As expected, 4K / UHD was rejuvenated by the addition of High Dynamic Range (HDR) and a host of carefully crafted demos to show the latest crop of debutant screens, unveiled earlier at CES in all their glory. The results were certainly impressive, but needed considerable technical insight to unravel what was behind “the screen” and how applicable it would be to real world services. At its best, HDR content shown on the latest 2016 screens looked amazing, but most attending NAB this year were trying to visualize what the route to an HDR upgrade would be?
Fundamental to understanding the likely workflow is an appreciation of the kind of service being developed, Video on Demand (VoD) or Live, as well as the source and format of the content. Addressing these issues was the primary focus of my presentation at the Harmonic theatre this year, always an interesting litmus test of what is challenging the industry.
So, what are the main conclusions now that we’ve all returned from the show and had time to digest the news and events? It needs to be made clear from that outset that 4K / UHD is here to stay, certainly no flash in the pan like 3D! With such strong consumer adoption of 4K / UHD screens, and an industry keen to future-proof content, the onus of responsibility is for delivery ecosystems to match the confidence in 4K / UHD shown upstream and downstream within the overall workflow.
While bandwidth is becoming more readily available, we are not yet at the stage where a full scale conversion to 4K / UHD delivery is viable. Firstly, the recent investment in HD infrastructure means this is the starting point for many contemplating meeting consumers expectations, to justify consumer’s investment in UHD screens. Consequently, demos showing the benefits of acquiring content in 4K / UHD, down-converting to HD, and then relying on a Set Top Box or 4K / UHD screen to up-convert are very convincing. Many visitors asked whether HDR should be applied to HD? In my view, native 4K / UHD delivery will eventually happen, but in the short-term HD delivery has to be factored in, especially if it is 1080p. This necessitates dealing with awkward backwards compatibility issues concerning signaling and metadata. To date this has not been a strong point of current workflows.
The most convincing demos at NAB and CES all consisted of highly engaging content, displayed on the most recent screens, which while showing HDR at it’s best, in no way paved the way for an HDR service being universally rolled out in the near term. Certainly, there will continue to be 4K VoD streaming services, for those fortunate enough to have top-end broadband provision, but for these to trigger a widespread shift to native UHD services requires the latest standardization decisions to be commonly available on consumer screens, viable signaling to exist throughout the production and delivery workflow and a clear lift in quality compared to current HD services.
I’ll drill down into what this means in reality for 4K / UHD workflows in part 2 and then move from all the hype surrounding HDR, to deal with the business end of service deployment, namely IP, virtualization, cloud services and compression tuned for broadband delivery in part 3.