Broadcasting in 4K: Just a Matter of Time?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year or so, you’ve probably heard something about 4K.  4K is something that has been around for years in the film industry.  The term comes from 35mm film and “4K” is referring to the number of vertical lines in the resolution.  As explained in the video below, 4K is 4 times the resolution of our typical 1080p HDTVs.  4K TVs (or UHDTVs) began rolling out into the consumer market in 2013, and as with any new tech, initial sales have been slow.  Now, in 2014, as these UHDTVs are becoming more mainstream and more affordable, broadcasting companies are starting to figure out how to broadcast this new high resolution.  But there are some challenges that go along with this, as expected.  For one, the bit rate itself is giant.  It takes 8 times the bandwidth of typical broadcast HD to push a 4K signal. The key to broadcasting in this new resolution will be next generation compression with HEVC.

5391099_origThe next generation of video compression standard is upon us.  HEVC is the successor to our commonly used H.264/MPEG-4 AVC codecs.  Using science, HEVC has been developed to make 4K resolution (and other resolutions), still look amazing while drastically reducing the overall file sizes.  See the video below for a more visual explanation of the process.

Now that you know a little bit about 4K and HEVC, it might not seem like broadcasting in 4K is very far away.  I believe we will start seeing 4K broadcast distribution sometime in the next year, maybe even by the 2014 holiday season.  Along with that idea, we may even see 4K distribution through streaming services like Netflix, Hulu Plus, or Amazon Instant around the same time.  These are some of the topics on which I intend to ask questions about and hopefully gain some inside information on at this year’s NAB Convention, which I will be attending in Las Vegas early next week.

I will update this article below with my findings soon.

Rob Bauer

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