NAB and CinemaCon: Reflections on 4K

Sony 56 inch 4K OLED TV CES H 2013

The National Association of Broadcasters Show and theater owners confab CinemaCon were just held back-to-back in Las Vegas, with CinemaCon wrapping late last week. Having attended both, I couldn’t help noticing that while it was hard to avoid the topic of 4K during NAB, it was barely mentioned at CinemaCon.

It goes without saying that there are many, many moving parts in a discussion of 4K—from what is practical in production, to broadcast standards to business models. But I asked a few colleagues who attended CinemaCon about this observation, and one theme did surface, which is that in the cinema space, consumers don’t appear to be paying attention to 4K. To quote one attendee, “story, cupholders and comfortable seats are more important.”

Michael Karagosian, president of MKPE Consulting, admitted: “With the exception of 3D, it’s difficult to monetize technology [in the cinema]. It’s easier to monetize a brand, such as Imax.

“Customers expect to see a beautiful picture, and they get that today,” he added. “It's hard to sell an incrementally more beautiful picture.”

In truth, 4K also isn’t “new” this year in cinema. Sony has already installed more than 15,000 4K projectors around the world, while Barco, Christie and NEC additionally offer 4K projection capabilities. So 4K wasn’t front and center when manufacturers announced their newest technologies.

The fevered attention at NAB was, at least in part, fueled by the Ultra HD TV push from the consumer electronics industry, which was a major trend at the International CES in January.

Various equipment manufacturers came to NAB to demonstrate that 4K production is possible, highlighting new 4K  tools and workflows. That included AJA, Assimilate, Blackmagic, Canon, Quantel, Sony, Vision Research and many others.

But some were also asking how to monetize 4K.

“You can monetize mobility. … Pretty pictures are a lot tougher to monetize,” said Erik Moreno, senior vp corporate development at Fox Networks Group during a panel discussion.

“The jury is still out, but I don’t see a way to monetize 4K,” Frank Besteiro, vp business development and partnerships for video at AOL, said in an interview. “It’s the new buzz word, but it hasn’t been proven.”

Grant Petty, CEO of production and post equipment developer Blackmagic, argued that higher resolution is needed, including for large television displays, as well as for mobile devices.

“It’s not what if they do, but what if they don’t,” he said. “The computer industry is itching for a television-based killer app, and Ultra HD is it. If [broadcasters] want to stay in the game, they have to think about the computer industry nipping at their heels.”

This is just a sliver of the 4K conversation. This week in Behind the Screen we’ll further explore 4K from the production side of the equation, and we’ll be examining all aspects of the topic as the industry continues the discussion.