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April 19, 2012
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TV Execs bullish on 4K and 8K, less so on 3D

A panel of programming executives at the Satellite 2012 conference and exhibition in Washington, D.C. said this week that said ultra-high definition (UHD) TV held promise, if not in the near term, but that 3D TV was problematic now.

“As for as high resolution, we’re really bullish on that,” said John McCoskey, CTO of the U.S. Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). “It was demoed at CES this year, on 8k and 4k models. These are potentially viable technologies. We expect to see a lot of movement on the 4K acquisition side. That will drive the ability to get higher resolution content.” (See photo above for Samsung 70-inch, 4k x 2k prototype.)

McCoskey said commercial deployments, led by Japanese broadcaster NHK could be eight years away, but that Moore’s Law-driven chip improvements (transistors doubling every two years) would enable the transition, along with advanced compression, which already has enabled 4k transmission in under 300 Mbps.

“On super high-def, we’re absolutely bullish,” said Vince Roberts, EVP Global Operations and CTO, Disney ABC Television Group. He also said he suspects his colleagues at Disney subsidiary ESPN would agree. (Last summer ESPN EVP and CTO Chuck Pagano was quoted on Engadget as having told his staff to “get used to hearing the term 4k TV.”)

A bit less enthusiastic, Barbara Jaffe, EVP Technology Operations at HBO said she was interested in 4k but thought that its prospects were tied to the housing market and other economic factors. “We’re looking at it and seeing how adoption goes,” she said.

Relative size of UHDTV resolution vs. SD and HD

Whether consumers are ready for more jargon or not, the UHDTV format is changing how the television industry refers to resolution. With roots in digital cinematography, the numbers 4k and 8k in a resolution formula refer to pixel width. By contrast, the numbers 720 progressive (p) or 1080p measure pixel height.

The bottom line is UHDTV offers either more pixels per inch (ppi) or the same ppi over a much larger screen — up to 16 times as large as HD an screen in 8k. (See illustration of relative sizes with same pixel density above.)

The situation with 3D is different. While consumers understand it, content providers are hesitating. David Couret, Technical Solutions Director, Audiovisuel Exterieur de la France (France 24) noted that satellite transmission was best way to distribute 3D but said that his “main concern … is the glasses you have to get.”

“We agree with David,” said Jaffe. “Until 3D is glass-less in the home, we don’t see mass adoption.” Disney’s Roberts said that interest in 3D has flattened out. “I’ve got broadcasters that can’t re-broadcast it,” he said. Then there are nagging questions about the health effects of 3D. Roberts mentioned the potential impact on epileptic children, in particular.

Keeping next-gen technologies such as 4k and 3D in perspective, France 24’s Couret admitted that his company continues to transition into HD. “We launched five years ago,” he said. “The challenge is to address Europe and Africa. We need to be available to a maximum number of people.”