The living room in 2018 will increasingly belong to 4K, particularly where the higher-end TV models are concerned. From the broadcasters’ perspective, getting 4K content to the home is still a challenge to be bridged. “Of course, ATSC 3.0 will change all that, but that’s still, I think, going to take a couple years,” says Alec Shapiro, industry consultant and former president of Sony Professional Solutions.
While sales of 4K UHD TV sets continue apace, demand for 4K production equipment has been muted in comparison, manufacturers say, as many broadcasters are approaching the higher-resolution video technology cautiously.
“Speaking to the production side, 4K is certainly on the checklist,” says Brick Eksten, chief product officer for Imagine Communications. “Any new equipment that’s coming in, especially where it pertains to any greenfield opportunity or refresh due to some kind of high-level event, is almost certainly going to have 4K as a requirement.”
Some are starting to put 4K on the list for playout, he adds. “I don’t think you’re seeing quite as many people actually pushing 4K through the production. I think they just want to know that they have the capability and capacity.”
But several factors have most media sitting on the fence, according to Eric Pohl, CTO of National Tele-Consultants (NTC), including the cost of upgrading and a wait-and-see stance toward consumer demand. “Because of that, they’re not really going to rush to invest,” Pohl says.
Meanwhile, super high-resolution 8K production and broadcast remains largely in the prototype and proof-of-concept phase. It is inching closer to the consumer, with CNET among others reporting that LG would tout a “gorgeous” 88-inch 8K TV at CES in Las Vegas.
However, most sources reached by TVNewsCheck agree that the biggest near-term opportunity for 8K is not the living room, but cinemas, museums, and other venues where giant screens would justify the additional pixels.
The living room in 2018 will increasingly belong to 4K, particularly where the higher-end TV models are concerned.
Right now at BestBuy.com, about two-thirds of the 245 TVs for sale offer 4K (2160p) resolution. If you want a TV 60 inches or larger, you have almost no choice in the matter, as 73 out of 74 models are 4K Ultra HD (and two-thirds of those offer HDR as well).
That product mix is translating into major growth in 4K TV sales and consumer adoption. The global 4K TV market is growing at 21.2% per year, and will be worth $380.9 billion by 2025, according to a recent report from Grand View Research.
“The manufacturers are placing big bets,” says NTC’s Pohl. “They’re investing a lot of money in their plants to manufacture 4K, and they have been for quite some time now. You just don’t go back. You’ve got to recover that investment, so 4K sets are being made.”
Bridge To 4K
From the broadcasters’ perspective, getting 4K content to the home is still a challenge to be bridged. “Of course, ATSC 3.0 will change all that, but that’s still, I think, going to take a couple years,” says Alec Shapiro, industry consultant and former president of Sony Professional Solutions.
Authorized by the FCC in November 2017, the ATSC 3.0 next-generation broadcast system is based on an Internet Protocol (IP) backbone and is specifically designed to support 2160p 4K resolution, among other newer technologies, according to the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC), which pulled the standard together.
There’s added urgency to bridge the gap given that providers such as Netflix, Amazon and AT&T DirecTV all have a head start in 4K offerings and are banking more content month by month.
AT&T’s DirecTV already hosts three fully dedicated 4K TV channels showing live and recorded documentaries, concerts, series and pay-per-view events. It claimed the first-ever 4K HDR live broadcast in the United States on Dec. 14, 2017, a simulcast of the NHL Network featuring the Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Vegas Golden Knights, and said it will broadcast a total of 13 NBA games in 4K HDR this season.
Moving Forward With 4K
Meanwhile, an increasing number of TV producers have been experimenting or moving forward with 4k equipment, particularly in the sports arena, says Canon Senior Fellow Larry Thorpe.
“They’ve been doing quite a bit,” he says. “But they’re still trying to decide whether 4K is ready yet for them to make huge changes — very costly changes — to broadcast infrastructures.
“They’ve been evaluating 4K, they’ve been evaluating 4K with HDR, and they’ve also been evaluating 1080p with HDR, trying to decide is it time to make a leap to 4K or would 1080p with HDR be an interim step that makes sense.”
Canon continues to improve its 4K product line in anticipation that more broadcast content will be shot and mastered in 4K.
One of the latest launches, which will formally debut at the NAB Show in April, is a pair of 4K UHD portable broadcast lenses featuring a broad 45x zoom ratio that Canon says is the highest so far in its class.
“We do think that’s going to cause quite a stir in the documentary, sports, concerts and houses of worship,” Thorpe says. “They all like portable lenses that have a good, long zoom in them.”
Thorpe says Canon is hearing a growing interest in 4K from end users who are not necessarily ready to produce in 4K but want to be “future-proofed” for eventual production — particularly since the newest field and studio cameras from major manufacturers tend to be switchable between HDTV and UHD.
For example, Grass Valley’s LDX 86N cameras, the latest edition to the company’s LDX series, can do native 4K capture along with standard HD/3G, says Mark Hilton, VP of live production.
“We are seeing pretty good demand for 4K,” Hilton said in an interview. “Maybe 40% of our cameras that are 4K capable are making up our sales for cameras, so that’s a good leading indicator, I think, in terms of where people are going.”
At the same time, GoPros and other lower-end cameras are making it very easy to produce 4K content on the fly.
“Both of the extreme ends of the content supply chain have the capability, mainly because the manufacturers want to differentiate themselves and get innovative products on the market,” says NTC’s Pohl. “But it takes a long time to get the whole content supply chain ready to deal with it.”
The HDR Factor
It’s very clear, at least for sports production, that interest in HDR seems to be much higher at the moment versus 4K, says Shapiro, who moderated a panel on imaging at the SVG Summit in December 2017.
“Most of the industry experts seemed to agree that HDR provides much more noticeable differences in picture quality than does 4K,” says Shapiro. “I think the interest is much higher in HDR, and that frankly, some might just skip 4K and wait until 8K starts to evolve.”
Whereas 4K UHD offers a lot of pixels, at a resolution of 3840 x 2160 vs 1080p’s 1920 x 1080, many observers say the improved color and contrast offered by high dynamic range (HDR) is a bigger step forward in image quality.
In fact, it took HDR to make the 4K and 8K conversation “more relevant and prevalent” among broadcasters, according to Dave Colantuoni, Avid’s senior director of product management.
“Ultimately the topic of 4K really started to take hold when you started to see HDR products delivered on Netflix and some of the [other] OTT content delivery services,” Colantuoni says.
“Once that happened, then people were saying, “Oh, okay, I can see the difference. I can differentiate creatively.’ Once they saw that, 4K started to rise to the top.”