Is 2017 the Year of UHD?

Hopefully TV suppliers and the content community learned their lesson in the great home 3D debacle. It goes something like this: Don’t promise a transformative and improved viewing experience unless you can deliver it.

So now the industry is coalescing behind Ultra High Definition (UHD) as the next-generation in-home transformative viewing experience. When the “next big thing” was 4K lines of resolution over 2K, the more thoughtful industry heads recognized that 4K alone can’t credibly be sold to consumers as said transformative experience. Perhaps, lessons have been learned.

That brings us to a new definition of UHD, which basically goes like this: 4K or higher resolution; 60 frames per second (FPS) or faster TV refresh rate; High Dynamic Range (HDR); Wide Color Gamut (WCG) and HDMI 2.0. There are other elements that can be added to mix, such as next-generation audio and a new version of the HDMI standard, but these are generally considered to be the base.

Add to this the latest advancements in TV displays—Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED) or Quantum Dot (QD) displays—the perceptible improvement in quality is undisputed. Both LG and Samsung coupled their latest high-end LED-based displays with the aforementioned UHD elements at CES this month to demonstrate that UHD (done properly) delivers an unquestionably beautiful picture. Even when displayed on today’s ubiquitous LCD TVs, the quality enhancements are easily apparent to the average eye. There has been a question regarding which of the several HDR technologies available might rise to the top. Interviews with TV makers and chip suppliers at CES suggest that many TV makers will support multiple HDR formats (for now). Perhaps now content and service providers will be less skittish about offering a new service to their customers.

True UHD services that will make full use of all the processing improvements and high-end displays have, until recently, been almost non-existent. In my book, 4K streaming offerings from public Internet streaming leaders, such as Netflix and Amazon, don’t count. They don’t deliver all the enhancements and can’t always deliver the 4K lines of resolution due to the mercurial availability of sufficient bandwidth.

We’ll have to look to traditional pay TV providers to deliver data-heavy UHD content over their more expansive networks for the highest-value experience. Now we’re getting live sporting events captured with 4K cameras and encoded with HEVC compression. Offerings have been slim but service providers around the world are moving from trials and experiments to commercial UHD offerings. DTC estimates that more than 20 large cable, DTH satellite and IPTV providers are currently broadcasting, at the minimum, in 4K resolution—and many with 4K plus additional processing enhancements. The few examples here are for service providers currently selling UHD/4K services. There are still many trials and announcements of plans of service in the near future, but these are available now. Microsoft Word - UHD MM 01.27.17.docx

*Partial list
Source: Digital Tech Consulting, Inc.

The last piece of the puzzle is for the industry to get behind an agreed-upon definition of UHD and do a great job of simply explaining and demonstrating the benefits to the consumer. If the industry gets that right, let’s hope that the hardware advancements and the emergence of true UHD services will break the curse of the 3D TV broken promises.