The industry is gradually realizing that in order to speed up the uptake of 4K, it will require large investments in top-notch broadcast equipment.

Looking at the growth prospects of the M&E industry for the next two years, enabling technologies that are driving the industry including direct-to-consumer (D2C) initiatives such as over-the-top (OTT) services, higher-resolution formats for presentation such as 4K/HDR/HFR, and more sophisticated metadata/content discovery, supported on a foundation of IP end-to-end workflows and cloud-based storage and distribution accompanying these technological advances are equally important.

The broadcast equipment market across the Asia-Pacific region will double in nine years as 4K over IP makes inroads. Across all markets, customers of the professional AV industry are rapidly adopting 4K. New large-format displays are more likely to support 4K. Equipment manufacturers are taking 4K one step further by launching an assortment of 4K products like 4K cameras, 4K mixers, monitors, routers, and VT devices –
betting that the technology is on path to becoming a rage. For equipment makers, one key to boosting competitiveness is likely to be lowering costs in order to limit the investment burden on broadcasters. Companies like Sony, Ikegami, and Aja have launched a new 4K and HDR technology equipment like 4K/ultra HD and 2K/HD video recorder and player, portable 4K/HD camera system, and equipment for studio and outdoor production. Many direct-to-home (DTH) providers are already providing 4K set-top boxes, and one or two channels are also running in 4K resolution.

4K resolution/ultra high definition (UHD) services are in the early stages of adoption, but are viewed as emerging game changers that will drive future infrastructure upgrades and deepened customer engagement. Traditional broadcast infrastructures will struggle with the step change required. OTT providers have already started rolling out services. TV manufacturers will drive consumer demand.

4K technology is anticipated to mark its significance in numerous digital media sectors, such as TV screens, system monitors, and digital cameras. Advancements in technology along with the rising demand for high-resolution pictures are anticipated to fuel 4K market demand.

Perfecting 4K Video Delivery

4K is seen by many in the industry as a major new opportunity, but serious obstacles will need to be overcome to enable development of the market. Most notable of these are the very limited supply of 4K content, lack of distribution standards, and the need for an installed base of 4K TV sets to create an addressable audience.

High-resolution 4K video has exploded onto the scene in the professional AV market in the last several years. IHS Technology predicts that 2016 4K panel shipments will make up 40 percent of the overall display market, just four years after the first 4K panels started shipping. And growth is strong; the same IHS report indicates that 2016 shipments of 4K panels are up 67 percent from 2015, even as overall panel shipments decline.

While 4K brings with it many technologies for the integrator to consider, from the end-user perspective, it is about a clearer picture. Advancements in color formats, frame rates, and content protection all must be considered when specifying video distribution systems. As displays drop in price, larger displays are used in more applications and the resolution differences become obvious. As 4K penetrates the home, end users will start demanding it everywhere.

As many elements of the broadcast equipment market become increasingly commoditized, manufacturers continue to explore technological advancements that will capture the imagination and allow price points to be stabilized.

With huge amounts of investment going toward serving up premium 4K content, service providers and content owners must ensure that 4K viewing experience is truly superior. But with the opportunity to provide audiences an immersive experience comes risk. Much of the premium 4K video on offer is high motion, high frame rate content that presents inherently greater potential for visual artifacts than lower resolution video. A careful, comprehensive approach to 4K content preparation and delivery requires capable video processing and measurement platforms, as well as the knowledge to properly configure these tools for optimal results.

Looking to the broadcast industry and pay-TV, the primary challenge is the increased bandwidth required to transmit 4K. Providing four times the resolution of 1080p HD, 4K demands four times the data rate. In addition, due to motion-blur being more visible at higher resolution, the frame rate should ideally be doubled to counter this. This would mean the data rate would then also be doubled, hence the uncompressed data rate of 4K would be eight times that of 1080p and 16 that of 1080i.

4K video is in a period of refinement, where companies across the video ecosystem have the opportunity to optimize the viewing experience for customers. Because of the higher resolution of 4K video, physically larger viewing space, and higher frame rates, consumers are more likely to perceive visual defects in 4K playback. To provide the most seamless experience for viewers, operators must understand optimal encoder settings and recognize the unique settings that each network configuration requires for encoding, packaging, and delivery. This is key to mitigating and preventing pitfalls, such as those outlined here. Additionally, a critical layer of defense includes a robust automated video-quality monitoring solution to detect impairments in real time. The ability to make real-time corrections will ensure the highest-quality 4K experience.

Asia-Pacific 4K broadcast market share is expected to witness substantial growth and it is likely to be the fastest growing region. The surge in demand can be subjected to intensely proliferating adoption of these devices in the region over the period. Emerging economies such as India are expected to experience high demand for these products. It is expected to incorporate technological breakthrough and elevate the standards for next-generation video production.

Is 4K a Reality?

New cameras are launched seemingly daily, shows are commissioned and shows are axed, but the overall pace of the industry remains pretty steady. It looks like the industry is now ready to adopt 4K. It is now a reality within the industry and for the everyday consumer. Companies are now looking forward to the development of 2/3-inch UHD models as they reflect the industry standards for outdoor broadcast for live sports production applications.

The high-resolution versions with 2/3-inch sensor size are anticipated to deliver appropriate sensitivity and deliver ultimate depth of field sports as well as studio production applications. Bigger OB companies have started building 4K trucks and the subscription television providers such as BT Group and Sky have been fueling this by distributing 4K content as the potential for revenue has increased.

There is some reluctance from facilities providers to jump into this new format, mainly due to the lack of agreed standards. No one wants to get stuck in a format or a workflow that may become obsolete in a few years. Due to this, there has been an increase in new industry bodies, initiatives, and protocols that are helping drive the development of 4K production.

However, it is clear that there has been a constant conflict between the standardization and adoption of formats, the telecommunications companies broadcast equipment manufacturers, and the consumer television manufacturers.

On the consumer side, there is a sense that the public has now embraced 4K. But what has the shift to 4K meant for the mainstream people and companies in the broadcast industry – the production companies and facilities providers? Unless broadcasters are ready to spend, there is a possibility that any 4K solution put together today would not be perfect – there will be compromises and work-around to reach the end goal. In this way, it is fair to say that 4K is not quite there yet.

The standardization issue is a big one. Even the simplest of productions and workflows can already be flawed. There is a whole new layer conversion and consideration at play. Whether as a system integrator designing a new studio facility, an outside broadcast truck, or perhaps contemplating building in-house studio, it is a really tough time.

4K is here and it is accessible, and there are even ways to do it affordably, but it is still no easy task.

IP as a transmission method will replace copper, and formats such as quad link will become stepping-stones. 4K over IP is like the M6 toll road – it might cost a bit more but you will get to your destination quicker.

There has also been lots of discussion about the other technologies surrounding 4K that have not quite settled down such as HDR, higher frame rates, and a larger color space. The new ITU-R Recommendation BT. 2020, more commonly known as Rec. 2020, and HDR are actually likely to be what sells 4K to the mass market.

A larger resolution is one thing but technologies like HDR and Rec. 2020 change the viewing experience – it is more immersive and real. Rec. 709, the current HD standard, was developed in 1993! So after such a long time with one standard, something that is such a significant improvement is bound to be well received. HDR will surely have the edge in convincing consumers to buy that new 4K TV.

Workflows and roles are changing. From a live production point of view though, it is an exciting time as we can realistically produce 4K productions now. The requirement for multi-camera 4K productions is increasing.

There is the obvious sport coverage and also live music and events, which are ripe for 4K acquisition. 4K multi-camera facilities include a full flyaway gallery with various options for cameras. New system cameras along with transmitting the video signal over long distances of fiber – also offers all the traditional multi-camera facilities – talkback, tally, return video, and camera engineering control.

4K Broadcast equipment is all out there, industry needs to get around the potential format mismatch issues in order to make it a everyday reality.

What's next?

Just as 4K video is becoming mainstream, chipset manufacturers are hard at work on the next generations of HDMI and other video distribution technologies. Expect to start seeing the following technologies in the coming years, some even sooner!

4K60 4:4:4 via video distribution technologies. As of this writing, 4K video at 60 fps with full 4:4:4 color is just starting to appear for HDMI products. However, it will be another year or so before this resolution becomes available in a video distribution technology that can send this 18 Gbps video signal farther than a few feet.

High dynamic range (HDR) video. Many display manufacturers have been demonstrating HDR video and generating significant buzz at recent industry trade shows like CES, InfoComm, and Cedia Expo. Current video formats and displays have a comparatively limited dynamic range of light. Images with very bright and very dark regions often result in either washed out bright or muddy darks. HDR provides a crystal clear image across a much broader dynamic range, with spectacular results.

While HDR technology itself does not require extra bandwidth, the HDMI specification requires HDR to be paired with a minimum of 30-bit Deep Color, which does increase the bandwidth. As a result, HDR video at 60 fps will be supported along with 4K60 4:4:4 distribution technologies.

8K video NHK. Japan, in cooperation with Sony, has emerged as an early driver for 8K video. NHK has committed to recording and broadcasting the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo in 8K video to select venues. That does not mean that consumers will be watching these Olympics at home in 8K; the video distribution architecture will not be in place, and 8K TVs will likely not yet be available for the mass market. To help understand why, 8K video at 60 fps and full 4:4:4 color will consume nearly 72 Gbps of bandwidth.

Higher frame rates. Future versions of the HDMI specification are expected to define support for higher video frame rates, such as 120 fps and 240 fps. These frame rates will result in even smoother fast-motion video, doubling or even quadrupling video bandwidths in the process.

Way Forward

4K is on course to be the next truly mainstream TV tech revelation but the process of content development and adoption for any new technology takes time. The industry is gradually realizing that in order to speed up the uptake of 4K, it will require large investments in top-notch broadcast equipment

Challenges include lack of agreement on standards, the risk of hardware quickly becoming obsolete, the need for infrastructure that can consistently deliver the high data rates required, and increased production costs. Supporting 4K involves much more than simply supporting a specific video resolution. Bandwidths, frame rates, color formats, and new copy protection mechanisms all must be considered during system design and specification. For the next several years, legacy sources, and small screens will coexist in our 4K systems and must be carefully managed. Solutions to these challenges do exist, and a professional integrator can design a system flexible enough to meet the needs of our fast-changing market.

Peter Schut,CTO, Axon
Industry Speak
Axon Accommodates 4K, HDR, and Wide Color Gamut

With research showing that India is poised to lead the APAC charge toward ultra high definition (UHD) broadcasting, Axon Digital Design is anticipating a positive response to its new 4K/UHD-capable products. With the emerging need for 4K, Axon also sees a trend for HDR and wide color gamut.

The broadcast industry needs to provide its viewers with a stunning picture. The industry needs to do this because other channels, like Netflix, already do this. So there is not only a need for more pixels but more colors and a higher dynamic range will truly make a difference. UHD will enable this. This means that broadcasters need to move from standard-dynamic range to high-dynamic range. Making that move is not an easy task. There is much to learn. The answer is found in the use of a Look-Up Table (LUT). In order to accommodate that, Axon has developed new products that can handle these LUTs, but also a method where two LUTs surrounding a matrix are supported. Axon's core business is signal processing, which means that customers easily turn to Axon when it comes to developing products for 4K, HDR, and wide color gamut applications.

This has led to the development of seven different Synapse 4K signal processing modules and four products that can handle HDR and wide color gamut.

Peter Schut,
CTO, Axon