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Moving the Ultra HD Industry Forward: A Tale of Two Consortia

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By Craig Knudsen, Vice Chairman, Communications Working Group, Ultra-HD Forum and Director, Strategic Initiative,  Dolby Vision Live

I’m a lucky guy.  Almost three years ago, working at Dolby I got involved with the, then confidential, efforts to bring next generation video entertainment to market. A demo of what would become Dolby Vision blew me away.  I’d seen standalone 4k before and thought it was cool but not something I’d spend my own money on. 4K with the added benefits of a Higher Dynamic Range (HDR) and more of colours was clearly something consumers would easily see, value and pay for.  I was excited to become part of the most significant change to entertainment in decades; in fact I still am!  What I saw, heard and felt at that first demo was exactly what I wanted as a consumer but didn’t know I wanted it before I personally experienced it.

The combination of HDR, more colors, increased frame rates and more resolution is a quantum leap from HDTV. Add immersive audio and the experience puts the modern consumer into a world that they just weren’t able to imagine before.  People just don’t get it until they experience it.

That was the beginning for me. We then began to educate the industry on the new consumer experience.  Studios, broadcasters, service providers, technology vendors and consumers overwhelmingly said yes, this was the next step.

But the realities of open markets and competition then began to set in. Opinions on just how UHD should be deployed, what the standards should consist of, how consumer TV’s needed to evolve, varied. Everyone from consumers to corporate giants seemed to have an opinion about almost everything. The goal may have been mostly common but how we got there was up for heated debate. Yet the last thing anyone wanted was a repeat of the consumer 3D debacle where factors like the lack of content, industry fragmentation, and inconsistent consumer experiences lead to confusion and dissatisfied customers that no longer saw 3D as something that they were willing to pay for.  Learning from that kind of failure is one of the reasons for the formation of the Ultra-HD Forum and the UHD Alliance. 

In the beginning of 2015 UHD started gaining real traction. Two new industry consortiums were formed, focused on bringing about the next generation of consumer entertainment. Both were founded by big names like Samsung, Dolby, Ericsson, LG, Sony, DIRECTV, 20th Century Fox, Walt Disney, Technicolor, Harmonic and Universal Studios, just to name a few. Driving the Ultra-HD experience to the masses in a harmonized way was the common goal.  Both groups want to minimize fragmentation, enabling the smooth flow of Ultra-HD content to deliver the ‘wow’ factor that consumers will pay for. Whether it’s physical disk, broadcast, cable, IPTV or Internet delivery, UHD needs to ‘just work’ for consumers.

The two consortiums, the UHD Alliance and the Ultra HD Forum, are complementary, both driving to similar goals but coming from very different and complementary angles.

Although the UHD Alliance looks across the whole Ultra HD ecosystem, their focus is on content creation and playback. By focusing on content creation the Alliance establishes criteria to ensure content quality while preserving creative intent during the mastering process. Combining this with guidelines for consumer devices and an easily recognizable consumer brand, the Alliance seeks to ensure consumers have a consistent Ultra HD experience.

Unlike the UHD Alliance, the Ultra-HD Forum focuses on the end-to-end content distribution and delivery infrastructure and seeks to ensure the proper network infrastructure is developed, in place and interoperable as service providers move to deployment. This will ensure UHD content is transparently delivered to consumers no matter the network type. 

With a diverse membership that includes service providers, technology and infrastructure vendors, consultants, studios and many other member types, the Ultra-HD Forum will enable the industry with end-to-end deployment guidelines, key findings and best practices so as new UHD service deployments roll out consumers receive a consistent experience that works across all network and delivery types. This type of industry support will help service providers decrease the risk and anxiety that comes with deploying a new technology. Not knowing if their encoders, stream processors, security systems, CDNs, ABR packagers, QAMs, DSLAMs or STBs will all interoperate together and deliver the UHD content across the network can be a very costly exercise when it just doesn’t work during the initial deployment. The Ultra-HD Forum aims to have tested and certified the most relevant ecosystems and have the knowledge base available to help the industry deploy Ultra-HD the right way the first time.

By tackling different areas of the ecosystem and using accepted industry standards while they develop clear guidelines, both the UHD Alliance and the Ultra-HD Forum’s work will establish the proper foundation to ensure the next generation consumer entertainment experience will survive a mildly bumpy start and ultimately thrive.  It’s looking like doubling down may be the right bet for the industry.


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