UK’s BBC Kicking off Testing for 4K Based TV Network Delivery

by on June 20, 2014

by Stephan Jukic – June 20th, 2014

The British Broadcasting Corporation is taking the concept of 4K content transmission seriously enough to get busy on developing it as a technically viable option for its viewers.

4K UHD TV offers four times the definition of regular Full HD, which measures out at 1,920 x 1080 pixels, and delivers pixel resolutions that can range from 3,840 x 2,160p to an even more densely packed 4,096 x 2,540 or even 3,072 pixels with the latter figure being defined as true 4K resolution and not just Ultra High Definition.

Because of these enormous resolution sizes, 4K, and UHD in general is very difficult to transmit over conventional broadband, satellite and terrestrial distribution channels, the bandwidth requirements are just too large in many cases.

Netflix USA, for example, serves up a small selection of shows such as Breaking Bad and films such as Smurfs 2 as 4K streaming offerings, but recommends that any subscribers have an internet connection of at least 25 Mbps going to their 4K TVs. This is well beyond the connectivity power of many ISPs and broadcasting companies, the BBC included.

Due to these bandwidth requirements, the very problem seen even with 4K content pioneer Netflix are pervasive; namely that content offerings in 4K are still limited and thus electronics manufacturers, content creators and broadcasters are all hesitant on investing more heavily in 4K, for now at least.

The BBC is aiming to break this chicken and egg problem and put itself ahead of the curve in terms of what many still see as the future of all HD content, despite the hurdles 4K transmission and adaptation still faces today.

For starters, the British Broadcasting Corporation will be streaming three of the matches (including the final math, obviously) from the currently running FIFA World Cup in Brazil. These are being recorded in 4K resolution and will be available to a limited trial audience of British viewers who happen to have 4K TVs.

This may seem like a small step indeed, but it is represents a commitment that could soon garner much larger popularity as audiences are given a taste of just how much better the resolution in UHD can be.

In order to reduce the bandwidth problems typically associated with 4K transmission, the BBC –and presumably other broadcasters who get in on the same development path in their respective regions—will be testing a new video codec that has been standardized by the ITU and the ISO/IEC bodies. Called the High Efficiency Video Codec, or HEVC in short, this new mechanism for 4K video transmission doubles compression efficiency as it currently stands and also even lowers the power requirements of TV transmission by a neat 38%. This means excellent news for both broadband and terrestrial content delivery channels.

The trials being conducted now by the BBC in transmitting 4K Ultra High Definition via this new HEVC codec are still in their baby stages, granting 4K viewing to just a few thousand households that even have 4K TVs, but what they can do is show a wider audience just how much more interesting content, and especially fast paced action content can be when viewed at 4 times the pixel count of regular HD.

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