Although film and television series are being produced in 4K/UHD, and there are now a range of available consumer displays, there remain a number of unresolved issues that must be solved before a full 4K/UHD production and delivery ecosystem becomes a reality.
The concept of 4K/UHD may present a challenge to traditional digital terrestrial broadcasters as their limited spectrum makes it much harder to implement. The fact that there is not enough spectrum means the deployment of UHD will be problematic, particularly as the ATSC 3.0 standard is still several years away from being ratified. In addition, uncompressed 4K/UHD needs approximately four times the bandwidth compared to HD and while new codec standards like High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) may compensate, there is still a tough bandwidth hike. Broadcasters and their technology suppliers need to stay one step ahead and be ready to deliver UHD content to homes. However, these barriers put terrestrial broadcasters at a distinct disadvantage.
Satellite, OTT and cable providers are better placed to take the lead and establish UHD/4K channels relatively simply. Those using satellite distribution have the option to rent additional transponder space which, putting cost and business models to one side, would make UHD a more straightforward deployment than it would be for terrestrial competitors.
However, perhaps the most interesting proposition is the Internet. As Internet speeds grow it could become a serious alternative to broadcast and packaged content and make UHD a reality as a mainstream format to deliver content to consumers. Netflix, which already delivers "Super HD" content to its subscribers, has committed to deliver 4K/UHD content whenever possible, including popular series such as Breaking Bad, and House of Cards. In addition, Google has launched its own new codec, to reduce the bandwidth required for watching 4K Internet content through YouTube. It doesn't require every consumer to have a high speed connection but just enough households to make a business model work.
In the background, there are ongoing debates surrounding related picture-improving technologies, including high dynamic range (HDR), wider colour spectrum, in addition to higher frame rates for 4K/UHD.
Taking all of this into consideration, the speed of adoption of 4K/UHD is still unclear. There's no doubting its ability to deliver a step up in picture quality plus the tumbling costs of consumer displays seems to be triggering more interest from consumers. However, the amount of work and investment required from broadcasters means that several issues have yet to be addressed before it becomes a reality. Perhaps the movie industry will lead the charge.