Will 4K Video Make It?

Samsung_UHD_TVIt usually takes a while to see if a new technology gets traction with the public. For example, the 3D television craze of a few years ago fell flat on its face with the viewing public. And now 4K ultra high definition (UHD) video is making enough waves to gets its real world test in the marketplace.

The high-end TV makers certainly are pushing the technology and 2.1 million UHD televisions were shipped in the second quarter of 2014, up from 1.6 million sets for all of 2013. Amazon announced a deal with Samsung to roll out world-wide availability of 4K video streams to Samsung smart TVs. Amazon announced earlier this year that they are building a UHD library by filing all of the unique program made for Amazon in UHD. Netflix has already been filming Breaking Bad and House of Cards in UHD. Fox is marketing a set of 40 movies in UHD that includes Star Trek: Into Darkness.

But there are some obstacles to overcome before UHD becomes mainstream. The cameras and associated hardware and storage needed to film in UHD are expensive, so filmmakers are being cautious about converting to the technology until they know there is a market for it. But the big obstacle for UHD being universally accepted is getting the content into homes. There are issues of both bandwidth and quality.

Pure uncompressed UHD video is amazing. I saw a UHD clip at a trade show of House of Cards running next to an HD clip and the difference was astounding. But it is not practical to broadcast in uncompressed UHD and the compression techniques in use today reduce the quality of the picture. The UHD being delivered by Netflix today is better than their HD quality, but nearly as good as uncompressed UHD.

For those not familiar with compression techniques, they are techniques that reduce the transmission size of video signals, which is necessary to make programming fit into channels on traditional cable systems. And the same sorts of compression techniques are applied to video streams over the Internet from companies like Netflix and AmazonPrime. There are many different techniques used to compress video streams, but the one that saves the most bandwidth is called block-matching, which finds and then re-uses similarities between video frames.

Bandwidth is another roadblock to UHD acceptance. Netflix reports that it requires a steady 15 Mbps download stream to bring UHD to a home. A significant percentage of American homes don’t get enough bandwidth to view UHD. And even having enough bandwidth is no guarantee of a quality experience as has been witnessed with Netflix’s recent fights with Comcast and Verizon over the quality of the SD and HD video streams. It was  reported that even some customers who subscribed to 100 Mbps download products were not getting good Netflix streams.

There are also the normal issues we see in the television industry due to lack of standards. Each manufacturer is coming up with a different way to make UHD work. For example there are two different HDMI standards already in use by different TV manufacturers and the predictions are that HDMI might need to be abandoned altogether as the industry works to goose better quality out of UHD using higher frame rates and enhanced color resolution. And this all causes confusion to home owners or companies that install high-end TVs.

But there is some hope that there will be new technologies and new compression techniques that can be used to improve the quality and decrease the digital footprint of UHD streams. As an example, Faroudja Enterprises, owned by Yves Faroudja, one of the pioneers of HD television standards, announced it has found some improvements that will greatly benefit UHD. His new technique basically will pre-process content before compression and after decompression to get better efficiency in the sharing of bits between frames. He believes he can reliably cut the size of video streams in half using the new technology. His process also would bring efficiencies to HD streams, which is good news for an Internet that is getting bogged down today by video.

Only time is going to tell if the technology is widely accepted. Certainly there is going to be demand from cinephiles who want the absolute best quality from the movies they watch. But we’ll have to see if that creates enough demand to convince more filmmakers to shoot in the UHD format. This is like many new technologies in that there is some of the cart before the horse involved in bringing this fully to market. But there are many in the industry who are predicting that the extra quality that comes from UHD will make it a lasting technology.

4 thoughts on “Will 4K Video Make It?

  1. 4K UHD in its current incarnation has not and most likely not make it.
    1) It is best if it’s played on a very large screen and how far away you have to be before you can tell the difference between it and 1080p on a 60in screen 7 ft to 8 ft away on a 42in 10 plus feet.
    2) Our eye biology when looking at it in LED is not optimized for it but it’s great with OLCD.
    3) We need to increase the contrast between the lightest color and the darkest color but this is not as sexy as increasing the resolution.
    4) On large wide screens eye biology creates distortion in the far right and far left due to the optic nerve runs past there to our brains.
    5) When you shoot it in video you have to use lots more light on your talent. (Some talent is better left in the dark 😉
    6) You better have the best makeup artist in the industry on hand because it all shows and in the end they will look like the female talking heads at Fox looking way over processed with too much makeup. Let’s face it when your talent has more makeup on then Little Richard playing in an outdoor summer concert in New Orleans might be too much.
    7) Not accepted by the adult entertainment industry. Only one adult studio facility that offers the lighting and cameras for 4K UHD filming to producers and they have had this service available for about a year and no one else has jumped in to offer it.
    8) Only one adult producer has said they will film in 4K UHD and make it available on line. What is funny about this is when they figure out that it cost them more to store the film and send it out online then it cost to make the adult film, someone will scream – “what do you mean I lost money on it?” and “it costs how much?” Or “Hay…Can you get Hurricane Electric on the phone our broadband bill is 10 times higher this month”
    9) It is really made for big home TV screens and big home TV viewers are a shrinking pool of consumers.
    10) It would be great in sports bars! But, lets face it when you pay the NFL 4 billion a year for broadcast rights do you really want to go out and replace all of your video equipment to film these guys when their is no competitive advantage to do it.

    • I would agree that UHD is not where it needs to be today to be widely successful. There has always been a trend in this country to introduce new products a little bit too early and the TV makers are pushing UHD hard, but perhaps a bit prematurely.

      But I think the technical issues with UHD will be solved soon. The issue of increasing the frames and of improving resolution can be solved with sheer computing power, and we all know that the chips are getting more powerful at an exponential rate. Yves Faroudja came out of retirement because he saw exactly the same issues you identified and he thinks he can fix them. He believes he can bring the higher potential quality the technology promises to the home.

      But on the flip side of the coin, there is one group that will be glad if the technology does not get popular – the ISPs. This technology pushes even the best DSL to the edge and is going to put a lot of pressure on cable companies. It’s obvious that the cable companies and Netflix have not totally solved the buffering and throughput issues associated with streaming data, and having 15 Mbps streams is going to really highlight any issues they have.

      As to actors and make-up and porn, those are all issues for sure. But you have to admit that UHD could do an amazing job with computer animated special effects and animated movies. There is a lot of this kind of content and perhaps that is where this goes. I can also picture this married up amazingly with gaming.

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