Broadcasters uneasy as they ponder Ultra HD

March 13, 2014 15.02 Europe/London By Cynthia Ritchie, Satellite 2014, Washington DC

Ultra HD SatelliteIn a session dedicated to Ultra HD, leading international TV companies were contemplative, even glum, regarding the uncertainties surrounding UHD. Participating on a panel dedicated to “Disruption” were Martin Breidsprecher, CEO, Azteca America, John McClosky, EVP and CTO Motion Picture Association of America, and Vince Roberts, EVP Global Operations and CTO of Disney ABC Television Group – the last perhaps the most outspoken in sharing his concerns about UHD – he started the session saying “I keep telling my management team, show me the business case for Ultra HD”

“We need a business case for Ultra hi def, and we will refer to UHD1 and UHD2 – 4K is a production standard. The challenge with 4K starts with standards not completely being set yet, to getting a clear understanding of what human visual perception can do, of what the human eye can see.”

“For example, if you have a nominal viewing distance of what most people have, 10 or 12 feet, you are looking at a TV set with a diagonal measurement of 150 inches – that’s the size of a king size bed. So the challenge will be for you to see it. You will have to have a viewing distance of six and a half feet, so you [will need to be] pretty close to a very large set… for the most part, the average consumer is not going to be seeing it very effectively.”

He proceeded to cite the sound and framerate advantages of 4K – “60 or 120 frames per second is a pretty compelling visual experience, for sports for example. It has a lot of implications for infrastructure. ATSC 3.0 will take some time to get established.”
McCloskey: “I think the big challenge now is figuring what to do beyond resolution – more bits, faster bits or better bits – which is most important?”

Roberts continued predicting the roadmap for 8K: ”The rollout of this is going to take a long time. We have only just converted some channels to HD on DISH.”

“Where we see is moving is pretty much to the Netflix type of environments, where we have the niche channels, that have the bandwidth, VOD environments, this is the first iteration. For us to dedicate a full broadcast channel to 4K, there are just not enough eyeballs out there. ”

He explained that Disney ABC is producing in 4K, and archiving: “We are getting our libraries ready. However he was quick to reiterate: ”But I need to see a business case for UHD. I do not get one extra dollar or pound for a commercial in HD versus SD, So now I am going to 4K and one can get a little cynical and say that the broadcast industry is subsidising consumer electronics manufacturers because they made a set that I now have to build all this new infrastructure to support and I do not get a dime of commercial money out of that.”

“HD had a different proposition. The proposition there was moving from 4:3 to 16:9, Now [with UHD] I’m still at 16:9, it’s a bit brighter, the resolution is a bit better, a bit more colourful, a bit better sound, but I have to juxtapose that against the hundreds of millions of dollars it will take to change the entire infrastructure of all of our networks – it’s a very difficult trade-off.”

McClosky was a bit more encouraging, reminding: “when people see UHD, they like it….The CE industry has really put a stake in the ground and says UHD is going to happen, adding: “But folks who have bought high end HD sets in the past five years – are they going to have the stomach to buy a new set for UHD?

For Breidsprecher the question was: ”will there be enough content to make people buy a more expensive TV. . Is it worth it? I’m not sure.”

Roberts cited the fact that pricing competition for UHD sets has already begun: “at CES, we saw price racing starting. Samsung had an UHD set for £69,000 – that’s like hanging a Lexus on your wall. Then Visio said they would produce a $7,000 4K set. At some point, it becomes a label on a box at Costco.”

“Eventually, when you go to buy a TV set that’s all they will have.”