Heavy investments hamper 4K content creation, broadcast

The high cost of producing native 4K TV content and the need to raise network bandwidth for such content means it will take some time before widespread adoption.
Written by Kevin Kwang, Contributor

While TV makers have unveiled a slew of 4K, ultra high-definition (UHD) TV sets during the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES) earlier in January, content creation and broadcasting will be limited by costly equipment and heavy investments to improve network infrastructure.

Panasonic, Samsung Electronics, and Sony all rolled out their 4K UHD TVs with much aplomb during the trade show and claimed that the new display technology is the next big thing for the television industry.

Sony went one step farther and touted its efforts at expanding the use of 4K technology in content creation, which include re-mastering 10 movies, launching its 4K Video Distribution Service in the United States later this year, and producing 4K-enabled video cameras such as the F5 Pro camera for film-makers.

More 4K-ready content is needed to make UHD TVs like this a worthwhile investment for consumers. (Credit: Sony)

Elaborating on these efforts, one Sony spokesperson told ZDNet that besides re-mastering films, there are also new movies that are being shot by Sony's F65 4K camera currently. It is also working with industry partners to find ways to create and share content either through physical or video streaming, he said.

"Through these, we will be able to offer new customers value for high-resolution, large-screen TVs, thus creating new demand and new needs that we will respond to accordingly," the spokesperson stated.

"We do [also] see the adoption of 4K technology increasing. We at Sony have always believed in the importance of 4K technology to provide high picture quality for our customers, and that higher-resolution displays will continue to evolve in response to customer needs."

4K adoption needs more investments

A regional media service provider, Encompass Digital Media, pointed out that it will "take some time" before broadcasters are able to televise pure, 4K-ready content though.

Deepak Singh, managing director for Asia at Encompass Digital Media, said that at present, only 60 percent to 70 percent of content is in high definition, and broadcasting 4K-ready content requires heavy investments in network infrastructure.

Additionally, the process for getting content made in 4K technology "has not reached its most cost-effective stages," Singh said. Encoding technology, for example, is not available at a reasonable cost for now, he said.

"Broadcasters are not yet prepared to invest in this technology at present. They have also not been successful in charging a premium for high-definition [content]. As such, they do not expect to be able to charge more for 4K technology even though it requires much higher bandwidth on the network, which constitutes a large portion of the distribution costs," he noted.

He also cited a Deloitte study, which predicted that it may be another 18 months to 36 months before 4K is technically and commercially ready for broadcast .

Deloitte said in the study it expects to see several significant landmarks this year. These include having about 20 models of 4K TVs from more than 10 vendors available by year's end; first consumers getting their hands on these TV sets; a range of 4K content becoming available; a growing range of professional and semi-professional 4K cameras becoming available; and new supporting standards--including a new HDMI standard to service 4K data rates--being agreed on, it said.

"The rollout of any new broadcast standard is a major step, so the expected landmarks for 2013 should be considered significant," it added.

Japan on Monday announced it will start the world's first 4K TV broadcast in July 2014, some two years ahead of schedule, to help drive demand for the UHD TV sets its domestic manufacturers are producing. The government is also hoping the service will help revive Japan's flagging domestic electronics industry.

4K future brighter than 3D

Singh did say that the company expects 4K display technology to be more popular and gain more acceptance from consumers than 3D.

"We play out content for over 100 channels like MTV, BBC, Discovery, IMG, and CNBC Asia to the rest of Asia, and expect that 4K technology will not only be popular but also more acceptable to viewers than 3D, which has seen some take-up. [This is because] the picture quality of 4K is a lot better than its predecessors [and] motions and expressions are clearer onscreen," he explained.

Sony, too, acknowledged that the big infrastructure costs will dampen the growth of 4K technology among content creators and broadcasters. But the spokesperson pointed out that with over 13,000 theaters worldwide equipped with 4K digital projectors, and Sony Pictures in Los Angeles having a lab solely for film-makers to create 4K content, these investments show money is being poured in by the industry and the company.

"Although there are challenges in terms of customers' adoption time as well as the technology and investments required for it, we remain confident that [4K] is the future for TV technology and strive to lead the adoption of 4K content in cinema, home and broadcast," he said.

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