CES 2014: 4K video and optical storage

CES 2014: 4K video and optical storage

Summary: At CES this week 4k video is everywhere, not unlike 3-D video two years ago. But 4K is different: supply creates its own demand. The implications for storage are enormous.

TOPICS: Storage, CES

4k screens for $1000? 4k prosumer camcorders for less than $2000? Major video editing suites transitioned to 4k? Storage fast enough and large enough to edit uncompressed 4k streams?

Yes, yes, yes and yes. Unlike 3-D, 4k video offers real-world benefits for producers and consumers. For producers, 4k future proofs their productions at a low incremental cost.

For consumers, 4K video is a visible step up from HD - if you have a large screen. With low-cost 4K screens from China leading the way, it won't be long before more consumers future proof their media rooms with 4k screens and 4K projectors.

The next step is getting 4k content in the home home. Given the pathetic nature of America's Internet infrastructure, this may be an opportunity for Hollywood to get consumers buying 4k Blu-ray discs.

Many pictures shot on film have already been scanned at 4k and could cheaply be remastered onto Blu-ray. The key is consumers are price sensitive, so Hollywood can't be greedy.

OK, never mind!

The Storage Bits take
People go to theaters for an experience they can't get at home - although a big screen and surround sound can come close. If people can't get quality 4k content over the network, they'll be tempted to buy 4k content on optical media.

In the meantime, 4k upscaling can do for Blu-ray what HD upscaling did for DVDs: make it more than acceptable at 4k resolutions. I saw a demo of upscaled Blu-ray and it looked darn good.

I don't know if Hollywood learned anything from the Blu-ray debacle, but if they did they will keep prices for remastered 4k content low - 15% max over HD - and thank their lucky stars that fans will buy the same content again.

In the meantime the engineers are already working on 8k video. We may start seeing 8k content by 2020 if 4k is successful.


Comments welcome, as always. Why is higher resolution an easier sell than 3-D? Or is it?

Topics: Storage, CES

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  • until it gets to the point that the eye can't see the difference.

    Or price kills it.
  • Who needs 4K?

    I have a small house (by US standards) and a 32 inch screen is perfectly adequate, even at 1366 x 768 (my original LCD TV) with full HD more than adequate. I haven't bothered to buy a blu-ray player as I don't consider the premium on blu=ray discs worth the (to me) marginal improvement. To me, the pleasure of viewing is in the acting, the drama, the information in documentaries, the humour in comedies, etc. with resolution coming in fairly near the bottom. I would rather watch a lo-res grainy black and white movie with a good story line and good acting than a modern CGI production with fantastic graphics but a poor story line and indifferent acting, even at 4K!
    A friend of mine with a 55 inch TV cancelled his HD subscription because he could barely tell the difference between standard and 'HD' broadcasts. I understand the latter were compressed to the point where the HD benefit was marginal. If this happens with 4K video distribution, what's the point?
    I don't deny that it's great having an ultra HD standard but I don't see it as a mass market product and broadcasting either via radio waves or via the internet will be a major challenge, given the data rates required.
    • Comparing...

      I dunno...I have a 55" TV, and I can sure tell the difference between HD and standard def. channels. And before you go thinking old eyes can't see the difference, I'm 57. I agree about the story line and such, a LOT of what's made today is crap, but not all. The Lord of the Rings Extended Version on a 55" in surround sound is mighty cool...
  • Innovation vs Monopoly

    Normally, I'm none too fond of Microsoft, but...
    From the innovative side, Hollywood would do good to promote a cost effective way to distribute 4K on disc and intentionally target lower prices than DVD/BluRay, accepting short-term losses necessary to ignite the new format in exchange for the greater profits of total spending - somewhat like the intentional loss Microsoft took on the first XBOX.

    Back before HDDVD / Bluray, I speculated on the possibility of using something like DivX or H264 at HD resolutions from standard DVD media. All that would be needed was the standardization of the playback interpretation of data. From that simple concept, we could have had native 1080p movie distribution years before HDDVD and BluRay. My opinion is firmly about the same for 4K and beyond. Bring out a new breed of BluRay players. Call the 4K players or whatever catchy marketing / trademark name is takes to identify compatibility with 4K content. Hardware wise, identical to any good BluRay player of today. Software wise, update the supported and of course, required codec support. Use the DVD and BluRay physical media that already exists, but allow additional encoding formats. 4GB of H264 is a lot of media encoding. 27-50GB of BD is even more. H265 is coming, albeit with greater decoding hardware demands. I doubt the BD disc would be a limitation of this thought. Quite simply, we don't need a new physical media to support 4K. We already have enough space.

    Let the new media / greater storage challenges be a separate development.
    Let the price for the new content be cheaper than normal BD.
    Let the new playback devices be compatible with BD and DVD.
    Let the new format birth on current DVD / BD discs with new codecs.
    Let the new playback devices upscale to 4K and beyond.
    Let the new format allow disc playback AND media server importing so we can use either discs for playback or iTunes / Apple TV style home streaming.

    Price point can make the new format unprofitable for big piracy. (Would you spend hours downloading a crappy copy, risking legal problems, and still spending money for discs, or would you pay near the same cost for a retail copy? Would you spend the same price for a burn as a retail disc? Typically, the answer is NO.)

    File size can make the new format less inviting to store on servers for illegal distribution. (People who want instant gratification are going to find something quick to download, or buy a burn from someone who already downloaded it. 50GB downloads aren't going to be a 30 minute thing, especially not in the US. Even 50GB of data from HDD to HDD locally isn't usually a 30 minute thing. And for people who would otherwise buy illegal burns from someone else, how many movies would a pirate even be able to house at a time given drive space? 1TB for 2 movies doesn't sound like a profitable business to me. Movie playback generally has a lower transfer speed requirement than disc burning. People running a media server may be practical for playback, but still an unlikely storage option for effective burning.)

    Resolution can make re-encoding for more practical pirate distribution a non-option. (This is the same reason that buying a pirate VHS is virtually dead given how the resolution is lower than DVD and much more so than BluRay. File size, Resolution, and Playback requirements are all factors in which encoding to use to begin with, let alone considering how to improve any without sacrificing too much of the others.)
  • historical

    You asked why so here's some history that helps explain why.

    VHS to DVD was a no-brainer for two reasons. Going from tape to optical media and going from 480i to 480p or slightly greater. These were big significant improvements.

    DVD to bluray was not such a big deal. Going between the highest DVD quality to 720p is minor improvement. Going to 1080p required a 1080p large screen to see improvements.

    Bluray to Bluray3D is harder. It used to be way more expensive, needed viewers to have good stereoscopic vision, viewers needed to don glasses, and producers/directors needed to incorporate 3D and not just change camera to 3D camera. Bluray3D is now going to take off more as there is a minimal increase in cost. An example, glasses used to be between $100-$200 per pair but now have them hitting $30 per pair. Passive TV are making progress and the glasses are more like $30 per dozen. There are still glasses at the over $100 price so it depends.

    3D TV (like channels not equipment) is a fail for the above reasons and the answer to "Do you want to have to don glasses just to watch the news?"

    Going from 1080p to 4K will be not as tough as 3D but more difficult than to 1080p. Anybody can benefit but you really need the super large TVs to really see the difference.

    So transitioning to higher resolution is easier because you don't need extra equipment per viewer and more people can physically see the difference.
  • They're already late to the game

    I'm surprised that we didn't see Blu-Ray 4K at CES. The key technology is already in place: BDXL discs and H.265 compression should cover the storage nicely, and HDMI 2.0 gives you a way to get it to the TV. BDXL gives you twice as much capacity and H.265 gives you video compression that halves the file size. Between the two it should be possible to get as much content on a 4K disc as on current Blu-Ray discs.

    Perhaps the holdup is a successor to AACS so they'll have DRM that will work for a year or two. That's about all they'll get; somebody will crack the new DRM by then.
  • why? 8k? really?

    Retina differentiation, format standards, and, ultimately... 'old content'.

    I can see all of this mattering... in the future... and for future content... within limits of human perception... the 'format wars' are old. It's as simple as Google (quietly) issuing an update to Chrome, their html5-type format for their browser and video players... on the consumer end, and on their end, running some sort of processing on all videos (that matter...based upon user demand) with some post-facto upgrading of formats....

    but, how fast (refresh rate, 'frames' per second, etc), high of resolution, large of screen, or type of format does it really matter when, at the end of the day, the user just wants to 'watch some video'?

    awesome that it's being kept up with, awesome that it's being pushed/advanced *to* be kept up with... but, in the end, does it matter? it just seems... like.. more of the same.

    ie, where's my damn full immersion technology!?! When do I get to *become* Iron Man? The Hulk? and I'm not talking Halloween costumes either... nor video games... I want it beamed directly into my brain Matrix style...and for free!
  • Bluray take up slow.

    The reasons behind the slow take up of new tech like Bluray could be many but my experience were mostly about DRM and my old equipment. My panel in my lounge is a legacy panel which predates HDMI so plugging anything with HDMI into this turns the resolution down to 480p making Bluray redundant. It’s a pity nobody made me aware of this prior to my blowing my hard earned dollars on a Bluray player. I wasn't aware of HDCP at the time. Thank very much Hollywood for that dose of poison. It’s a real enthusiasm killer. Bluray also tightened up the region controls on disc players so no more out of zone discs. Suddenly imported discs including DVD's won’t play. Hang onto those old DVD players if you have imported discs in your collection. My old DVD player would remember where you stopped a disc and would resume from there the next time the disc was inserted in the player and would do this for up to 6 Movies. This was very handy for dirty discs that could be taken out and cleaned and resume from where they left off. The tightening of the Bluray standard has meant that this feature wasn't implemented on the Bluray player. So if a disc is dirty I have to sit through all the unskipable condescending antipiracy advertising, and copyright BS each time I try to correct an issue with a disc. It's really annoying and totally unnecessary. The bizarre thing is if I had a bootlegged copy of the movie all that ‘you dirty pirate’ stuff would be gone so by making that stuff unskipable Hollywood are effectively punishing people for buying a legit copy. How dumb is that. I hope for any new disc standard they grow a bit of common sense but I think they won’t.