4K & Ultra High Definition: Fact of Fad?

FullHD_vs_UltraHD-x600If you’ve walked into an electronic store recently you’ve probably seen displays and TVs promoting this new fancy 4K and/or UHD concept. So, what is that? How does it work and how does it affect The Orchard and our clients? Below, I’ll provide a concise update and aim to provide some perspective on whether this is fact or fad.

What is 4K / UHD?

4K refers to the video frame size 4096 x 2160 which is exactly twice the size of 2K (2048 x 1080) made popular in digital cinema since the turn of the century. UHD on the other hand is the more accessible version of 4K, ideal for Television and 16 x 9 devices. Just as the extra wide frame size of 2K was passed over for Television in favor of the now common HD frame size 1920 x 1080, UHD is the more accessible version of 4K at 3840 x 2160. This frame size works nicely with the HD aspect ratios and TV sizes we’ve come to live with and expect. If history repeats itself, 4K should come to be the new digital cinema standard with UHD becoming the new Television and home entertainment standard.


What services are leading the charge?

Right now VOD services are driving the push for 4K / UHD content. Netflix is considered the first to arrive on scene, with some of their popular original programming, movies and TV content available for 4K streaming. Late last year, Amazon joined the 4K VOD ranks with a small offering of movies and their own original programming as well. Rounding out the VOD services is M-GO, a video download and rental service installed on Rokus, Samsung Smart TVs and Vizio Smart TVs. Last, satellite has gotten in the game with DirecTV offering a small amount of 4K movies on VOD; however, the real excitement here is their potential to leverage their additional satellite bandwidth for what could be the first live 4K television.

How is it possible to stream such high-definition content?

In order for VOD to succeed, it’s important that the consumer’s Internet bandwidth is up to par. Netflix has stated that it recommends 25 Mbps on the download side to accommodate their 4K streams. Luckily, U.S. average is 33 Mbps, so there is solid base of cities that can in theory support the streaming of 4K content. However, rather then stream, some platforms like DirecTV and Sony’s Video Unlimited media box are downloading content to the consumer’s device overnight for immediate local playback. For now, prices on the TVs are dropping, which is encouraging for retailers eager to service these new 4K consumers. There is also the expectation of 4K Blu Rays, which actually sounds like a very practical solution to the content problem of 4K TV makers. In addition to being healthy competition for digital, satellite and broadcast, 4K Blu Rays could offer less compression then a stream, creating perhaps a truer 4K experience.

What’s the bottom line for content creators?

There is currently a vacuum for 4K content — in order for this format to arrive as scheduled, the American consumer needs entertainment for their new purchases. Since live TV is not available yet, VOD content is king — those with 4K versions stand to reap the benefits of this very uncrowded marketplace. The video world may have seen the very slow adoption of at-home 3D technology and some may question if this will be a similar scenario. I think the public’s appetite for content is at an all-time high and quality has always been something we’ve strived for with our Television and Film entertainment. Though it hasn’t taken over yet, I believe it eventually will and The Orchard, having already supplied content to both Amazon and M-Go, will be there for the ride!

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