While it’s still very early days for 4K, the tracks are being laid for the ultra-HD future. The potential impact on the media and advertising industries are obvious: content will become more immersive and more highly sought-after by advertisers, creatives will have more impact, and ad serving infrastructure will have to undergo a major upgrade.
However, transitions to new content formats often take many years to take hold as consumers, content owners, TV manufacturers and infrastructure providers all have to move in tandem – usually at varying paces – to put the necessary pieces in place. Below we have provided an overview of where 4K is at today and where it’s heading. We also question whether 4K really is the future as parts of the global market are already eyeing up more advanced alternatives.
Getting a sufficient number of 4K screens into homes is the critical first step. According to Futuresource Consulting, 4k sets are expected to ship 11.6 million units in 2014, up 700 percent year on year, with China accounting for over 70 percent of worldwide demand. However, this momentum won’t gain critical mass for three or four years. In 2018, 100 million sets are forecast to ship per annum, when ownership will exceed 20 percent in leading markets
When it comes to the TV manufacturers, Samsung is currently leading the market for 4K flat screens, with 29 percent as of end-December 2014, according to IHS DisplaySearch. Other manufacturers worthy of a mention are LG with 17 percent, followed by Sony with 7.9 percent and China’s HIsense with 5.5 percent.
But 4K isn’t just about TV. Mobile will have a role to play too. As ABI research noted last year, the number of mobile devices with 4K screens would reach 478 million units by 2019. But the research company added a note of caution, saying that services and content will trail consumer adoption.
Infrastructure and the OTT Opportunity
Having the ability to deliver the content to the consumer is the next challenge. Interestingly, as Phil Keys of Intertrust noted in a blog post, open broadband has an advantage when it comes to getting the 4K services into homes.
Currently there are five major types of broadcast TV networks: traditional over-the-air, cable, satellite, managed IP (often referred to “telco TV”) and open broadband. But broadband is the only technology that doesn’t depend on specialised technology ecosystems, relying instead on standardised commodity technologies. Most users can access 4K content online with a 25 MB connection.
“This gives open broadband a huge advantage in two ways,” explains Keys. “One is that the networking technology is available at the lowest cost. This is one key reason why OTT TV providers such as Netflix can rapidly start 4K services. They just use the same broadband infrastructure, which is constantly updated to provide increased bandwidth.
“4K will not just be limited to TV sets, however, and will also apply to mobile devices, services, and content. By 2019, there could be 478 million mobile devices on the market capable of displaying 4K video, and with the proper wireless broadband infrastructure in place, OTT TV could be the best way to get 4K TV to these devices as well,” he added.
Over the last year, we have seen the ‘broadband advantage’ play out in the market, as Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube, Vimeo (download, not streaming), M-Go (Samsung’s online video rental service) and Sony Video have all launched online 4K services.
However, broadcaster support for 4K will be forthcoming. In the US, DirecTV are going after 4K in a big way, and last June the company has already launched a satellite dedicated to 4K, while also offering a 4K online service.
Can 4K Succeed with 8K and VR Waiting in the Wings?
Some are beginning to question whether 4K is already past its sell-by-date. And these doubts aren’t entirely unfounded either. Just this week, Hollywood Reporter quoted Yannis Exarchos, CEO of Olympic Broadcast Services (OBS), said that both 8K and virtual reality held more promise than 4K. “There is no demand from our rights holders for 4K,” said Exarchos. “We have to take our cue from broadcasters.”
This is no small thing as the Olympics is used to showcase new TV technologies, but OBS will instead be looking into virtual reality technologies with a view to conducting trials at the 2016 Games. “The technology is maturing quickly. There is real interest in virtual experiences to mobile phones,” Exarchos said. “One VR application we are exploring is around viewing aspects of the Games after the event.”
OBS also had its eye on 8K, and is working with Japanese broadcaster NHK to produce 8K (16 times HD resolution) content, though not for broadcast coverage, of the Rio Games. “In my opinion 8K is much more of a game-changer than 4K,” Exarchos said. “You can really see a huge difference in experience whereas the gap between HD and 4K is far less.”
The Japanese government has also decided to transition Japan’s broadcast system to 8K, with a target for completion being the 2020 Olympics, which will be held in Tokyo.