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Does 4K Need HDR to Succeed?

August 18, 2014
2-Minute Read

As mentioned in my previous blog, before the summer break, HDR has featured large on the agenda as being the missing piece of UHDTV armory to trigger commercial success for the format. Certainly the recent DVB-EBU trials in Munich showed impressive results, but how this technology will be realized, what production workflow can be used (particularly for live event coverage) and whether this technology can be launched in cost-effective TVs are yet to be answered.

Screens are evolving and prices tumbling to levels likely to attract buyers, who will no doubt feel they're purchasing now on enhanced web streaming ability and upscaling HD, as well as investing in a future-proof TV that will be able to decode and display 4K.

By and large this is true, with most of the 2014 crop of screens supporting the latest version of the HDMI spec and an HEVC decoder capable of operating with the limited number of 4K streaming movie services available. Buyer beware though, for two reasons, there's still legacy functionality on the current “latest products” that will only become apparent when a 4K streaming service is applied to the screen.

More importantly, we're still in the midst of a phased introduction of UHDTV, which could make a purchase now quickly lack the latest wow factor feature for 4K. HDR is one such feature, but there are likely to be more, an unfortunate aspect of companies drip feeding features to unsuspecting buyers. The lack of genuine 4K sources is disguising this fact from many early adopters, as is the limited number of viewers who have sufficient broadband bandwidth to sign up for Netflix’s 4K streaming service.

Should you not have 15-20 Mbps broadband connectivity, 1080p would be the fall back option, but is this really a second best option? Many of the HDR demonstrations were made in 1080p and as many of you who visited the Harmonic booth at IBC last year and NAB this past spring will know, I have long been an advocate of 1080p transmission of 4K sourced and displayed material at the bit rates recommended for 4K streaming services. This may seem counter intuitive at first that 1080p be preferred over native 4K transmission, but it is a credible stance.

Of the few 4K streamed services available at the moment, many are in fact 1080p or showing 2K digital cinema content. Even though the bitrates recommended for 4K are high, they may not be enough to prove 4K supremacy over 1080p for demanding sports content. This factor will only become apparent when early adopters switch over from 4K streaming of movies to the much debated rollout of live UHDTV broadcasts.

What's certain is that HDR will not yet be factored into the current crop of screens that are clearly only targeted at 4K streaming services. Broadcast formats and specifications are still in a state of flux, and more worryingly, there appears to be no effort to merge the TV and cinema needs from a workflow perspective leaving 1080p to be the safest interim until UHDTV is fully sorted.

– Ian Trow, Sr. Director, Emerging Technology & Strategy, Harmonic

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