by Thierry Fautier Issue 108 - December 2015
Consumers are lighting the path toward worldwide acceptance of Ultra HD (UHD). Recent research from Eutelsat Communications revealed that consumers are willing to pay up to 10 a month to benefit from the increased sharpness, immersion and vivid color that UHD content offers. Theyre also willing to invest in new UHD TV sets priced between 1,000 and 3,000 for screens within the 50-inch range. The same study found that pay-TV subscribers showed a strong preference for linear UHD channels, while viewers that have cut the cord expressed a preference for VOD and occasional, event-specific content in UHD.
While consumer interest has been peaking, the challenge with UHD, thus far, has been delivering UHD content in high quality using minimum bandwidth. This article will examine the hurdles video content and service providers face when delivering UHD content, the current state of UHD deployments and future technology advancements on the horizon for this exciting new video format.
There are several roadblocks that stand in the way of UHD services being deployed on a global scale, including absence of a single UHD standard, lack of a defined workflow for UHD production and delivery and shortage of infrastructure bandwidth.
Right now there are several standards bodies, forums and alliances working on defining an UHD profile. The Ultra HD Forum is one group making significant headway. Currently, the Forum is in the midst of setting up guidelines for UHD technologies such High Dynamic Range (HDR), High Frame Rate (HFR) and Next generation Audio (NGA). In addition, the Forum is looking to outline an end-to-end video production and delivery chain for live and VOD UHD services.
Additionally, the High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) codec has emerged as a viable solution for bandwidth compression, allowing video content and service providers to deliver superior quality services such as UHD using the same amount of bandwidth.
Once the industry agrees on an UHD profile and workflow for end-to-end production and delivery, and incorporates HEVC solutions into their architecture, pay-TV operators can move forward with introducing UHD offerings.
Fixing the Bandwidth Issue
To date, UHD service offerings have been slow to market. Most UHD content today is viewed as VOD via OTT service providers. However, that may be changing thanks to the recent introduction of NASA TV UHD, the first consumer UHD channel in North America launched by Harmonic and NASA.
Not only does NASA TV UHD provide the industry with a blueprint for producing and delivering 2160p60 resolution video, it also addresses the industrys bandwidth concerns. Relying on an end-to-end HD and UHD video delivery system from Harmonic, the channel is able to be delivered at 13.5 Mbps compared with many of the UHD commercial channels in the industry, which have required between 25 and 35 Mbps. The key is superior encoding technology developed by Harmonic to use the power of HEVC compression algorithm.
Technology Advancements for UHD
The UHD standard has only existed a short time, but its already evolving. While Phase 1 of the UHD standard improves upon the resolution of HD, offering about four times more pixels compared with 1080p60, Phase 2 (currently in development) will provide enhancements such as HDR, HFR and NGA. HDR, in particular, improves the luminosity of digital video, enabling viewers to experience a broader range of color and brightness. Making these new features a part of the format will elevate the UHD viewing experience to a whole new level.
2016 and Beyond
Going into the year 2016 and beyond, UHD television sales are expected to skyrocket. With HDR TVs likely to be hitting the market soon, IHS forecasts that unit shipments of HDR TVs globally will grow from 2.9 million in 2016 to 32.6 million in 2019.
After industry groups like the Ultra HD Forum define the necessary guidelines for UHD enhancements like HDR , HFR and NGA, its looking like a lot more UHD content will be available. To ensure theyre a part of this amazing journey in television history, video content and service providers must start making the transition to an IP-based infrastructure and deploy an end-to-end UHD delivery system with advanced technologies like HEVC.