mechanisms.
At the same time, broadcasters and production companies have identified the artistic opportunities that 4K UHDTV brings in terms of field of view, resolution (picture detail), sharper pictures, extended colour gamut, and improved motion portrayal (progressive scan at higher frame rates). Supporting the desire for new production capability are camera manufacturers such as Canon, Sony, JVC and others, who are already offering a good choice of 4K UHDTV cameras.
4K production methods are already well established in the digital cinema domain (although this is a slightly different format 4096 × 2160 rather than the 3840 × 2160 of 4K UHDTV), and don’t require the complex rigs needed for 3D production. Snell is leading the way in 4K UHDTV Production Switching, with Kahuna 360 supporting 4K UHDTV at no price premium.
Furthermore, thanks to the adoption of 4K in the film industry and for digital cinema, there are already some 4K effects and editing tools available, which combined with lower costs of data storage, make 4K UHDTV post production feasible on reasonably powerful workstations. This enables broadcasters and media organizations to quickly take advantage as new 4K UHDTV technologies emerge.
Why Do Consumers Want 4K UHDTV?
It is clear that there’s a technical push for 4K UHDTV underway, but commercial success will only follow if there is a real market demand. Persuading consumers to part with $7,000 and above to replace their current HD TV display requires a step change to the content they currently watch. There’s also the issue of encouraging consumers to desire a large display (anything from 55” to 84”) in their living rooms.
The most obvious advantage of 4K UHDTV is the much higher resolution than HDTV (four times spatially, see Figure 1) which enables producers to capture much more detail in their scenes. This provides a more immersive experience, bringing to life spacious wildlife panoramas as well as offering the most detailed action at a sports game. The opportunity to capture a wider field of view enables producers greater freedom in camera placement, thereby enabling more artistic license, and hence closer engagement with viewers.
With 4K UHDTV, enhanced post-production effects, such as very high quality zoom, become possible, where a viewer may concentrate on a specific part of the action chosen by the program director, or, in the case of interactive services, chosen by the viewer’s themselves.
When high bandwidth delivery services to the home are launched, 4K UHDTV viewers will be able to enjoy exceptionally high quality pictures, with a much higher degree of involvement in the program. In addition, most of the 4K UHDTV displays targeted at consumers also support 3D, so the consumer is likely to feel more confident that their spending is a good investment. Since many consumers also use their TV monitor as their games display, there will be additional incentive from the greater immersive experience when 4K UHDTV games are available.
Consumer access to 4K UHDTV content could soon be improved, following the Bluray Disc Association announcement that it has created a task force within its member companies to investigate extending the Bluray spec to deliver 4K UHDTV movie content. Blu-ray has disc capacities of 25GB and 50GB so storage should not be a barrier to movie companies wanting to take advantage of the new Blu-ray spec. There’s also the REDRAY 4K Cinema Player, with an internal hard drive and networking capability, so content can be played from local storage or streamed.
What’s the Benefit of 4K UHDTV for Broadcasters and Media Companies?
Broadcast and media companies can use 4K UHDTV as an opportunity to create new services and differentiate their existing services. 4K UHDTV gives a stimulus to viewers to start new subscriptions. Improved quality of content delivered to large displays in the home gives program producers new artistic scope and freedom to create stunning new material.
High quality zoom and other special effects can be integrated into the programming, as shown in the example of Figure 2. For example, in an interactive mode, a consumer or the program director could choose an area of a 4K UHDTV scene for a close-up, as the simple example of Figure 2 shows. However, it is also possible for sophisticated image analysis systems to identify the most dynamic or most relevant area of a 4K UHDTV scene to offer the viewer an automatic close-up.
Similarly, where a content provider wants to offer both 4K UHDTV and conventional HD services, it would be possible to format convert the entire scene from 4K to HD to show the HD viewer the whole content, and then later in the program, the director could choose to show only an HD close-up, tracking specific program detail.
Transfer of 4K movies into screen productions can also be much simpler, due to the similar resolutions (3840 × 2160 pixels per frame for UHDTV and 4096 × 2160 for Digital Cinema). Many movie companies are scanning their back catalogs into 4K formats, anticipating new opportunities with future 4K UHDTV delivery mechanisms thereby creating new media services. Also new movies, especially those made for TV, as well as drama series, are now being mastered at 4K resolution (and above).
Availability of compelling 4K UHDTV content will attract consumers, enabling broadcasters and media companies to demonstrate revenue generating service innovation.
The chain to the consumer is facilitated by advanced compression technology, including the emerging High Efficiency Video Codec (HEVC). Both Eutelsat and ASTRA have announced the launch of a 4K UHDTV transmission capability. Eutelsat’s demonstration channel, allows broadcasters to experiment with 4K UHDTV services at 40Mbps compressed using MPEG-4. The first European 4K UHDTV test transmission over DVB-T2 was made during the Mobile World Congress in March 2013. It is clear that consumer services are being developed rapidly.
Investing in 4K UHDTV
Investing in new technology and new workflows is always accompanied by risk. In August 2012, ITU published ITU-R Recommendation BT.2020, which specifies the technical parameters for 4K UHDTV, but there remain many practical questions to consider. Firstly, the 4K UHDTV standard allows for frame rates from 23.98p up to 120p. Organizations buying 4K UHDTV equipment need to know that the products they buy will support the full range of possible frame rates, so that they are ready for any service that is defined. However, current experiments by broadcasters at 50p and 59.94p have been very successful, so whereas content producers have the option of initial acquisition at frame rates up to 120Hz, there is a high likelihood that consumer services will be based on 50p or 60p.
With 3840 × 2160 pixels per frame, up to 120 frames per second, and 10 or 12 bit colour depth, it’s clear that uncompressed 4K UHDTV material has high storage requirements. Even a 30 minute 4K [email protected] program at 10 bits per pixel will occupy more than 900 GB uncompressed, compared to around 90 GB for a 30 minute 1080 50i program at 8 bits per pixel.
Fortunately, the costs of storage continue to decrease while capacity of storage solutions rises. In parallel, new compression methods are emerging which provide very efficient encoding of video signals with minimal picture degradation. The recently completed High Efficiency Video Codec (HEVC) standard is just one possible codec to help reduce 4K UHDTV storage requirements. Tests with HEVC indicate that much higher compression ratios for the same picture quality are possible, compared to existing codecs such as JPEG2000 or H.264. One study reported efficiency gains of 35% and above for HEVC compared to H.264 for entertainment applications.
4K UHDTV transmission is likely to be compressed at least initially, as even today’s high bandwidth links to consumers’ homes have insufficient capacity to cope with the amount of data required to transmit programs. However, as improved compression technologies emerge along with more efficient transport mechanisms and higher bandwidths to the home, transmission issues will diminish over time.
How Snell Supports Transition to 4K UHDTV
Snell is ushering in the era of 4K operations with a suite of products- routers, fiber infrastructure, and the Kahuna 360 multiformat production switcher — that support 4K UHDTV production and distribution.
Snell’s fiber interfacing modules and world-class routing systems make 4K UHDTV content, sourced as four SDI streams at 1080 50/59p, available to the world-leading Kahuna switcher, which supports a mix of SD, HD, 1080p, and now 4K. This enables broadcasters and production companies to manage the transition to 4K UHDTV at no additional cost, whilst continuing to support hybrid SD, HD, 1080p, and 4K operations.
Integrated 4K UHDTV distribution and routing are key in maintaining a reliable and efficient workflow in today’s emerging 4K UHDTV production environment. As an example, consider a pair of cameras acquiring content for a 4K UHDTV program. Each of the two 4K UHDTV four-stream SDI signals are converted into single mode fiber optic signals, and Snell’s IQCWM09 fi ber optic CWDM module, in turn, would multiplex these eight fiber streams into one fibre output, suitable for transmission by Snell’s IQOTX80 multichannel fiber transmitter over considerable distances.
Continuing our example, at the studio Snell’s IQCWM09 demultiplexer and IQORX80 multi-channel fi ber receiver convert the signals back to two groups of four SDI streams, which can then be routed precisely together to the appropriate destination, such as the Kahuna 360, via Snell’s Sirius 800 series router.
The 11-RU Kahuna 360 system can accept incoming 4K UHDTV feeds, mix them with 1080p, and output the result as 4K UHDTV, 1080p, or both formats simultaneously, helping broadcast and media organizations to adopt new workflows easily as opportunities arise.
4K UHDTV is a very promising new opportunity for broadcast and media organizations. It opens up the possibility to develop new revenue streams from innovative new services, with much scope for new artistic freedom for program producers. Many elements in the equipment chain from production to consumer are already available or are in development by manufacturers, bringing the move to 4K UHDTV within the reach of many broadcast and media organizations. Consumer displays are on sale now, setting an expectation of services to come.
4K UHDTV is a serious option, and the issue isn’t about whether 4K UHDTV is commercially important but more about how soon regular consumer services will start.
Reprinted on PVC with permission from…