4K television: the future of content broadcasting or a CES pipe dream?

Moderated by Andrew Nusca | January 28, 2013 -- 07:00 GMT (23:00 PST)

Summary: Every major consumer electronics manufacturer (save Apple) is on board with crazy expensive, ultra-high definition TV sets. But are these really the future of content broadcasting?

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

The future

or

It's all a pipe dream

Jason Perlow

Jason Perlow

Best Argument: It's all a pipe dream

42%
58%

Audience Favored: It's all a pipe dream (58%)

The Rebuttal

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Mike check

    Everybody ready?

    Posted by Andrew Nusca

    I'm here

    Ready to go

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for The future

    All set

    Let the games begin

    Jason Perlow

    I am for It's all a pipe dream

  • Great Debate Moderator

    The problem is...

    What's wrong with today's TVs, anyway?

    Posted by Andrew Nusca

    Just OK

    Today's TVs are fine. I could wish that color and black and white were better on LCD and LED screens and that OLED and plasma sets were cheaper, but for the state of TV shows today, they're OK.

    What we don't have is enough content that makes use of their capabilities. Except for some over-the-air (OTA) and Blu-Ray, nothing really makes use of 1080p. We really need is a lot more last mile Internet bandwidth and for Blu-Ray discs to come down in price.

    Looking ahead, 4K is going to need even more bandwidth. In the U.S. Today, we're still looking at an average of 7.2Mbps. That's barely cuts it for compressed 720p, never mind 1080p.

    On the other hand, the just approved High Efficiency Video Coding’ (HEVC) is going to require only only half the bit rate of today's video codecs. That will make both today's HDTV video and 4K much more bandwidth effective.

    Between HEVC and a major step up in last mile Internet speeds in the next few years, 4K will rise to the top.

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for The future

    No huge problems

    Fundamentally I do not believe there are huge problems with today's TVs themselves, if you look at the entry level and middle-market end of the scale, where the majority of units are being sold.

    Since the digital transition during 2008-2009 as consumer have enjoyed a very high level of content quality overall compared to what existed before, and I do not think most most of us would choose to go back to analog SD.

    Now that being said, we are severely under-utilizing the capabilities of the current installed base of HDTVs. All of this has to do with the fact that to get the majority of that content distributed, we have to leverage the limitations of the existing broadband Internet infrastructure that is lagging far behind the capabilities of our content playback devices.

    Very few people have been using the 1080p capabilities of their TV sets and set-tops because their content suppliers restrict much of this to pay-per-view on-demand, and to really take advantage of quality 1080p content you have to use Blu-Ray discs because nothing is over-the-air broadcast in this resolution.

    Many households still do not have Blu-Ray players, nor is it as convenient a medium as Internet streaming.

    To complicate this further, Internet-distributed 1080p and even 720p content has to be heavily compressed in order to be pushed by On-Demand services such as Netflix, Amazon Video and Apple TV, so the amount of visible artifacts during playback is significant and is qualitatively not comparable to Blu-Ray discs.

    Most of these problems can be attributed to the broadband connection to the last mile and network congestion when attempting to access streamed video from the content delivery networks (CDNs) that services like Netflix and Amazon use.

    We will need gigabit or higher broadband to the home to make 4K content transport viable in the Internet, and obviously the electromagnetic spectrum cannot be expanded, so we are going to need to make massive improvements in digital multiplexing on existing DTV channels, freeing up existing spectrum and considerably advancing compression technology to even think about moving 4K Over the Air.

    If you thought the Digital TV transition was like the government trying to move Mount Everest, think about it trying to move Olympus Mons instead for a broadcast 4K adoption. The FCC has recently called for all 50 states to provide gigabit connections to the home within five years. I say Good Luck with that.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for It's all a pipe dream

  • Great Debate Moderator

    4K enters the picture

    At CES, executives said 4K is responding to market demand. Really?

    Posted by Andrew Nusca

    Shut up and take the money

    At CES, executives said 4K is responding to market demand. Really?

    Jason doesn't hang out with some of the people I do. Real videophiles are already going "Shut up and take my money!" for the $20,000 and up 4K sets. Are these most people? Heck no! But they are out there and there's enough of them that they make up a real market.

    Heck, if I had that kind of cash, I'd do it.

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for The future

    Excuses, excuses

    No, the executives are all smoking crack. They are just coming up with excuses to push newer technology because the existing margins on consumer HDTVs have been reduced to nauseating levels for these companies.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for It's all a pipe dream

  • Great Debate Moderator

    The clear picture

    How will higher resolution impact content creators and infrastructure providers?

    Posted by Andrew Nusca

    It's already here

    4K has actually already been around for a while. AMC theaters, for example, completing switching to 4K projectors last year. Sony Pictures was switching over their filming most to 4K in 2008. Today, many, if not most, digital movies are shot in 4K. So, for movie creators the infrastructure is already there and has been for some time.

    What we really need, as far as Internet TV goes, is for all the ISPs to increase their bandwidth. We need that regardless of whether 4K takes off. Video now takes up most of the Internet's bandwidth> Heck, Netflix alone is the single largest consumer of Internet bandwidth.

    What this means for 4K is that in the immediate future, just like with HDTV and 1080p today, you're going to be watching most of your high-resolution movies with a 4K player.

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for The future

    The question of power

    Well, the content creators are going to need extremely powerful workstations and server farms to process the data. Take a look at what Weta, the studio who produced The Hobbit movie uses. That should give you some idea.

    Every uncompressed frame of data is going to be around 45 megs apiece, and then you are going to need serious compute power to do the compression and create the workprints, never mind having 100 Gig networks in your datacenter and 10 Gig to the workstation to move data around.

    That's the kind of infrastructure TV studios are going to have to buy if network television and cable TV premium content providers have to get into this game. The storage and network companies like Cisco, EMC, NetApp, IBM and HP are also going to get rich beyond their wildest dreams if this technology enters wide adoption.

    I don't see this happening so quickly, as they all just spent big money on 1080p production facilities and would have to at least quadruple their storage capacities if not more. You can argue that this technology is going to get cheaper, and the recording and production technology is going to become more portable, but it's still going to be a very large expense if you multiply it at scale.

    Service providers, like the content creators, are also going to have to beef up their networks, and the Internet-facing switch infrastructure capability at the Tier 1, 2 and 3 companies will have to be increased at a magnitude on the order of 10 times or even more to deal with this.

    As it is today, the Internet is already overloaded with video streaming, and this would only compound the problem.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for It's all a pipe dream

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Is there a need?

    Is there anything we could do in higher-definition that we can't today?

    Posted by Andrew Nusca

    The sky's the limit

    It's not a black and white question, it's a quality question. Games, sporting events, videos, high-end computing imaging, aka medical and modeling, all look much better in 4K. The question isn't "Can you do something you can't do?" It's is the improved quality worth it to you? For many people, the answer will be "yes."

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for The future

    It's getting complex

    Well, from an entertainment standpoint, at least as it relates to visualization intensive apps like video games, the higher the resolution you have the more complex the modeling you can do and thus the more realistic rendering of objects and textures.

    From a vertical market standpoint this would be a huge boon to data visualization and scientific and medical imaging. Font rendering would also be super-duper sharp.

    However, it should be noted that these applications are not as dependent on broadband infrastructure because these things are being rendered on the fly, using vectors, mathematical algorithms and bitmaps. GPUs will definitely need to be beefed up, without question.

    But it is safe to assume that 4K will be adopted for these things first long before we see it in any broadcast form.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for It's all a pipe dream

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Will movie theaters sink with Titanic?

    Every new home theater technology is said to threaten attendance at real theaters. Will 4K move the needle further, or is that theory bunk?

    Posted by Andrew Nusca

    Pass the popcorn

    Watching at home and watching at a theater are fundamentally different experiences. One is just you and a few friends or family watching a movie while the other is you sharing the experience with a crowd. Think about watching say the upcoming new Star Wars movie, would you rather see it at home, even on a 4K TV, or with an audience? For a film like that I think most people will go to the theater.

    That said, the movie theater's real problem is price. I'm far from poor, but I can't recall the last time I went out to an evening, full-price movie. So sure, 4K will make staying at home to watch a film a wee bit more attractive, but cost, not an improvement in video quality, is the real driver.

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for The future

    The long goodbye

    I think the movie theater is already in serious danger due to the home theater experience. And since many of them are co-located with malls and are affected by declining retail traffic they need to find ever increasing ways to attract customers (4K, 3D, high frame rates) when their home experience is more than "good enough" and ticket and concession prices are off the scale.

    4K at home may compound the problem for the theater venues but I don't think it is as significant a variable as other technologies and factors that are hurting that industry.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for It's all a pipe dream

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Are they adaptable?

    Smart TV technology is rising at the same time as 4K. How will such high resolution impact online content? (File size? Format?)

    Posted by Andrew Nusca

    Call it a dumb TV

    Jason and I see eye to eye on this one. No one cares about smart TVs. No, not even the long-rumored Apple TV.

    None of the TV vendors have yet to come up with a good user interface. Say Apple does come out with an Apple TV, that's more than a box, so what? Do I want to be stuck with only those content providers who've struck a deal with Apple? I don't think so.

    My problems with "smart TVs" is the same one I have with TVs with VCRs and DVD-players built into them. They put multiple points of failure in one device and they usually don't have all the features I want. Give me a Roku box and a dumb TV any day.

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for The future

    Who cares?

    Repeat after me: NOBODY CARES ABOUT SMART TV. Yes, people will expect that these features will be embedded in their TV sets, but nobody wants to pay extra for them and there is no standardized interactive TV content that anyone cares about. Everyone uses different content providers and they all have different UIs.

    People want to watch their shows, period, not interact with them. If any of that activity is going to occur it will be on mobile devices like tablets and smartphones that will simply replace the remote controls for DVRs and other set-tops that are in use now.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for It's all a pipe dream

  • Great Debate Moderator

    4K's impact

    How will 4K impact other electronics: computer monitors, mobile devices?

    Posted by Andrew Nusca

    Not for everyone

    It will become the standard for high-end computer monitors and tablets. It won't be for everyone. 4K on a Nexus 7 or iPad mini form factor? Surely not!

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for The future

    It will spread

    I expect to see this technology used in PC monitors first, within the next 3 years. As I said in my opening statement we'll probably also see it in tablets in a very similar time frame.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for It's all a pipe dream

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Living with the past

    What about backwards compatibility? How will today's "low" resolution content look on 4K?

    Posted by Andrew Nusca

    Back to the Future

    As Jason says, "We already know what it looks like in 4K." In short, it looks great. What I'm really looking forward to though is the simultaneous rise of organic light-emitting diode (OLED) with 4K. This really will make today's video, even ordinary DVDs, look much better thanks to its improved black and white and color dynamics.

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for The future

    There will be issues

    We already know what it looks like in 4K. SONY uses pixel quadrupling technology with their some of their Blu-Ray players in order to play current generation 1080p movies on their 4K TV sets. It looks fine, and is not susceptible to the same Analog/DTV translation issues we dealt with playing SD content on HD.

    So pixel "Octupling" or "Sextupling" upscaler technology will be simply built into any set-top device that has 4K output capability and has to play back legacy 1080i and 720p HDTV content.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for It's all a pipe dream

  • Great Debate Moderator

    3D's survival chances

    How does this impact 3DTV technology?

    Posted by Andrew Nusca

    Just another feature

    I see 3DTV as an entertaining dead-end. Yes, we'll still see kid- and big-action movies, but I, for one, just don't find it that interesting—especially not at home. I see 3D becoming just another feature in 4K TVs.

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for The future

    It'll take time

    I don't see it moving the needle. Major feature films will continue to be produced in 3D as well as in HFR, but I don't see network television or premium broadcast content going in that direction for a very, very long time, so there will always be a content cap.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for It's all a pipe dream

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Just another fad?

    It took years for high-definition discs to roll out into the marketplace. Will 4K really get a shot before it's replaced?

    Posted by Andrew Nusca

    It will be on top for a while

    4K will get its shot. 8K is still largely an engineering experiment, while the infrastructure for 4K movie production and projection is already with us. Today, we're seeing 4K's first steps to the consumer market. 8K will just be making it out of the lab when 4K has become a mass market product.

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for The future

    The shelf life

    I think it is certainly possible that before it is widely adopted in broadcast, the 8K technology will arrive to replace it.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for It's all a pipe dream

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Last question

    Finally: what's the ultimate end game for TVs? Where are we headed?

    Posted by Andrew Nusca

    Two paths

    I see two paths ahead. On the one side, the family living room TV, and for those that can afford it, the home theater, are going to stay. At the same time, the tablet is becoming the personal video device of choice.

    I don't see either one winning out because they're really about two different activities: Sharing a video and watching a video by yourself.

    The end result? We're going to be watching more TV than ever. Pass the chips.

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for The future

    Bed potatoism

    I certainly do not see the family living room TV going away anytime soon, but we are going to be seeing a lot more usage of personal viewing devices. The tablet will be used to stream more and more video data, and we may see them being used more with home TV "servers" that act as centralized DVRs and tuners for these portable playback devices for cached content. The back end of the equation will require beefier CDNs and faster edge of the network connections in order to service it.

    In summary: a vast increase in couch or bed potatoism.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for It's all a pipe dream

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Thanks to all

    Nice debate. I hope you get the picture. Tomorrow, our debaters will post their closing arguments and Thursday, I've give my verdict. Let's hear your opinion in the talkback section. Thanks so much for joining in.

    Posted by Andrew Nusca

Talkback

27 comments
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  • Is it a big enough difference?

    Is it a big enough difference?

    I'm sure that I'll likely notice a difference - but I'm not so sure that most people will care.

    Especially the tech press who claims that the difference between 720p and 1080p is indistinguishable (although I personally beg to differ - I can tell the difference). I can see similar claims popping up with 4k.

    There's also the issue of we have nothing that supports it. We'll likely need a new optical media format to fit an entire movie (increasingly unlikely as more people just use the internet for video), and it would require even larger internet bandwidth. Nevermind that it's currently really hard to get an internet connection that can handle 1080p.

    And of course it will likely require we do something to how changing channels works on both broadcast and cable. And I don't think there are very many channels that go the whole 1080p even now.

    It's the chicken and egg problem all over again. Except this time I don't think people are really gonna be convinced to move to the new format.

    I'm sure I'd personally love it. But selling to to the public and the tech press may be hard.
    CobraA1
    Reply 1 Vote I'm for It's all a pipe dream
  • Similar to Retina

    Everyone laughed at hi-DPI displays, too, until they saw one. Now it is a must-have feature on phones and tablets.

    Beyond crunching the numbers on pixels and 20/20 (or less) visual accuity, there is something inherently satisfying about a display that looks great close up even after you step away from it. At around 50 inches or bigger, which isn't rare these days, even the John Q Publics will want one.
    AsItIsToday
    Reply Vote I'm for The future
    • A note about that 20/20 thing . . .

      A note about that 20/20 thing . . .

      . . . it's not a maximum.

      20/20 is basically "you don't need glasses or contacts." It's not the maximum possible vision for humans. Some people have vision as good as 20/10, and possibly as good as 20/8. I'd imagine that before age starts deteriorating their vision, most people likely had better than 20/20 vision at some point in their lives. There are of course exceptions. Most doctors will simply stop the test at 20/20, and most people won't bother to ask their doctors to test their vision beyond 20/20.

      On my iPhone 4: In 3D games (and yes, at a comfortable distance, at about 10 inches which the phone is designed at), I can see the stairstepping effect from a lack of antialiasing - that means even on a so-called "retina" display, it's still possible for some people to still see the pixels.
      CobraA1
      Reply Vote I'm Undecided
      • Stair steps

        But are the "stair steps" you are seeing a result of the display resolution or the games picture resolution? From what I have seen, many "John Q Publics" can't tell the difference between NTSC and 720p of 1080i(which is all ATSC braodcast allows!). Indeed many can. One of the biggest visible differences between old analog and newer digital TV, is the lack of "snow". That... people notice, resolution.. not so much. My opinion comes from 35 years experience as an inhome Television technician.

        There is also a bit of the, "I just spent $2500(well, $800 today) on this new tv, of course it looks better!", going on as well!

        In the next 2 years? Pipe Dream! in the next 20? I don't have a crystal ball!
        Dameadows
        Reply Vote I'm Undecided
        • on an iPhone, they are the same.

          "But are the 'stair steps' you are seeing a result of the display resolution or the games picture resolution?"

          On an iPhone, they are the same, unless it's a really old game that never updated to add retina support. iPhone games generally don't render at a different picture resolution than the display resolution.

          The "stair step" effect is caused by a lack of antialiasing, and I very much know it when I see it, as somebody who has played games for years. I can certainly tell the difference between upsampling and aliasing. Photographs and live action videos are naturally antialiased, but game images aren't, due to the way that rendering technology works for 3D games.

          The Wikipedia article on "Aliasing" shows the stairstepping effect I am talking about.
          CobraA1
          Reply Vote I'm Undecided
    • While the screens are simply gorgeous, content will be a serious issue.

      The issue of content will persist for many years. HD content is only now becoming truly common place and even it comes at a price premium. HDTV got started in the early 90's. That is 1990's and it is now 2013. 20 years. 20 years to go from SD to HDTV once the tech was available.

      The move to 4K will be even slower.
      Bruizer
      Reply 2 Votes I'm Undecided
    • Much bigger than 50

      50" is a good sweet spot for 1080p, but just like a 30" HDTV, the higher resolution is lost on a smaller screen and 720 is fine for those. Thus it will be for 4K...I'm thinking massive, wall-size screens. On typical screen sizes that we see today, the difference in quality vs. price will only appeal to hard core enthusiasts. But the possibility of good quality, massive displays will bring something to the table that 1080 can't touch.

      I don't think 2014/15 is going to be the coming out year though. 10 years maybe? We'll see. Bandwidth must get much bigger and much cheaper for this to gain traction.
      jvitous
      Reply 1 Vote I'm Undecided
  • 4k TV

    It is bizarre while there is supposedly are demand for higher and higher TV resolution much of the news broad casts consist of very low res picture shot on mobile phones or SKYPE hook ups where little attention is paid to lighting or microphone placing.
    much of the information content of TV broadcasts is carried by the sound channel but lapel mikes are commonly used which lead to very muffled speech also there is an increasing tendency to deliberately blur pictures to prevent people being recognised.
    The only things that would benefit from higher resolution are adverts where no expense is spared to get the best sound and picture quality.
    syhprum
    Reply 3 Votes I'm for It's all a pipe dream
  • Talkbacks need to keep in mind the subject of the debate

    Do I see a use for 4k TVs? Yes, I think it would be awesome and I look forward to it. But that isn't the question. The question is delivering 4k content to the TVs. BluRay can scale to support it, one of the reasons it was a better choice than HD DVD. But outside of that? You can't stream it. 1080p stresses most connections. I'm not sure how existing providers would be able to deliver that bandwidth without major overhaul of the infrastructure. By the time that happens I think we'll be past even 4k TVs. Perhaps the 8K TVs that Sharp showed off would be more likely. When we have gigabit to the house.
    LiquidLearner
    Reply 1 Vote I'm for It's all a pipe dream
  • 4K is about movie distribution - or not

    I feel both are off the mark. A new video technology is about the distribution of content. We do remember that Hollywood held up release of Bluray for more than 2 years while encryption was improved, right? Despite the fact the media and burners could benefit ordinary DVD quality in terms of less compression, size of the media, or use for backup. No mfg produced Bluray burners until Hollywood agreed to movie distribution.
    This will play out again: no serious use or driver to the larger displays without media content, and the question becomes: when/how will Hollywood agree to near-theater-quality material being distributed? I feel the encryption and protection will take many years to sort out. In any case it is not about the technology or Internet bandwidth, it is about the content protection.
    richalt2
    Reply Vote I'm for The future