UHDA Interview: The second phase of Ultra HD Premium
"We're setting our sights on the other Ultra HD related areas"
It's been an eventful year for the Ultra HD Alliance, with a new logo, the launch of Ultra HD Blu-ray and booming 4K TV sales.Whilst at IFA we sat down with Dan Schinasi from the Ultra HD Alliance to discuss the successes to date and what they have planned for the future.
So Dan, how has this year gone?
It's gone really well and if we can start by looking at the sales figures for Ultra HD TV, the growth over the last two years has been huge with over 30 million shipments in 2015 and 50 million expected by the end of this year. Obviously everyone has their own estimates but we’re looking at over 100 million units in 2019 and more than 300 million sets in use globally. Despite all the differing projections available, the one thing that is universal about all of them is that every time an analyst comes out with a new projection they are always ratcheting it up.
So these figures might even be conservative.
Yes, they're probably very conservative. I think in the US alone for 2016 we’re looking at sales in the neighbourhood of 8 million.
I should imagine that next year you’ll be hard pushed to actually find a non-4K TV.
Yes, except for small screens I expect you probably won’t be able to buy anything other than an Ultra HD TV, with 50 inches being the tipping point. So those are our estimates for the sales of Ultra HD TVs, now let’s talk a little bit about the Alliance. Obviously with this rapid explosion in Ultra HD TV and other Ultra HD products and services, we’re interested in defining the premium consumer experience not just for products but also content and services as well. So what we have done is create an industry alignment with unprecedented cross-industry participation through the entire ecosystem. That allows us to establish a unified vision for the next generation audio-visual experience including UHD, HDR and other parameters. We also want to define exactly what a fully featured Ultra HD experience should be, not only in terms of resolution but also in terms of high dynamic range, wide colour gamut and immersive audio.
MORE: What is Immersive Audio?
I can vouch from personal experience that resolution alone isn’t enough.
Exactly and we’re looking to create an experience that is demonstrably different from what has gone before. In terms of the Alliance itself, that has grown considerably over the last year and is now composed of 50 companies with 11 board members and 39 contributors and adopters, all of whom represent every aspect of the Ultra HD industry. There are some big names behind the Ultra HD Alliance and many of them are globally leading technology companies.
If we move on to some of the recent milestones, the UHDA was formed in January of 2015 and we had contributor members who came on board in the spring of that year. Last year at IFA we were talking about our specs, which were nearing completion, and were eventually announced in December of 2015. Then at CES this year we unveiled the Ultra HD Premium logo (see at the top of the article), began licensing and added the adopter member category. It was a great press launch at CES, standing room only and we had a number of studio execs there to give their support. In fact at the time they said there would be 100 Ultra HD Blu-ray titles by the end of the year and they’re well on the way to achieving that goal. Ultra HD Blu-ray itself launched in the spring of this year and there are now over two dozen Ultra HD premium certified products.
You mentioned adopter members, what are they?
An adopter member is a lower tier or more specifically less costly form of membership but they have access to the full specs and they have access to use the logo. They don’t have full meeting privileges but they can be invited to meetings if they are subject specialists. It’s basically a much more affordable form of membership.
So you’ve achieved your goals to date, what’s next for the Ultra HD Alliance?
Well that brings us on to phase two and we’re now setting our sights on to other related Ultra HD areas. There are really two areas that we’re focussing on and the first is broadcast. We’re looking at getting all the UHDA members within the broadcast ecosystem together, looking at all the ingredient technologies and establishing what factors contribute to a premium Ultra HD broadcast experience. As you can see from our list of members, we really have some key members of the broadcast industry who really understand what is required to create a premium experience. The UHDA is quite active in this area and we meet every four to six weeks.
Are the Ultra HD broadcast standards complete and is there a timeline?
Well in the US there’s ATSC 3.0 and although they made an announcement that the spec is complete, well part of it’s complete but not all of it’s complete. There’s some key elements that are not yet complete. So the actual broadcast standards are still a bit of a moving target, so we can’t set a bar that’s higher than the standards that they eventually agree. There’s some alignment required, so it’s currently a little difficult to actually put our finger on a timeframe and, in the US at least, they’ve missed some targets in terms of locking down the broadcast specs.
There have been quite a few demos here at IFA for HLG and high frame rate which would suggest that the European broadcasters might be further along than in the US.
Yes in Asia and Europe they appear to be largely locked down in terms of Ultra HD broadcast, it’s sad to say but I think they’re making better progress than in the US. Of course broadcast can also include satellite and there are some big satellite distribution points in the US as well. Once the broadcasters have actually established what the standards are, then we need to establish what exactly constitutes a premium experience, especially when you’re talking about live broadcasts.
The other area that we’re looking at is very generically called battery powered devices but basically gets into the mobile space. UHDA members are currently studying delivery of UHD content with HDR to mobile devices and considering the range of factors that contribute to a premium experience on smaller screened devices. This really addresses the growing use of mobile for watching video content and not just UHD content but also HDR.
I wouldn’t personally equate a mobile device with a premium video experience, so why mobile?
Well the reason that the UHDA is looking at mobile devices is that more than 50% of all consumer electronics dollars are spent on mobile devices. I’m not one to be surprised by statistics but some of the numbers are incredible. Mobile video traffic will reach 3.6 million terabytes per a month this year and nearly 23 million terabytes a month by 2020. Analysts estimate that it would take a single person 5 million years to watch the amount of video that will cross the network in a single month in 2019. It’s just mind boggling. So given that so many consumers are watching video on their mobile devices, we want to ensure they have a TV-like quality experience on every device they use.
There’s an interesting Verizon survey that they just did of a thousand customers, talking with them about their experience with video on mobile devices. The interesting thing is that people want a quality experience and the average time watching video on a smartphone was 59 minutes but if the image quality wasn’t there the viewer bailed after 13 minutes, whilst on a tablet it was around 80 minutes but they bailed after 16 minutes if the quality wasn't there. In the Verizon survey 86% of customers said that it’s very or extremely important that they get a TV-like quality experience every time they watch something and on every screen they use. So quality is important, even to consumers watching on mobile devices and there is a greater expectation in terms of image quality.
Speaking of image quality, does the UHD Alliance plan to adopt dynamic metadata for HDR10?
The UHD Alliance is agnostic towards the HDR formats and there’s already HDR10 and Dolby Vision included in our specs. Obviously Dolby is also a member of course and their format already has the capability to deliver dynamic metadata. I think as HDR becomes more commonplace we’ll revisit the specs and things like dynamic metadata will be adopted. As I said we’re agnostic and the current specs aren’t fixed, so they’ll be adjusted as technology changes. Some of the existing specs and standards are already fairly new and in the case of broadcast are still being agreed.
MORE: What is Dolby Vision?
So when can we expect to see the UHDA make further announcements in terms of the second phase of the Ultra HD Premium certification programme?
Well it's obviously dependent on the standards being agreed, especially in the case of broadcast, but hopefully we'll see further announcements at CES in January and then later into 2017.
Thanks Dan, we look forward to seeing how phase two develops over the next year.
Thanks Steve, it was my pleasure.
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