Intelsat, Ericsson Address Challenges, Opportunities for 4K TV at Technology Breakfast in Las Vegas

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Satellite and broadcast industry professionals convened in Las Vegas, Nev. on April 8, 2014 for the 4K Technology Breakfast hosted by Via Satellite, Intelsat and Ericsson Television. During the session, the discussion focused on 4K or Ultra-High Definition Television (Ultra-HD), the realities of this new technology and predictions for its future.

Matthew Goldman, SVP of technology at Ericsson, began the presentation with a look at the features that make 4K a unique viewing experience; he mentioned, for example, the viewing distance. The proper viewing distance for a High Definition (HD) television is three vertical heights of the screen, with a field-of-view of 30 degrees, Goldman explained. With Ultra-HD the proper viewing distance is cut in half to one and a half vertical heights of the screen due to the 60-degree field-of-vision and the higher pixilation density.

“By its nature, you’re more immersed in the display as there’s less distractions around [the screen],” said Goldman. “Because of that … there are things that your human visual system sees that were still there with HD, but you didn’t notice it as much.”

These less noticeable elements become more apparent in Ultra-HD broadcasts because of the higher pixel setting: 3849 by 2169 pixels for what is colloquially referred to as “4K TV.” Increased motion sensitivity plays a large role with Ultra-HD, which can be manifested in two ways: motion blur or motion judder. Images are blurred when the shutter is open for too long at 50 Hz per second, whereas “stuttering” of an image, or motion judder, occurs when the frame rate is not high enough.

“If you don’t have a high enough frame rate, the human visual system will trap the motion; and if it’s trapping motion and expecting something to be somewhere on the screen where it is not, you’ll get a stutter in the image,” Goldman explained. One way to compensate for this stutter is to decrease the time the shutter is open, although this in turn affects the amount of light displayed in the image.

Other elements that play a role in 4K TV are an expanded color space, a higher dynamic range and a higher sample bit depth. These three factors expose the eye to a higher chromaticity of color distribution and luminosity, with less posterization, or the “banding” that is seen with slow color changes on displays with a lower sample bit depth.

As far as predictions on which format will be accepted in the industry for Ultra-HD, Goldman addressed the new High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) profiles called HEVC Range Extensions, which were finalized the week prior to the presentation. But for 2014, Goldman predicts that 4K operators will use AVC encoders until the HEVC formats are ready for the market. Even the newest HEVC encoders that have been released use 80 times the processing power for achieving “true 4K Ultra-HD TV,” explained Goldman, so there isn’t a platform out there right now that will get half or third the bit rate that you would expect from the new HEVC standard.

“Until the ecosystem for doing end-to-end with High Efficiency Video Encoding is ready, there is no reason why we can’t be enjoying true 4K Ultra-HD TV today for contribution distribution using AVC,” explained Goldman. In the future, he predicts that this ecosystem will start to come together around 2016 for Live HEVC encoding for content and distribution.

Peter Ostapiuk, VP of media product management at Intelsat, addressed the potential opportunities and challenges in the rollout of Ultra-HD. He explained that the added revenue opportunities could in fact be the biggest driver for the widespread adoption of 4K TV; however, it may prove too difficult to rely on advertising revenue when it comes to this technology, as advertisers are going to be less willing to pay a premium to reach a comparative smaller number of viewers.

“There has got to be a way for us to get to a premium-tier subscription model that will actually allow the programmers to gain additional revenue and to finance some of the upgrades that need to be done to the ecosystem,” said Ostapiuk.

As far as addressing the challenges that accompany 4K, Ostapiuk points to the bandwidth requirements and the lack of distinction of the features between HD and true Ultra-HD by consumers. Today’s HD that consumers are familiar with, Ostapiuk argues, is probably not the “true HD” that 4K strives for, and the distinction needs to be made to the consumer in order for the benefits of 4K to be fully realized.

“The experience that you get with HD coming off the DTH platform or from your cable operator … is far inferior from the true HD that you can get from a Blue-Ray disc,” Ostapiuk explained. “If we want to make 4K a success, we have to make sure that the differentiation from what you get from the HD today is very apparent to the consumer.”

Ostapiuk later said he believes 4K penetration will only continue to increase in the future. He also believes that the incremental costs of manufacturing for 4K TV will only decrease as the technologies become more advanced. This ease of upgrade and eventual cost decline, however, relies on the technology being adopted by consumers in the first place. In the end, the consumers have to realize the qualities in 4K that differentiate it from HD or SD.

“There are millions of 3-D TVs on the market in the United States, but it was estimated that less than 250,000 people actually use that functionality,” said Ostapiuk. He points out that the value proposition of the benefits of “true 4K” need to be clear to the consumer in order to promote a widespread acceptance.

Ostapiuk also predicts for 2016 that several DTH operators will begin to introduce 4K channels globally, and that 4K will become another type of marketplace or offering for content providers. Many OTT providers as well will launch on demand and Ultra-HD streaming services by 2016, he believes.

Nevertheless, even with the rollout of 4K and the platforms that will support the technology, Ostapiuk realizes the realities of SD and HD viewers upgrading to 4K.

“There are still millions of people that still have SD TVs, and we’re going to need to support that legacy audience for a long time,” Ostapiuk says.

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