November 12, 2013
By Joyce Wang
Ultra HD, or 4K, might come sooner than many had expected partially thanks to strong interest from OTT players like Netflix. As CEO Reed Hastings suggested during the company's most recent earnings call and reiterated at several conferences since then, Netflix wants to be one of the big suppliers of 4K next year. The company recently posted several 4K titles, including one called "El Fuente: 24 MP." According to Netflix, the title is an example of 4K at 24 frames per second. Unavailable to subs, the title is an internal test video. Hastings didn't say whether initial 4K content will be limited to ISPs like Cox, Cablevision and Suddenlink, which are part of its Open Connect Content Delivery Network that seeks to improve video streaming quality through peering or free Netflix storage apps.
With 4 times the resolution of HD, the bandwidth required to transport 4K content is substantial. That means HEVC will play a key part in 4K delivery as it shrinks bitrates required for 4K to potentially under 10 Mbps. During the Copenhagen Future of TV Conference in Sept, Hastings promised that consumers won't need more than about 15 Mbps over a 50Mbps connection to stream 4K video once content is available on the streaming site. He predicted that 4K video will first take hold on secondary platforms before getting onto the big screen.
HEVC vendors like Elemental Technologies seemed to be on the same page. "Certainly 4K is one driver for HEVC deployments. But an even bigger one is HEVC's ability to deliver OTT distribution cost savings," Keith Wymbs, vp of marketing told us. Commercial deployment of 4K will start slowly next year and as more content becomes available, widespread deployment is expected within 7 years, he said. The company, which has teamed with Arris, Broadcom and Intel to support Comcast's 4K demo at this year's cable show, supported what it claimed was the world's 1st real-time 4K video coding transmission Sun in Japan when it streamed the Osaka Marathon for Japanese provider K-Opticom. The more than 8-hour coverage went to Sony 4K Bravia TVs and secondary platforms. The company expects to be involved in US operator trials next year, Wymbs said. "The single biggest impediment to 4K market acceleration—outside content availability—is the lack of 4K/HEVC-ready decoders, particularly in set-top boxes," according to Wymbs. "We need 4K/HEVC-ready PC-based decoders as well as compliant decoders within Smart TV environments," he said.
The high costs of Ultra-HD TVs will be another barrier to wide adoption, according to Research and Markets ' analysts, citing Samsung, LG, Sony and Panasonic as the main vendors. In addition, some studios and networks are still recovering from the premature rush to 3DTV, said Bernstein Research analysts. "The networks have no plans to drive consumer interest/awareness through content (and promotion of that content). That leaves all the marketing/promotion in the hands of the manufacturers, and makes one question the rate of adoption," they said in a recent report. For the time being, most pay-TV providers are more worried about delivering speeds for HD, let alone 4K, they said. As for Netflix, it's expected to start its 4K rollout with its own original TV shows. "House of Cards" in 4K anyone?
ED NOTE: This story originally appeared in CableFAX Daily. Go here to subscribe.