Solving the Ultra HD Puzzle

Can you see the difference and what does the future hold?

by Steve Withers Sep 12, 2013 at 10:07 AM

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    Solving the Ultra HD Puzzle
    As part of the launch of their new TX-65WT600 4K Ultra HD TV, Panasonic arranged a special event at IFA where representatives from various parts of the industry were able to give their opinion on both the benefits of 4K and the possible future of the format.
    First up was Bob Raikes, the managing director of Meko Limited, who specialise in display market research. He pointed out that a display without a person was effectively useless regardless of its resolution. He also pointed that everyone is different and that 20/20 vision is not the pinnacle of human vision, merely the average based on the Snellen Chart. He then pointed out that if history is anything to go by, any format that increases visual bandwidth will win - in the end.

    There has been a lot of debate about whether people can actually appreciate the greater resolution that 4K affords the viewer. The majority of these arguments revolve around the acuity of the human eye, which is measured in cycles per degree (cpd). The average person with 20/20 vision has an acuity of 30cpd, whilst many people with more acute vision are capable of 60cpd. Mr. Raikes pointed out that a 55” UHD TV has a resolution equivalent to around 70cpd, so clearly there are plenty of people who would genuinely appreciate the higher resolution offered by UHD. He also pointed out that research showed that some people have a visual acuity of 150cpd, possibly as high as 200cpd.

    Whilst video detail is highly dependent on the viewing distance and viewing angle, it is clear that the benefits of UHD will certainly be appreciated by many people. However, it isn’t just the increased pixel count that is important because at higher resolutions the eye will notice smearing more at lower refresh rates. For UHD TV to be effective, it needs good motion handling and higher frame rates. This will be especially true of fast paced sports broadcasts and this is why the television standards bodies are pushing for 100/120Hz to be used with 4K broadcasts.
    For UHD TV to be effective, it needs good motion handling and higher frame rates.
    Interestingly, Mr. Raikes pointed out that quite often the TVs available to the public are better than those being used by broadcasters because of the life cycle of broadcast monitors and the time it takes to adopt new formats. This is especially true for public broadcasters and for this reason Mr. Raikes expects pay-TV to be the main driving force behind the development of 4K. He also mentioned that whilst HEVC (H.265) has been agreed as a standard for 4K compression, relatively few chips have been produced to date. This doesn’t matter for encoding HEVC where less chips are needed, but is an issue in terms of decoders and he thought it would be 12 to 18 months before enough had been produced.

    This led on to the second topic of discussion, where is the 4K content going to come from? The second speaker at the event was Ron Martin, Vice President of Panasonic Hollywood Labs. He felt that 4K had the potential to be more compelling for the consumer, not only because of the increased resolution but also thanks to the opportunity for an expanded colour space, greater bit depth, higher frame rates and better dynamic range. He pointed out that there was already precedent for that in Japan, where Panasonic had developed Master Grade Video Compression. This was capable of creating 12-bit video for Blu-ray but since it’s not currently part of the Blu-ray standard, a proprietary player is required.

    Mr. Martin pointed out that Panasonic Hollywood Labs was working closely with the Blu-ray Disc Association on 4K Blu-ray and gave the impression that a solution wasn’t far off. It would seem that the technology is already there and that the delay has been caused by HDMI 2.0 and a lack of HEVC decoders. Studio support for 4K Blu-ray is also key and at least they have been ramping up 4K production and restoring and mastering existing 35mm content at 4K. The technological innovations involved with 4K have made it more accessible for filmmakers, easier to use and cheaper. Thanks to more practical workflows and greater efficiencies, 4K has made production and distribution more profitable for studios. In terms of the most immediate solutions for delivering 4K to the masses, at least until 4K Blu-ray is ready, the best option is streaming. However that solution is very dependent on bandwidth and as Mr. Raikes had already pointed out, the main driver of 4K for the next year will be the pay-TV satellite broadcasters.

    Strategic partnerships are also important and Mr. Martin mentioned that PHL has just such a partnership with Giant Screen Films who shoot wildlife documentaries on 70mm film. These films are then scanned at 11K, processed at 8K and distributed at 4K as part of a process to deliver the best possible quality. The fact that these films are processed at 8K does bring up the possibility of the even higher resolution format that, along with 4K, comes under the banner of Ultra High Definition.
    Studio support for 4K Blu-ray is also key
    Certainly the Japanese television companies are pushing for an 8K format and there is a scenario where 4K is merely a stepping stone to the next high resolution format. Mr. Raikes comment that "any format that increases visual bandwidth will win - in the end" was suddenly brought to mind. However, given how difficult it will be just to deliver 4K content, an 8K world still seems a long way off.

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