By Barry Flynn, Contributing Editor
It appears likely that DVB, the European TV standards-setting body, will include an HD profile in the next version of its UHD standard.
DVB has already specified UHD-1 Phase 1, aimed at today’s decoders and UHD services. This uses 2160 x 3840 pixels at up to 60fps (frames per second).
But – to judge from DVB’s annual IBC press conference – exactly what comes after that looks fuzzy. The official position, articulated by David Wood, chair of the DVB’s commercial module for UHD TV, is that there will be a phased approach based on 2160p and DVB Members’ requirements for timescales and features’, which will include UHD-1 Phase 1 plus additional features such as High Dynamic Range (HDR), High Frame Rate (HFR) and Wide Colour Gamut (WCG).
Wood said that the DVB membership was split on which features should be added and when: “There is one group which believes that the specifications need to be done now so that the services can start in 2017 or later,” he said, with “another group that believes that it could wait until 2019 or later because that’s the time it would take to develop particular decoder chips that would have more of the features.”
One of the distinctions between the two time-lines is that the technical development cycle required to include HFR is significantly longer than that for HDR – in other words, the issue over timing really relates, at least in part, to the desirability or otherwise of the next version of UHD including frame-rates of 100 or 120fps.
But there is also another debate going on which the qualifier “based on 2160p” disguises: and that is whether the next standard to emerge should encompass a profile that adds additional features such as HDR to the pre-existing (lower-resolution) HD standards.
The Director of the DVB Project Office, Peter Siebert, believes that on balance that argument will eventually be resolved in favour of a new HD profile. “Of course I can not tell you now how the standard will look like in the future,” he says, “but let’s say it’s my assumption that the “better” pixel features will be specified for high-definition resolution and ultra-high definition resolution, so that HD displays in the future can benefit from the “better” pixels. I don’t say it will happen, but it’s my assumption.”
Ericsson is one of the companies lobbying hardest for an “Enhanced HD” profile along these lines as an interim step to 4K UHD. This is because it believes that consumers do not understand that to take advantage of the improved viewing quality afforded by 4K resolution levels, they either need to double their existing screen size when they buy a new UHD TV set or halve their viewing distance (see earlier story).
Since many will do neither, Ericsson argues, UHD TV risks being a damp squib. Better therefore to push a new type of HD enhanced with “additional features” for the time being, since – as Wood himself pointed out at the DVB press conference – both HDR and HFR offer a significantly improved viewing experience regardless of viewing-distance, arguably making it a better proposition for consumers.
At IBC, Matthew Goldman, Senior Vice President Technology, TV Compression, at Ericsson, emphasised that his company’s specific recommendation was for a profile incorporating 1080p HD plus HDR+ (which combines HDR, WCG and 10-bit sampling precision) with a frame-rate of 50 or 60fps. Early tests suggested this would add “anywhere from zero to 20%” to HD bit-rates, he said.
“It looks like in all likelihood there’ll be a 1080p HDR+ definition.” Goldman confirmed, currently referred to within DVB by the place-holder name ‘UHD-1 Phase 2A’. “Some people are having a hard time calling that Ultra HD,” he conceded, but Ericsson’s view was that “we in the industry need to retake the name “Ultra HD” to have it mean what it really means. Ultra HD should be about the immersive viewing experience. It’s not wrong, by the way, to make it 4K, but that’s one of six feature attributes that are Ultra HD.”
Goldman made clear that key to the concept of ‘Enhanced HD’ is the notion that it could be up-converted on reception in the home. This is because many of today’s 4K TV sets are attached to networks that lack the capacity for full 4K transmission. Content-owners therefore need to understand that they can author HD-resolution content with attractive, immersive qualities early on, without having to wait for existing HD-capable networks to become 4K-capable, says Goldman.
Ericsson, as a leading member of the Ultra HD Forum (see earlier story), will accordingly be ensuring that the Forum’s communications with other relevant industry groups “will express an interest in making sure all the components in the ecosystem are defined so that any network or interface or aspect of the ecosystem will support 1080p HDR,” said Goldman.
One of the recipients of that message will no doubt be the Ultra HD Forum’s sister organisation, the Ultra HD Alliance, which has a US-focused, Hollywood-centric membership. Ultra HD Alliance member Victor Matsuda, Vice-President of the Blu-ray Disc Group at Sony US, said that unlike the Blu-ray Disc Association, for example, where the specs are defined as “up to 4K resolution, right now [the Alliance is] set at 4K UHD.”
Indeed, at IFA 2015 at the end of August, the Alliance put out a statement from its president, Hanno Basse, Chief Technology Officer at 20th Century Fox Film Corp., stating that “The Alliance believes that the most compelling next generation experience delivers 4K resolution, high dynamic range, wide color gamut, high frame rate, immersive audio and other features that create a dramatic new experience for consumers.” (Editor’s italics).
However, one of the reason’s for the Alliance’s presence at IBC 2015 was to recruit new members, said Matsuda. “We’re talking about, basically, Hollywood content, and we’re talking about Hollywood content on 4K UHD TV sets right now. What we’re missing here is live broadcast. From a regional point of view, we’re also missing European presence,” he said. “A big win for us would be that not long after our activities here, we can add to the members list with European broadcasters and European service providers.”
If Matsuda is successful, a new European, broadcast-focused intake might conceivably modulate the Alliance’s strong pro-4K position to include the possibility of ‘Enhanced HD’.