Looking at the latest premium 4K video services from operators across the world can be a bit of a TLA frenzy – that is Three Letter Acronym frenzy – UHD, HDR, WCG, NGA, NFR, HLG, PQ, HDR10 etc. Confusing for the average punter and even video professionals. Even somewhat more complicated than the last big change in premium video/TV services – HD. Back then the issues were in learning about the differences between HD, Full HD, HD Ready, MPEG-2, H.264, 1080P, 720p, HDMI, HDCP etc… all while getting hold of a display that gave some very straightforward advantages to the end-consumer over what had gone before – the TV was a whole lot thinner, lighter, biggger picture and a clear digital delivery path from STB to TV (or direct to TV for DTT).
For Ultra HD service providers, there is real complexity here with some lack of clarity about how and what they can/should deliver to the consumer within the confines of the limitations of their platforms and also trying to gauge when UHD and HDR goes mainstream – in other words when does the revenue return forecasts compensate the capital and operational expenditure of a deployment in a very competitive environment. The operator needs to gauge the timing right so that they catch the wave of the mainstream growth curve, and also they need to gauge/manage the technology risk of investing in the right technologies. This all depends upon when the technology has reached sufficient maturity and focus – and the key question now is whether Ultra HD with PQ, HDR10 and HLG has reached that point or not.
From the strength of product launches coming through from CES, and the retail sales of current Ultra HD TVs over the Christmas period, the consumer is buying 4K for their main screens now, so supporting the view that UHD has almost reached mainstream in the same way that HD reached mainstream in 2006. However one thing is marvellously different this time, and that is that HD is not being replaced by UHD, it is being supplemented by it. This changes the model compared to the SD to HD transition of the mid 2000s. The evidence for this is that UHD or 4K screens are being sold in the larger sizes and not in the smaller sizes. If you get a less than 40″ screen you will find that it still a 1080P HD screen. This is without taking into consideration that despite the TV manufacturers wishes, the buying cycle for TVs is still sticking above 5 years or more for the general population, so leaving HD TVs in consumer homes for quite a long time to come. In addition, we did not have the OTT and Mobile device populations to contend with back then, which for a variety of reasons will have a varying mix of resolution, color and dynamic range support for the foreseeable future.The question of content is also there, with the vast bulk of content being in Standard Dynamic Range. HD and SDR is not going away this time.
So have we reached the right level of maturity with the technology? We believe the answer is yes. Those CES 2017 TV product releases have PQ and HLG based HDR capability either on release or via firmware upgrade later, and there are firmware releases on the cards to bring HLG to 2016 HDR displays. We also have compression and encoding product solutions that are able to provide the multiple content format/codec mix that is needed for the vast range of displays and devices that the content needs to be consumed on. We have HDR to HDR, HDR to SDR and SDR to HDR conversion solutions available for video distribution and on STBs, allowing effective delivery of content to the consumer in whatever format is needed. The tools and products are in place to provide a mass market service everywhere…
However there are challenges to address because of the TV, STB and Mobile device population being such a mixed bag of SD, HD, Legacy 4K, UHD SDR and UHD HDR formats and this will be for some time to come. This is also at a level so much more complex than previously experienced, with the service operator having to do careful service planning and technology selection to ensure that they can deliver content in the most effective and efficient way to this heterogeneous mix of displays and devices, taking into account their technology investment in broadcast, OTT, and STBs, as well as their content strategy.
This is where we have been engaged over the last few years, expanding our experience in helping tier 1 operators and vendors define technical strategy and deliver to include 4K/UHD/HDR services, sorting through those acronyms and providingly clear, business focused views on the best technology approaches in this area. We also have been working extensively on Interopablity of UHD services/devices and devices, to resolve and determine best practices for ensuring the consumer gets a great experience.
The consumer is looking for a great video experience, and the time for operators to provide it is 2017.
Fairmile West is a Consulting company focused on working in the Consumer Device and Video arena. We work with clients on technology strategy and product delivery through key practices in Consumer Devices and Video Services. If you are interested in learning more about what we do, please do get in touch via our website – Contact us. You can also keep track with what interests us in the industry by following our Link blog at TV Tech News, and you can specifically follow news on Ultra HD via the following link – Ultra HD News.