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NAB: Panel Debates Value Prop for Ultra HD

"For broadcasters, historically we don't get a lot of extra revenue [to warrant] spending hundreds of millions to upgrade," warned Disney/ABC exec Vince Roberts.

Vince Roberts - P 2014
ABC/Bob D'Amico

LAS VEGAS – Stakeholders from the consumer electronics industry asserted that those who see Ultra HDTV, want Ultra HDTV. But others on a Monday panel at the NAB Show were quick to point out that the business model remains unclear -- and newer emerging technologies with potentially more impact are on the way.

"To push the envelope you need something better than just more bits (resolution)," asserted Vince Roberts, executive vp global operations and CTO at Disney/ABC Television Group. "What is the value proposition? For broadcasters, historically we don't get a lot of extra revenue from commercials [to warrant] spending hundreds of millions to upgrade."

Ultra HDTV (also called 4K TV) offers 4K resolution, meaning that it contains four times more pixels than today's HDTV. On the content portion of the equation, Roberts demonstrated that his company is taking a cautious approach, currently planning to deliver six 4K Marvel shows to Netflix (which intends to offer Ultra HD streaming). "We'll continue to look at building a library," he added. "The animation space is less risky...we have quite a library that can be converted to the Ultra HD spec."

STORY: FIFA, Sony Reveal New Details About 4K World Cup Plans

However, he and several other speakers said that instead of more pixels, they see more promise in "better" pixels -- including high dynamic range and high frame rate images.

"We're getting into new standards and a color space that more closely replicates what the human eye can see; high dynamic range is stunning," said Darcy Antonellis, CEO of on-demand provider Vubiquity (and former CTO at Warner Bros.) "Now we have to marry that to all the other ways you are going to bring [images] to the screen. That rolls into the role of [mobile] devices and the technical considerations."

John Taylor, vp public affairs at LG, pointed to the future of terrestrial broadcasting, saying, “Look at the work being done in ATSC 3.0 (a developing next-generation broadcast standard), which will include delivery of 4K content. I urge more broadcasters to get involved."

STORY: NAB Preview: Who Is Betting on Ultra HD?

But underscoring the needs for business models, Roberts responded: "Will you help finance that for us?"

Technicolor's senior executive vp Vince Pizzica said his company is already making a  "quite substantial" investment in Ultra HD, through its M-G0 4K streaming service and 4K production infrastructure. "But we believe there’s a lot more to be done."

Citing Consumer Electronics Association research, the organization's senior vp research and standards, Brian Markwalter, asserted that 70 percent of consumers who have seen Ultra HD, want Ultra HD.

"Our research show picture quality is top consideration for consumers when they are buying a new TV," agreed LG’s Taylor. "The Holy Grail is the marriage OLED with Ultra HD. That is going to happen this fall."

Asked if 3D remains a part of the future, Antonellis responded: "I would not at all say 3DTV is dead." She asserted that attention needs to be placed on creating content that "lends itself to a 3D experience," and how to carry it to the viewing environment. "The glasses have encumbered the experience."

E-mail: Carolyn.Giardina@THR.com

Twitter: @CGinLA