TV Alliance Strains Under Competition Vs. Cooperation Conundrum

Despite staging an elaborate CES 2016 press event to show solidarity for its next generation 4K Ultra TV standard and logo program, the UHD Alliance’s (UHDA) effort is not as unified as the group’s leadership would like us to believe.

The group’s announced standards and definitions for premium 4K Ultra HDTV displays has been rejected by at least one leading manufacturer and UHDA member – Sony, which feels the UHDA’s new logo program could create the very confusion that it was developed to eliminate.

Sony TV product managers say that the UHD Alliance logo doesn’t work for its “lens-to-living room strategy.” Sony posits that the Alliance is primarily one that only includes a flat-panel television leaving out other devices, such as projectors and cameras. Sony says there should be one logo for all of devices so that customers aren’t confused about their various 4K UHD and HDR capabilities.

The UHD Alliance was formed in late 2014, and includes more than 35 member companies, including leading film studios, consumer electronics manufacturers, content distributors and technology companies. Its aim is to foster the creation of an ecosystem that fully realizes and promotes the next generation of premium in-home entertainment platform.

Key characteristics of a robust next-generation experience should offer 4K resolution, as well as a mix of other features such as high dynamic range, wide color gamut, high frame rate and immersive audio, among others, the Alliance said.

Among the leading UHDA board members are The DirecTV Group, Dolby Laboratories, LG Electronics, Netflix, Panasonic, Samsung Electronics, Sony, Technicolor, The Walt Disney Studios, Twentieth Century Fox, Universal Pictures and Warner Bros. Entertainment.

The UHD Alliance’s premium logo supports various display technologies, including both LED LCD TVs and organic light emitting diode (OLED) displays, which handle luminance ranges in different ways, requiring two levels brightness performance.

In order to receive the UHD Alliance premium logo, a device must meet or exceed the following: 3840×2160 resolution; ability to display a 10-bit color bit depth signal; ability to accept a B.T. 2020 color gamut signal and display more than 90% of the Digital Cinema Initiative’s P3 color gamut; ability to accept the Society of Motion Pictures and Television Engineers (SMPTE) ST2084 electro-optical transfer function, which is the a method for changing digital code into visible light for HDR; and a combination of peak brightness and black level either of either more than 1,000 nits of peak brightness and less than 0.05 nits black level, or more than 540 nits peak brightness and less than 0.0005 nits black level.

Sony Electronics executives, who met with members of the press in New York in early February, said their 2016 high-end XBR-75X940D TV 4K UHD LED LCD TV, would not carry the Alliance’s “Ultra HD Premium” logo, even though the flagship Sony set appears to have all of the attributes to qualify. We say “appears,” because Sony’s policy is not to release exact numbers and specifications on features and performance capabilities, in favor of forcing shoppers into a showroom to see a demonstration of the actual picture quality benefits of the TVs for themselves.

Another characteristic of the Ultra HD Premium logo definition is use of a 10-bit panel, and Sony isn’t saying if its TVs use these more expensive components, opting to say only that its new TVs deliver all the benefits of a 10-bit panel, including the delivery or deep rich colors that reduce or eliminate banding artifacts.

Still, the set was said to have technology to drive peak brightness levels to exceed 1,000 nits while the picture will outperform competitors’ products boasting the Digital Cinema Initiative’s P3 color recommendation for professional digital theaters, according to Sony executives.

In lieu of the UHDA’s “Ultra HD Premium” logo, Sony has elected to use its own “4K HDR” logo on any products capable of delivering a quality 4K UHD experience with high dynamic range (HDR) and a wide color gamut. Sony product information manager Phil Jones said Sony’s 4K HDR logo was developed “to talk about our elevated standards of premium television sets for more discerning customers.”

Sony’s “4K HDR” sets so far are only announced as being “HDR compatible,” meaning they will support HDR metadata with HDR10, HDMI 2.0a inputs with HDCP 2.2 copy protection, the ability to map Rec. 2020 wide color gamut, etc.

“The goal is not to have a guy coming into a store asking if this TV supports Rec. 2020, but to assist the customer who comes in looking for the best TV he can buy this year and asking if it will play an Ultra HD Blu-ray? Instead of talking specs, we are going to show you,” Jones said.

Sony executives said they intend to use their proprietary logo on multiple categories of audio/video electronics products, including video displays, Blu-ray players, video projectors and digital imaging products, to help consumers quickly identify which of its products will be capable of delivering a high-quality 4K with HDR image.

This is in keeping with the company’s recent effort to install elaborate Sony Experience Stations in Best Buy stores with the goal of showing customers the difference between 4K UHD and Full HD 1080, and HDR TVs compared to non-HDR TVs. Jones said the “4K HDR” logo will appear on Sony Experience Station demo products so that customers can match the Sony 4K HDR logo with other compatible Sony HDR products.

Although HDR can also be applied to lower-resolution levels, like Full HD 1080p (1920×1080), Sony, like many others in the industry, believes that only 4K UHD signals can carry data sufficient to represent the full color and luminance necessary to reproduce images the way that filmmakers originally intended them to be seen.

Whether or not Sony’s unwillingness to participate the UHDA’s logo program will weaken the program’s effectiveness and threaten the very goals of the UHDA remains to be seen. But it does tell us that CE industry has not lost its unwillingness to compromise, even when a format war is not an issue.

But in this age, where more and more shoppers are purchasing audio/video products online, sight unseen, we wonder if Sony’s reluctance to talk specs and numbers won’t end up doing more harm than good. Indeed, time will tell if the company’s strategy of eschewing market share for profit margin will allow it to compete in the rapidly changing digital television marketplace.