EBU chief warns about the risks of early 4K UHD popularity

by on July 5, 2015

Stephan Jukic – July 5, 2015

Hans Hoffman, an executive official at the European Broadcasting Union, has warned electronics makers about the “dangers” of moving ahead with new generations of television image quality technology that’s based solely on improving picture resolution.

In the midst of a masterclass presentation at the recent TVBEurope 2020 conference in London, the EBU head of the Media Fundamentals and Production technology unit inside the EBU Technology and Development department made the case that the consumer electronics industry’s short term goals of augmenting TV sales are risking the forcing of broadcasters into adopting unstable technologies for ultra HD TV which could create a lack of satisfaction in viewers and which may even be incapable of interoperability.

In summary terms, Hoffman explained that, in order to create display technologies like improved color, heightened dynamic range, higher frame rates and the increased resolution of 4K electronic display makers and those who manufacture related technologies require an overall industry standard for all of these aspects coming together.

And these very technologies are the main components of the proposed ITU-R BT.2020 standard that has been developed according to Hoffman. He added that while this standard is on the table, many consumer electronics manufacturers have opted to take shortcut paths to getting augmented display devices with HDR, UHD resolution, enhanced color and high frame rates out the door and into consumers’ homes.

According to Hoffman, “Dynamic range gives us a significant improvement for particular content while higher frame rates gives us clearly perceptible improvements for certain genres”.

“The conclusion is that a UHD system has to consist of the four parameters plus a better sound system. The industry, in general, agrees. But maybe not now. In particular the CE industry says “hang on, actually, we want to sell a lot of displays. What can we do right now? Resolution? Easy. Colourimetry? Easy. Frame rate? Oh shit. That is a problem. We need to spend money on it, on developing it a little bit more. Dynamic range sounds attractive let’s do that one [too but let’s] try to block everything else that the stupid broadcasters want”.

This, Hoffman claims, is a bit of a bad situation and especially for broadcasters who need to plan for the next few years of their broadcasting mechanisms instead of being rushed forward into something new and potentially short lived. Unlike manufacturers, broadcasters have to invest far larger quantities of resources in major infrastructure adjustments to cope with these new technologies before they can even begin to recoup costs.

Thus, Hoffman claims that it is highly important to disconnect the evolution of consumer display devices from the overall debate over the definition of a future-proof bitstream. According to Hoffman, this future-proof bitstream should be ready for handling all these new technologies of color, resolution, dynamic range and frame rate increases along with new audio technologies and that once it has done this, it will be a much more stable, interoperable and content ready landscape for these new display technologies. In simplest terms, the debate should revolve more than anything around the future-proof bitstream vs. the consumer electronics industry and its display technologies.

Hans Hoffmann on the far left with Richard Smith (BBC) and Howard Lukk of Disney

Hans Hoffmann on the far left with Richard Smith (BBC) and Howard Lukk of Disney

Of course, the news about this debate isn’t all bad either. Hoffman also claims that much of the industry infrastructure is already technologically ready for these new, advanced video technologies and that the current incarnation of 4K with nothing more than increased resolution can already work for television and even live TV. According to the EBU exec, all of the parts of the broadcast chain are already ready or nearly ready to handle pure 4K at least: the cameras, lenses, interface and compression technologies are all there and it’s mainly the workflow technologies that still need greater development.

Now we just need to wait for the broadcast industry to show off this supposed readiness by actually delivering more 4K TV. It’s starting to do this but in a very frustratingly patchwork way so far.

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