4K, 8K, HDR & VR: NAB’s Game of Thrones

NAB2016Once a year in April, the buyers and sellers, old guard and new, meet in the desert to talk shop, explore new technology and unavoidably take in the Vegas nightlife. This year’s attendance is reported to have exceeded 103,000.

The convention is NAB (for National Association of Broadcasters), and this was my third time attending and seeing how ideas talked about in the hallways and meet-ups have made their way to the show floor. Although 4K/UHD has yet to penetrate enough U.S. households to make it a game-changer, the encoding exhibitors are further integrating it into their products, setting the industry’s stage for a potential critical mass.

However… while 4K has some momentum, it’s already being challenged by its high-dynamic-range cousin HDR, its older-brother 8K, and maybe even the family infant…. VR!?

HDR is considered by many attendees at the show to be the true changer of the game, or heir to the throne. HDR presents the video image with more contrast, luminance and color. The result: a more eye-popping true-to-life experience. Many simply worry that 4K’s visual presence is not as obvious or appreciated by the average TV consumer, making it a tougher sell and perhaps an after-thought once positioned next to an HDR display. Additionally, HDR does not require 4K but rather could be sold in lower cost 1080p models, an aspect that I think gives this format a wider breadth of products and appeal.

But the numbers have to go up right!? 8K, is exactly what it sounds like — twice as many pixels as 4K and 8 times as many pixels as today’s standard 1080p displays. 8K had a presence at the show and if that presence grows at a faster rate than 4K currently is, perhaps the concept of 4K displays could be lapped before ever reaching the elusive critical mass.

Finally, VR — everyone’s favorite! Virtual Reality is so utterly different that it makes talking about 4K, 8K and HDR not seem special at all. Having worn a Samsung VR set, I can say the experience is nothing short of immersive, transportive and consuming. The industry is still trying to determine how best to capture and create this content, so the concept of VR taking over the American household is still a long way off, but I was impressed with folks like Orah who are looking to make capturing VR slick, simple and live.

I can already see the day when simply posting a 2D video on Instagram just won’t cut it, when Skyping in anything but 3D is antiquated and when watching TV on a flat 4K/8K/HDR display feels the way a black-and-white silent movie appears to us now! With the rate of technology growing exponentially, this day may be closer than we think.

In closing, the business of creating and broadcasting content is very much alive with many new formats vying to be king. May the best one win.

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