Yet another reason to get fiber to the home! Meet 4K – the next video standard, named on its approximately 4000 pixel wide resolution. Sometimes it’s called UHD or ultra-high definition, but that doesn’t mean they are same. Like previous video definitions – think HDTV that came in 720p, 1080i and 1080p – there are different versions of this new “standard.” What they do have in common is that they are creating a huge demand for greater speed and bandwidth to deliver content.
For movie projection there’s Digital Cinema Initiatives (DCI) 4K, defined as 4096 x 2160 pixels with an aspect ratio of 1.9:1.
Slightly different is the new television standard of UHDTV, even though some manufacturers advertise their products as being UHD-4K. It has a resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels, which has four times the pixels of the previous HD standard of 1920 x 1080, and has the same aspect ratio of 1.78:1.
The main benefit of 4K/UHD is that, because of the increased density, the screen pixels themselves are smaller so you can sit much closer to the TV than before. Also, much larger TVs will bring viewers even closer to the immersive experience offered by IMAX.
Other improvements over HDTV include a wider color gamut. This is the range of colors a screen can reproduce (previous version had been developed to work with CRT TVs). Now, there are improvements in most new UHD TVs to increase the intensity of deep shades of the primary colors: green, blue and red.
There’s also the addition of high dynamic range or HDR. This is the range of shades from black to white and will now approach the capability of the human eye so that detail can be made out in extreme darkness or light.
Amazon, Netflix to stream 4k/UHD content
So where do you get your 4K/UHD content? Both Amazon and Netflix are creating original programming and streaming it in 4K/UHD. YouTube has allowed uploaded video in sufficient resolution since 2010, but there isn’t a lot of other content – yet. Keep in mind TV manufacturers have been building 4K TV sets that can upscale regular HD content to emulate 4K, so that has somewhat taken care of demand.
The main source of content will most likely be streaming from the Internet, which is going to create huge demand for greater speed and bandwidth. Big players are entering this market with cable carrier Comcast now offering a 4K streaming app to its more than 20 million subscribers.
But, at 8 megapixels per frame and up to 120 frames per second, 4K/UHD must be compressed even over fiber connections! The current standard compression is high efficiency video coding, or HEVC also known as H.265.
Even with compression, true broadcast-quality 4K requires around 25Mbps of dedicated network capacity per stream. This fits in perfectly with the rollout of FTTH service in many cities across North America; with Google Fiber and Comcast offering gigabit service with 2 GBPS in some places. Homes will need to be retrofitted to accept fiber and new media enclosures are available to streamline its installation and distribute the signal throughout the premises.
Apart from streaming, Sony has been promoting 4K/UHD downloads from their website, which still requires high speed Internet. They sell a $700 player that will download the movies and TV shows and these will play on any 4K/UHD TV set. There are currently about 300 titles available and films cost around $30 to buy, or $8 to rent.
Discs will also be available and will be known as Ultra HD Blu-ray discs but players are still only on the horizon. But hold on – 4K/UHD is not the ultimate evolution – the 2020 Tokyo Olympics is expected to be broadcast in 8K – this will increase bandwidth demand exponentially!