Comcast to Produce Olympics 2014 in Ultra HD

LAS VEGAS -- Comcast chief technology officer Tony Werner revealed that the company will record portions of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games from Sochi in Ultra HD.

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Speaking at a panel on ultra-high definition content moderated by The Hollywood Reporter's Carolyn Giardina on Tuesday, Werner said, "We feel comfortable that we have the infrastructure to deliver 4K to the home, but we are more concerned with having enough content in the vault. To that end, we will be doing some stuff to stimulate the imagination with the Winter Olympics. We'll be showing what high frame rates and higher resolutions can do for sports to stimulate people's imagination and also, hopefully, the rest of the content ecosystem."

Comcast is to integrate an app into new Samsung Ultra HD TVs for on-demand streaming of 4K content direct to the sets. It is working on the service with content owners including NBCUniversal.

"We like applications that take a lot of bandwidth," Werner added. "Wave the capability to do it. We think its highly manageable all the way through. What's more important is getting the content cycle to start."

The panel, which also featured 3Net CEO Tom Cosgrove and Sony Pictures Technologies' Chris Cookson, agreed that post production costs for 4K were an impediment.

"The post industry needs to be confident that the business is sustainable to recover the cost of investing in infrastructure to support 4K," said Cookson. "Producers are going to facilities with 4K projects and finding themselves charged two to three times the cost. But this is not due to the cost of 4K per se, but because post houses are not sure they can recover the money from the next customer. That's unfortunate in that a number of titles are not being mastered now in 4K because of the cost. The cost should be and can be the same as doing 2K."

Cosgrove said that the industry needs to get to a scale where 4K kit costs are amortized. "Progress is being made," he said. "The first productions will be more expensive, but over time the cost will reduce."

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He observed that VOD providers will be first to market with 4K services but felt that broadcasters would not be far behind. "You will see non-traditional platforms take a bit of a lead but in a couple of years there will be a fair amount of content available on all the sources we have today. Things will even out. It's really a matter of how far and how fast prices of UHD sets to the home can reduce."

Cookson said another issue holding back content creators was the amount of data 4K productions require.

"Fact is, the codecs now being used have knocked the data down considerably. The amount of data is manageable. The cost to do 4K in terms of the storage and processing today is about the same to do 3D a couple of years ago. We believe the costs will come down. We believe 4K is practical to do, It's hard to believe that 4k will not be an accepted fact in 4-5 years."

Werner warned that upconverted content should only be a stop-gap. "When you take a 1080P signal into a new 4K set our tests show it looks superior so that gives consumers a reason to buy sets. The thing we don't want is for up-conversion to give consumers a reason rest on their laurels and not go for true high-fidelity."

Cookson emphasized the need to talk about Ultra HD as a package of elements and not focus strictly on resolution. "The dynamic range of current displays is the limiting factor. We need sets that can show light, dark, detail and color in ways that pop out at you just as they do in real life. Those features will come to displays over the next couple of years, but on the production side today we are not able to make use of all the data we capture through the lens because there's nowhere to go with it."