4K – More Than OK?

Aside from cloud technologies, the buzz at this year’s National Association of Broadcasters show in Las Vegas was 4K and the ecosystem of technologies that has started to form around this higher resolution production and delivery format.

The 4K fire was started as a spark by certain camera manufacturers not so long ago with new fuel being added recently by their consumer electronics cousins in the form of new, higher resolution displays which, unlike HDTV displays before them, have already been subject to a descending price curve.
Upon debut, Sony’s BRAVIA KD-84X9000 4K 84-inch TV retailed for around USD$25,000. At NAB, the company showed off its XBR-55X900A (55-inch) and XBR-65X900A (65-inch) 4K Ultra HD LED TVs priced at USD$4,999 and $6,999.
The company also announced a 4K Media Player, the FMP-X1, and a U.S. video distribution service. The FMP-X1 4K Media Player comes bundled with 10 feature films and video shorts in 4K resolution for USD$699. Later this year, users of the same 4K Media Player will be given access to a fee-based video distribution service offering a library of 4K titles from Sony Pictures Entertainment and other notable production houses.
Meanwhile in Korea, the LG UD 3D TV, also 84-inch, launched at 25 million won, or around USD$22,000. At its Australian launch, the price was just over USD$16,000. For its part, Samsung has launched the 85-inch S9 which can not only display 4K resolution material, but also features voice recognition (understanding around 300 commands), social media feeds, YouTube, Skype, web browsing, third party apps and integrated sports content – all for a more pricier USD$40,000.

With the acquisition and display parts of the 4K delivery chain falling into place, a number of manufacturers used NAB 2013 to demonstrate they are ready to fill the gaps in that chain.
By way of example (and in no particular order):
• Utah Scientific announced an extension to its UTAH-100/UDS routing switcher family with a new range of routing switchers offering 6 Gbps UHD-SDI signal capabilities to support new 4K signal formats (both single- and multi-link) used in ultra-high-definition (UHD) TV production;
• Leader Instruments Corporation announced that its LV5330 multi-SDI monitor has added support for the S-Log gamma correction system used in Sony’s F65 digital cinematography camera (8K sensor chip with 4K output);
• Orad next generation video graphics platform, the HDVG4, can generate 4K signal as well as HD 1080i, SD, and IP stream output, automatically taking into account the different aspect ratios and formats; and
• Snell’s Kahuna 360 multi-format switcher can now accept incoming 4K UHDTV feeds, mix them with 1080p and output as either 4K UHDTV or 1080p.

And that is just a few of the vendors with an eye on a possible 4K future.

4K – a Game Changer?

While there is no doubt that HDTV is going to be around for some time to come. Globally, after all, the process of analogue to digital switchover is far from complete and, while 4K is a more realistic upgrade destination for broadcast facilities than, say, 3DTV, it will take a back seat until the current migration is well and truly bedded down.
However, could 4K be enough of a driver to prompt a change in a country’s broadcast transmission standards? Korea’s KBS has been broadcasting a DVB-T2 6MHz channel from its Kwanak transmitter site in Seoul, carrying a 4K UHDTV service at 36.5Mbps. The HEVC encoder output is fed to Enensys’ T2 Gateway and then to the Enensys NetMod modulator for reception by DVB-T2 receivers and display on 4K UHDTV panels.
C+T spoke to KBS representatives at this year’s ABU Digital Symposium in Kuala Lumpur who stated that the broadcasts could not have been conducted using ATSC, the U.S. DTV transmission standard adopted by Korea and championed by its CE receiver manufacturers.
With the ATSC standards process yet to address 4K, the question is could the commercial imperative of receivers manufacturers be enough to sway broadcasters in the country to consider a move away from the U.S. standard? Time will tell.
As for countries such as Australia still in the process of changing from analogue to old fashioned DVB-T, it’s a case of one thing at a time when considering any move to DVB-T2, let alone 4K.

Thanks for Reading

Phil Sandberg