SMPTE: Speakers Say 'Exciting' Times for Ultra HD TV But Faces Challenges

Panelists, including execs from Sony, Samsun and HDMI Licensing, discuss upconversion, available content and clear consumer terminology.


Execs from Sony, Samsung, HDMI Licensing and NPD DisplaySearch said that this is an “exciting” time for “immersive” Ultra HD TV, while discussing issues such as a lack of available content and clear consumer messaging to grow the young market.

Speaking at the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers’ annual conference, the proponents asserted that there would ultimately be consumer demand for a transition to Ultra HD, or 4K, TV—though the wider industry is very much divided on this topic.

The consumer displays are already available—and range in price from roughly $700 to nearly $40,000—and 4K-capable laptops and even smartphones are on the way, pointed out moderator Chris Chinnock, president of Insight Media. But there remains limited ways to get 4K in the home.

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Efforts are underway for satellite and OTT 4K services, though stakeholders agree that 4K over the air is still some time away. Sony took a step by releasing a 4K media player with which consumers can download 4K movies and other programs.

Steve Venuti of HDMI Licensing said 4K upconversion features -- offered on numerous new displays -- is the needed “stepping stone” to the Ultra HD market, though Paul Gagnon, director global TV research for NPD DisplaySearch, warned that there’s a “huge difference” in the quality of upconversion offered by different CE brands. Still, he acknowledged that in the U.S. “most of the volume is coming from the top brands and the quality is high.”

“The reality is that most of what we watch will be upconverted for the foreseeable future. It is positioned as an important feature,” added Samsung marketing exec Dan Schinasi.

Sony has been bullish about promoting native 4K production, so it was no surprise that Sony’s senior product marketing manager Jamie Marsh asserted though that there is a “noticeable difference” between upconverted and native 4K programming.

In additional to creating new content in 4K, Sony has been remastering library titles in the format, including movies (i.e. Funny Girl) and television series (i.e. Breaking Bad). Its 4K library titles are available for download via Sony’s 4K media player, but speaking broadly, Marsh acknowledged that “the question is how to get [4K programming] to consumers."

On the subject of content, several speakers believe movies and sports will entice consumers to invest in 4K. “It gives viewers the experience of being there," Marsh said of sports. It’s already been announced that next summer’s FIFA World Cup final will be shot in 4K. Sony has also done select 4K production at events including X-Games and Wimbledon.

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Gagnon warned that stakeholders need to demonstrate value today if consumer electronics manufacturers want to hold the price points for Ultra HD TVs. “It can’t be just ‘it’s coming; it's coming,’ ” he warned.

He also said terminology needs to be clear so as not to confuse consumers. For instance, the Consumer Electronics Association uses Ultra HD as the industry term for 4K, but other groups including the International Telecommunication Union define Ultra HD both as 4K and 8K. “CEA has come up with a definition for the U.S., but they don't follow it in Europe [and other international markets]. There’s still a way to go,” argued Gagnon.

Using some history to discuss other issues, Gagnon pointed out that for the prior HD transition, the types of consumers displays were changing and there was a government mandate to go from analog to digital, which required new consumer technology. “With HD sets, it was a no brainer,” he said, adding that 4K, like 3D, faces different challenges because it is optional. “For ESPN (which announced earlier this year that it would abandon its 3D channel) the installed base for 3D wasn’t growing fast enough for them to stay in it. There’s a similar challenge for 4K.”

Also referring to the HD transition, Chinnock reminding the crowd that when the industry went to HD, suddenly flaws, including blemishes on the skin, became visible. “We are going to see the same thing in 4K,” he asserted. “We’ll need a lot more makeup.”

The SMPTE conference runs through Thursday at Loews Hollywood Hotel.

Twitter: @CGinLA