On Monday the OTTtv World Summit kicked off in London with a special 4K In Focus session, chaired by Dom Robinson (Co-Founder and Director at id3as).
As I composed my opening notes for Monday’s 4K In Focus session, I was worried that participants in the debate might find me excessively sceptical.
To my surprise, I discovered that every other participant had much the same views and concerns as I did!
The delegates broadly represented the full service sector around the video and TV industry – with production, operators, vendors, TV vendors and broadcasters all well represented.
Ovum’s Paul Jackson opened the session with some solid insights regarding the exact stage of evolution 4K was at: we are, he explained, still very much at phase 1 in the deployment process, and there are still two more stages to go, and these could take between two- and in some cases nine years to reach.
In relation to this, Paul highlighted something very interesting; that the first generation ‘4K’ TVs will not support phases 2 and 3 (Ultra High Definition) and that this will mean that despite having spent an average of £1000 on a ‘4K’ TV set, many consumers may still have to replace that set to benefit from the forthcoming features of High Dynamic Range (HDR), Wide Gamut Chrominance (WGC) and High Frame Rate (HFR).
Paul also offered a very good traffic light indication on the four key spheres on which 4K is having the greatest influence: namely production, ingest, transmission and delivery. The production and delivery were very much in a ‘green’ (that is, active) status, he showed. Meanwhile the ingest stage (which refers to editing suites, MCRs, encoding, play-out, origination and other linear and non-linear functions) was adapting fast –he classified this as orange.
Much more complicated were the challenges faced by the transmission and distribution operators, where it was clear that those best-positioned to take advantage of 4K were the OTT and satellite operators, albeit for almost diametrically opposed reasons…
The OTT operators can simply publish content, and by and large the consumers’ devices are increasingly able to access and decode this content. However, OTT faces a significant challenge from 4K in the bitrate of the content: at a typical 25-40Mbps bitrate the challenge of scaling such delivery up (particularly in a Unicast delivery paradigm) is fairly daunting.
Conversely, the satellite operators faced little such difficulty in scaling their core network, and as Mike Chandler, MD of SES UK, noted later, the satellites are primed with effective throughput of 4.5Gbps per orbital location, with universal reach to any node that was part of the network. However, satellite also faced its own challenges in ensuring that a suitable downlink and forwarding technology was in place.
I asked Paul Jackson if he felt that advertising revenue, or premium services, would be a key driver for 4K adoption, and he said it was far too early to tell. Indeed, through the course of the day, looking at all the case studies presented, it was clear to me that most 4K projects at this stage were essentially loss-leaders helping to drive a channel or operator’s brand-value.
John Cassy of Canon Street led a good panel session, which conveyed that, while there is a wide commitment to 4K, it is tempered somewhat by the industry’s experience rolling out HD. In many ways, today’s broadcasters are still recouping their investment into HD rollout. This is finally paying dividends, yes, but it seems that yet more time must pass before UHD services are widely introduced into the premium services mix.
In summary, it would seem that the march of 4K is inexorable. The stage is set in terms of content production, the production workflows are forming and the delivery technology is already selling itself – even if primarily driven by ‘future proofing’ requirements rather than immediate demand for available content.