Resolute over Resolution

Peter Savage 2

Author: Peter Savage 2

Published: 25 April 2016

by Leighton Chenery Issue 112 - April 2016

According to an industry think-tank, the end of 2017 will see the tipping point for UHD in the UK. But, ask the people working on the frontline, and that picture is not so clear.

As we approach NAB, talk will once again return to the thorny subject of picture resolution. I say \'thorny\' because it has divided the wider television industry.

On the one side we have the broadcast sector, in the main, encouraging the adoption of a new viewing experience that is not just improved resolution but also includes High Dynamic Range (HDR), wider colour gamut, immersive sound and higher frame rates. While on the other side, we have the consumer electronics manufacturers pushing 4k TV sets that are only a step change in resolution.

It\'s clear to my mind that resolution alone is not sufficient for the next generation of television broadcasts. 4k can look great but you have to be viewing it in exactly the correct spot to appreciate it. And is it significantly better than good HD? Not really. 8k has more of a \'wow\' factor but it produces a motion blur that can be unsettling.

On the flip side, from my experience, I can see first hand that HDR and immersive audio significantly improve the televisual experience. And they have nothing to do with resolution. Similarly, for live sport, higher frame rates can improve clarity.

But this is the opinion of just one man. I wanted to know how the rest of the industry feels about 4k. So, during BVE, we asked them. Well, 126 of them anyway.

From the Azule stand inside Excel we conducted an open survey, stopping people to ask them about 4k from a production and broadcast perspective and from the point of view of a consumer. The results make for interesting reading.

Before I reveal all, it is important that I tell you that there was an incentive for filling in the survey: one respondent would win an iPad. But we didn\'t discriminate or seek out certain demographics. Anyone that was willing to answer - as long as they were part of the media industry - could take part. Just under half of the sample worked in broadcast television, a third worked in film, 10% were in AV and the rest was split among everything from wedding videographers to corporate producers.

So, what did we learn? We learnt that 29% of people within this market don\'t expect 4k to be their predominant working format until at least 2018 and possibly beyond. At the same time, 33% believe that the tipping point for 4k will be 2017. 16% are already working mainly in 4k while 6% never will.

What was perhaps most telling was that of the 29% that don\'t foresee 4k becoming standard until at least 2018, and possibly beyond, nearly half of them work in broadcast television.

This was interesting because, also at BVE, I stumbled across a Digital Production Partnership (DPP) seminar in which the chief executive, Mark Harrison, revealed that a DPP think-tank has predicted that 2017 will be the tipping point for UHD (but without HDR). It\'s not a huge difference but it does show that the foot soldiers of the industry - as that was what most of our survey sample (and indeed BVE) consisted of - differ slightly in their predictions from the generals.

Like all surveys, nothing is ever black and white of course. Of the 16% of people that are already working in 4k, 60% of those (or 12 out of 20 if you like) are in broadcast TV.

Another way to look at this is to examine the current predominant working format. It is no surprise that HD still rules. Of the 126 people in our survey, 86 are mainly working in HD (68%) while just 21 spend most of their time with 4k (17%). SD still has a place too, with 13% still working in 720 x 576.

So, that\'s the business side, what about the industry\'s attitude as consumers? Surely, we are all early adopters? We work with (or near) technology all the time: the desire to improve the viewing experience must translate into a yearning to own the best kit at home too? Maybe not. Perhaps we know more than the average man or woman on the street. We know that there isn\'t much 4k content available to watch right now and that there are lots of standards still to agree on. And we know that HDR, wider colour gamut, higher frame rates and immersive audio are more important.

As such, our survey suggests that we are going to be cautious adopters. 13% already have a 4k TV and a further 12% will buy one this calendar year. Next year another 21% will take the plunge. But 50% currently have no plans to buy a 4k television and 3% don\'t even have a TV! Now, that tells you a lot.

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