4K Ultra-HD Video Sources – Status Report
This Blog includes the latest news related to future 4K Ultra-HD (UHD) video sources. I have, in several previous blogs, talked about 4K UHD displays, technical standards, interfaces and video sources. This blog provides the latest information and updates to the information related to future 4K UHD video sources discussed in those earlier blogs (e.g., HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE).
Even having the world’s best 4K UHD TV or projector would not mean much unless, or until, native 4K UHD video sources become available . Without such sources owners of 4K UHD displays will be limited to only displaying upscaled 1080p video and while such upscaled video can look very good on a 4K UHD display it will still fall well short of what is possible with true native 4K UHD video sources. This is especially true with large displays, such as when a 4K UHD projector is being used along with a screen of 100 inches or larger size. Check out the review and Art’s new video on the Sony VPL-VW1000ES 4K UHD projector – HERE.
4K UHD VIDEO SOURCES
There are basically 5 categories of potential 4K UHD video sources as described below.
Computer-Based 4K UHD Video Players
Some hobbyists have already been experimenting with using PCs equipped with video graphic cards that are able to support 4K UHD resolution and also equipped with compatible 4K video player software. There are also a very few native 4K documentary videos available for download/purchase that can played on such a PC and output to a 4K UHD display. Some retail stores are using this type of setup to demo 4K UHD TVs since commercial standalone 4K UHD video players are not yet available. Some higher-end NVIDIA and ATI graphics cards adequately support the 4K resolution as do the integrated graphics in the latest AMD (i.e., A10 series) and Intel processors (i.e., Hazwell, 4th generation i7) used in desktop PCs.
4K UHD Streaming Video Players
Steaming video implies the video stream is being transmitted via the internet and displayed in virtually real time with only a minimal amount of buffering in the video player’s internal memory. As a result video data rates are limited to the speed of the customer’s internet connection. This is the approach used by such standard definition and high definition video streaming services offered by several popular services including Netflix, Amazon and Hulu Plus. The real challenge for streaming 4K UHD is the need for high data rates in order to provide high quality video that is essentially free of digital compression artifacts and providing the full 4K resolution. Today’s HD video streaming services are already using much more compression of the video than higher quality HD sources such as Blu-ray Discs. Moving up to 4K UHD resolution will simply require much higher data rates to provide high quality 4K video than what is currently available to the vast majority of consumers in the USA. The bottom line is my expectations are not very high for the quality of 4K UHD video streaming services. Note that video streaming is not the same as video download services (see the description of download services further down in this blog).
NanoFlix UHD Steaming Service
NanoTech Entertainment is the most recent company to announce plans for a 4K UHD video streaming service. Below is directly from their press release:
San Jose, Calif., May 29, 2013 — /PRNewswire/ — NANOTECH ENTERTAINMENT (OTCPINK: NTEK) is announcing price and availability for its 4K Media Player, the Nuvola NP-1, and 4K Streaming Video service, NanoFlix UHD – both industry firsts. The new NP-1 Player will cost $299, the lowest price 4K player in the market, and will be available for order online and at retail beginning July 15, 2013.
“4K Ultra HD Televisions are just now starting to arrive in homes and are sure to bring an enhanced viewing experience of 4K to a whole new audience,” said LX Rudis, NanoTech’s Media Group, Senior VP of Development “With 4K TVs able to deliver a vibrant and natural picture that is four-times clearer than high definition, users need a low cost solution for content delivery. Unlike other 4K players, our unit will work with any brand of Television and a variety of content delivery services. The availability of the Nuvola NP-1 will be followed in fall by our streaming 4K video distribution service that will demonstrate how NanoTech continues to lead the market in bringing the 4K entertainment experience to consumers.”
This summer, consumers of 4K UHD TVs can purchase the Nuvola 4K Media Player bundled with 10 videos in true 4K resolution, 10 video games and 5 multimedia applications, for $299. In the fall of 2013, users of the same 4K Media Player will be given access to a fee-based streaming video distribution service, NanoFlix UHD, offering a library of 4K titles.
The Nuvola NP-1 4K Ultra HD Media player features an ARM Cortex-A7 Quad Core processor and a custom 3D GPU optimized for 4K video playback. The player uses the Android Operating System allowing for a complete entertainment experience. In addition to the ability to steam 4K content, users can play a variety of games and select from thousands of compatible Android apps that will be available at launch. Cinematic experiences are further enhanced as the player also supports UHD 3D Movies at a stunning resolution of 3840×1080 at 30 frames per second. The NP-1 ships with a standard IR remote. Also available is the optional Nuvola RP-10 RF remote that features a 3 axis motion sensor for game play, handheld mouse control, and a full QWERTY keyboard for fast and convenient on screen text entry.
NanoTech CEO Jeffrey A. Foley closed by saying, “We are extremely excited to be on the forefront of the 4K movement. We feel the Nuvola NP-1 will be a great success as it provides a complete entertainment solution at an affordable price. The NP-1 is the first in a line of affordable consumer devices that we are bringing to the market. Unlike the other 4K offerings, our products are two to four times less expensive while offering a much greater set of features, and are compatible with any Television set. Our product is also upgradeable and expandable featuring a variety of industry standard ports including SD, SATA, and USB connections that allow for the installation of an assortment of accessories, options and storage attachments. With the Nuvola NP-1 and associated streaming 4K service we truly feel that NanoTech represents the Future of Television.”
Netflix representatives, at the CES trade show in January 2013, were talking about their plans for offering a future 4K video service. Netflix was represented at the Samsung exhibit at CES where they where showing a “sneak peek” of a future Netflix 4K video streaming service displayed on a Samsung UHD TV. They were saying they expect the 4K service to be offered within the next couple of years. However, even Netflix’s existing 1080p “super HD” video streaming service is only available to those customers that use an internet service provider (ISP) that takes part in Netflix’s Open Connect Service, and since the 4K UHD data rate requirements will be even higher than for 1080p video, it must be assumed that even fewer potential Netflix customers will have access to ISPs that offer high enough data rates to support the planned Netflix 4K service.
4K UHD Download Services
4K UHD download services differ from the above discussed streaming services in that the video program’s file(s) are downloaded via the internet and stored on the video player’s own hard disc drive (or solid state storage). With this approach, the consumer’s actual internet download data rate can be well below the data rate required to play back the video file. For example, if your ISP provides you with an average 10 Mbps download rate and the file containing a two hour 4K UHD movie is 50 GB in size, then it would take over 11 hours to complete the download. It has been estimated that to achieve the level of performance that Blu-ray Discs are capable providing for 1080p, but for higher resolution 4K UHD video, then the file size for the encoded 4K UHD video (along with audio, subtitles, etc), for a typical 2 hour movie, will need to be up to 100 GB in size.
In my earlier blogs (the most recent one is HERE) I discussed the only two 4K UHD download services that have been announced so far. See that earlier blog for the background on the planned Sony and Odemax download services. The following information is an update to the information previously provided.
Sony 4K UHD Distribution Service
There has been recent news that indicates who will be supplying the encoding software/tools that Sony will be using to support their upcoming 4K UHD distribution service. The following information from Palo Alto, California (USA) based “Eye IO, LLC” is taken directly from their recent press release.
PALO ALTO, Calif.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Eye IO, LLC (eyeIO) announced today its UltraHD compression encoding technology has been licensed by Sony Pictures to enable the studio to offer the first-ever 4K UltraHD content delivered to the home.
“We are confident that eyeIO’s capabilities are perfectly matched with Sony’s commitment to high quality viewing experiences as well as creating and delivering captivating content to enhance the viewing experience of audiences everywhere.”
Owners of Sony Electronics 4K UltraHD TVs will be able to enjoy a selection of 4K movies delivered to their sets via Sony’s 4K media player, which launches this summer. eyeIO’s core video technology efficiently processes, compresses and encodes the enormous 4K source files into a format that requires significantly less bandwidth, making distribution more efficient and conserving storage space on devices as well as bandwidth costs.
“We are honored to play an integral part in the first commercial, worldwide use of 4K UltraHD with Sony Pictures,” said Rodolfo Vargas, CEO of eyeIO. “We are confident that eyeIO’s capabilities are perfectly matched with Sony’s commitment to high quality viewing experiences as well as creating and delivering captivating content to enhance the viewing experience of audiences everywhere.”
“From the cinema to the home, Sony Pictures Technologies strives to deliver the audience an experience that is as close as possible to the filmmaker’s original vision. eyeIO’s technology makes it practical to deliver movies to the home in unprecedented 4K quality, and we are proud to partner with them on this groundbreaking launch,” Chris Cookson, President, Sony Pictures Technologies, added.
The assets encoded at eyeIO’s Palo Alto headquarters are full 4K UltraHD, 3840×2160 resolution and include support for extended gamut color (xvYCC). eyeIO’s certified, 4K UltraHD offering has been perfected over the course of the last two years, offering a simplified workflow, ultra-high quality at incredible speed to improve cost efficiency and establish a standard for the industry at large.
Sony’s options for a consumer 4K UHD player are either their standalone player, model FMP-X1 priced at $699, that is scheduled to be released in the 3rd quarter of 2013 or the upcoming PlayStation 4, price not yet announced but probably around $400, that is to be released in the 4th quarter of 2013. The 4K UHD distribution service is expected to go online in the 4th quarter of 2013. Note the FMP-X1 standalone player can only be used with Sony 4K UHD TVs (probably also including the Sony VPL-VW1000ES projector), while the PS4 will probably work, but not yet confirmed by Sony, as a 4K UHD video player with other brands of 4K UHD TVs/projectors.
Startup company Odemax is working on providing a 4K UHD video download services for use with a Redray player. The Redray players are now offered for pre-order by Red Digital Cinema for $1750. As it now stands, it appears the Odemax service will initially only be offering independent productions that have been shot using Red digital cameras. It is unknown if or when any major movie studio may offer movies for distribution via the Odemax service. Also unknown is when the Odemax service will actually be available or the consumer costs associated with their download service.
Broadcast UHD TV
Back in the 1990’s the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC), an industry group under sponsorship of the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC), created the US standards for the currently high definition broadcasts. The ATSC has more recently begun considerations for UHD broadcast TV standards. In late March 2013 they issued a “Call for Proposals For ATSC 3.0 PHYSICAL LAYER, A Terrestrial Broadcast Standard”. The term UHD as used by the ATSC includes both the 4K and the even higher resolution 8K formats as defined by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in ITU-T Recommendation BT.2020. More specifically the ATSC has requested that proposals for the ATSC 3.0 Physical Layer support data rates “Sufficient to support UHDTV resolution for fixed devices and HDTV resolution for portable, handheld and vehicular devices.” and that document also includes a note stating, in part: “Note that it is the intention for the ATSC 3.0 system is to support delivery to fixed devices of content with video resolutions up to Ultra High Definition 3840 × 2160 at 60 fps, or such higher frame rates and/or resolutions as may be determined to be desirable and practical.” …………”Support for delivery to fixed devices of content with video resolution higher than 3840 x 2160 is a possible goal of ATSC 3.0, but it is recognized there are several open issues in this regard. It is also recognized that improvements in other video parameters, such as higher dynamic range, increased color depth, and greater color gamut are also important. In addition, ATSC 3.0 is expected to support audio formats with larger numbers of audio channels than currently used (for example, up to 22.2 channels), broadcast systems and/or other sound technologies”.
The current ATSC activities are just the first step in what will surely be a multi-year process to develop and validate, through field trials, the detailed specifications for over the air UHD broadcasts. Once this is accomplished there will still remain the coordination between the FCC and the US broadcast industry to develop a plan for how best to introduce, or transition to, a new digital broadcast standard. Then finally there will be the implementation of the actual upgrades by the US broadcasters to support that new UHD compatible system.
Beyond the USA, the Japanese TV network NHK has been working on an 8K UHD experimental system and have conducted demonstrations. Also interest in UHD broadcasting has been developing in other global markets. However, if we look back two decades at the whole process and timeframes that were required for the transition from analog standard definition broadcasts to digital HD broadcasts then it would seem that sometime beyond 2020, probably well beyond, is the most likely timeframe for having UHD broadcasts widely available.
Satellite/Cable UHD Services
So far Directv is the only American satellite or cable TV company to have specifically indicated any plans (or at least a strong interest) for UHD services. Directv in a report to stockholders last year indicated they were investigating 4K UHD as a future service and in February 2013 they applied for several trademarks for 4K UHD distribution services including 4KN, 4KNET, 4KNetwork, and 4K Network. These are probably potential names they may use for future 4K channels to be distributed by Directv. It appears, but not confirmed by Directv, that their earliest timeframe to offer one or more 4K UHD channels and also a new generation of 4K UHD compatible hardware (receivers or DVRs) is 2015 or 2016.
CNN reported in a May 2, 2013 story that Sony is in talks with Directv, Dish Network and FIOS (Verizon) about adding 4K UHD channels.
4K UHD Optical Media
I have reported in several earlier blogs on the activities underway by the Blu-ray Disc Association related to a 4K UHD capable future version of Blu-ray optical discs. I have seen no additional information beyond what was reported in last month’s blog – HERE.