The FIFA World Cup always seems to bring forward some new must-have TV innovation when it comes round every four years. Last time in South Africa it was 3DTV and now in Brazil all the buzz is around 4K TV. This naturally raises the question whether 4K TV will prove a real lasting innovation like HD did earlier, or will it fade away like 3D TV?
This is related to the question of smart TV sets, currently also being pushed by manufacturers in a bid to gain higher margins. The TV market as a whole is under strong margin pressure and there are only two real areas of innovation towards premium products – TV smartness and display quality.
Unfortunately for those betting mainly on smartness, the TV dongle looks like being one of the most disruptive developments for the TV industry since the advent of flat screen technologies. I think the dongle could bring down the curtain on the market for smart TVs, defined as models equipped with their own on-board service personalization capability. The dongle can deliver all the web connectivity and personalization that the smart TV can, but more cheaply, with simpler upgrading and the portability enabling users’ services to follow them wherever they are.
However there is hope for TV manufacturers through innovation around the display itself with Ultra High Definition (UHD), which I prefer to call immersive television. I use this term rather than “4K TV” because the future of television is not just about higher resolution, but higher quality in all dimensions. This new immersive television must deliver much more than just four times as many pixels. Better resolution is important but completely insufficient on its own. We also need higher frame rates, better colors and superior contrast dynamics.
Frame rate is especially important. The human visual system has a central field of vision of approximately 90°. The higher resolution and associated increase in screen size means that a 4K TV image occupies a significantly larger proportion of the overall human field of vision, typically 50-60° horizontally, compared to the 30° in the case of HD TV. With this larger viewing angle, angular motion of objects in the picture across a 4K TV display is greater than for HD. If frames are still being refreshed at the same rate, this means that objects moving across the screen will jump by a larger angular distance between each frame, creating noticeable motion blur or judder.
This means that for 4K we must reduce the time interval between frames in order to deliver realistic moving images that do justice to the higher resolution. We therefore need a higher frame rate.
To confirm this, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) conducted real-life tests with 4K televisions and found the audience did appreciate higher frame rates even more than the increased resolution. Furthermore, unlike resolution, increased frame rate is appreciable from different viewing distances and on different screen sizes. Such tests also highlighted how a short distance between the display and the user is necessary for the “immersion” effect to work. The human eye is only able to perceive the improved resolution of 4K TV at close range – normally no more than 2.5 meters away.
The conclusion is that users appreciate 4K resolution mainly on big screens, 40/50-inches or more, and also from shorter distances. I’m really surprised therefore when I hear that many manufacturers still talk about providing 4K at only 30 fps. The same trend is evident in the 4K STB area. Frankly this is quite worrying, for if the market starts with such a “lite” 4K solution, it will commit suicide because the customers will perceive 4K TVs as just another gimmick, like 3D. In my opinion 60 fps is the minimum frame rate and ideally it should go towards 120 fps.
It is true that this will require a new HDMI 2 version and decoder chipsets able to cope with the resulting high data rate. But the effort is necessary and at least some manufacturers are fully aware that increased frame rate as well as better colors and higher contrast dynamics are all needed.
I am certain that customers will fully appreciate and rapidly adopt this “right” 4K TV that I call immersive TV. I really believe that for the next major global sporting events, the 2016 Olympics and EUFA 2016 European Football championships, 4K will be present on all new TV sets and will have been adopted by many customers. It is worth emphasizing that true 4K will also prove a key differentiator not just for manufacturers, but also operators and broadcasters, who after all have key roles to play building the ecosystem without which 4K will not be possible. The underlying technology is also an important differentiator now for the more visionary TV software specialists such as SoftAtHome, which are emerging as leading advocates for 4K to be deployed properly.
Ironically, 4K also makes 3D look better … but that is another story.
4K TV - Gimmick or Lasting Innovation
4K TV – Gimmick or
10/01/2014 – Confidential an SoftAtHome propriety2
4K Buzz at FIFA World Cup 2014
10/01/2014 – Confidential an SoftAtHome propriety3
Smart TV sets & display quality
10/01/2014 – Confidential an SoftAtHome propriety4
Is the TV Dongle a threat?
The dongle can deliver all the web connectivity and personalization that the
smart TV can, but more cheaply, with simpler upgrading and the portability
enabling users’ services to follow them wherever they are
10/01/2014 – Confidential an SoftAtHome propriety5
The future of television is not just about higher resolution, but higher quality
in all dimensions
10/01/2014 – Confidential an SoftAtHome propriety6
The importance of a frame rate
For 4K we must reduce the time interval between frames in order to deliver
realistic moving images that do justice to the higher resolution. We therefore need
a higher frame rate.
10/01/2014 – Confidential an SoftAtHome propriety7
The importance of the viewing
10/01/2014 – Confidential an SoftAtHome propriety8
Users appreciate 4K resolution mainly on big screens, 40/50-inches or more
Manufacturers are aware that increased frame rate as well as better colors
and higher contrast dynamics are all needed
True 4K will also prove a key differentiator not just for manufacturers, but
also operators and broadcasters
4K is even better when powered by SoftAtHome
Is 4K here to stay?