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Update on 4K Related Standards and 1080p Projector News

This blog includes a few updates related to the discussions on 4K and Ultra HD video, as discussed in my previous blogs, plus provides preliminary info on a few interesting new 1080p projectors from Optoma, BenQ and Sony that have been recently announced (i.e., post-CES 2013).

New Projectors

Note the following new projectors were announced as the ISE 2013 trade show in Amsterdam.   These new models were announced for release in Europe this year.  Similar versions will probably be also sold in the USA, but have not yet been announced.

Optoma -

Optoma has shown a new DLP 1080p 3D projector, model HD91, at the ISE 2013 trade show.  Based on information posted by some European web sites reporting from the show, it appears this new model may use the same Texas Instruments DMD (i.e., DLP) display chip (Dark Chip 3 - DC3 series) as is being used in the recently released BenQ W1070 (review is HERE).  The Optoma HD91 is said to operate with up to a 144 Hz refresh rate for 24 Hz video sources (e.g., Blu-ray Discs).  It appears the upcoming Optoma HD91 is a high-end model in the Optoma 2013 projector line-up as it uses a LED light source and includes both horizontal and vertical lens shift.  It is spec’ed by Optoma to have 1300 lumens of light output.  It is said to support both “DLP Link” 3D glasses and also RF 3D glasses.  The HD91 is schedule for European release in the Sept. 2013 time frame.  The price and plans for release in the USA are unknown. Optoma has also announced at ISE 2013 two new entry-level UHP lamp-based 1080p 3D DLP projectors.  The base model is the HD25 while a higher light output variation carries the model number HD25LV.  The HD25 is rated by Optoma to have 1300 lumens of light output while the HD25LV is rated at 3000 lumens.  These projectors appear to use the same, or very similar, DMD (DLP) chip (Texas Instruments DC3 series) as the Optoma HD91 (and also the BenQ W1070).  In keeping with being entry-level models, the HD25 and HD25LV do not offer frame interpolation, but unlike most other entry-level DLP projectors they do support RF 3D glasses in addition to the more common DLP-Link 3D glasses.  The rated on/off contrast ratio is 20,000:1 while the rated ANSI contrast ratio is 2,000:1.  Pricing information has not yet been released nor has the schedule for availability.  Plans for a North American version have not yet been announced.

Sony -

Sony, also at the ISE trade show in Amsterdam, announced a new laser based business projector that will be introduced into Sony’s “F Series” of business projectors.  This new model has 1920 x 1200 pixels and is said to have a very bright 4,000 lumens of output.  In part, the Sony press release (available HERE) says:

“Based on Sony’s Laser Light Source Technology, the projector incorporates lasers, rather than LEDs, to achieve optimum brightness.  the white light, like traditional UHP light sources, is directed into the 3LCD engine to deliver incredible picture quality.  As a result, the Laser Light Source Projector has substantially brighter images, better contrast ratios and outstanding colour stability.”

Price and the schedule for release were not announced by Sony.

BenQ –

BenQ recently held a preview event in Munich for CeBit (a major European electronics show) as well as at ISE 2013 show in Amsterdam where they showed a new model W1500 1080p 3D DLP projector.  This model features wireless HDMI connectivity, in addition to wired HDMI connections.  It is equipped with a 1.6X zoom lens and includes a vertical lens shift adjustment.  It also includes a color management system (CMS) as well as support for frame interpolation.  It uses a Dark Chip 3 DMD (DLP micro display chip) and has a rated light output of 2200 lumens.  There will also be a very similar model W1400 that lacks the wireless HDMI feature.  These new projectors appear to be positioned in the 2013 BenQ lineup as a step up from BenQ’s new W1070 model (recently reviewed HERE) and placed just below the existing W7000 (or perhaps an as yet unannounced 2013 replacement for that model).  Price for the European version of these projectors is said to be the 1500 to 1800 euros range and they are expected to be available in the April/May time frame.  No price or availability for a North American version is available.

4K Ultra HD Related Industry Standards

Before I start on the subject of 4K video I need to briefly explain the use of the terms 4K and Ultra HD (or UHD).  The term “4K Video” originates from the commercial digital cinema world and corresponds to video with a maximum resolution of 4096 pixels wide by 2160 pixels high.  This corresponds to a native aspect ratio of approx. 1.9:1.  Consumer HDTV has a different aspect ratio of 1.78:1 (also know as 16x9).  Several manufacturers of consumer flat panel TVs that are labeled as being ‘4K’ have retained the 1.78:1 aspect ratio displays and have a resolution of 3840 x 1920 pixels.  This has lead to some confusion as to what is actually meant by the term ‘4K’ when applied to the new generation of displays.  The Consumer Electronics Association, an electronics industry organization, has recently defined what amounts to a consumer version of 4K video that retains the 1.78:1 aspect ratio of today’s HDTV and simply doubles both the vertical and horizontal pixels to produce in image that is 3840 pixels wide by 2160 pixels high.  A projector that provides the full digital cinema 4096 x 2160 pixel resolution will also be able to display Ultra HD video in 1.78:1 aspect ratio by simply using only 3840 of the available 4096 horizontal pixels by leaving the unused pixels as vertical black bars long each side of the image (or falling off the sides of a 1.78:1 screen).  This is what the current Sony VPL-VW1000es projector does and we may see future projectors take this approach or alternatively incorporate 1.78:1 display chips using the pixel count specified for Ultra HD.  For my following write up I have attempted to use the term Ultra HD, UHD or 4K UHD, rather than just 4K, when I am talking about products specifically aimed at the consumer market. I had discussed in a previous blog (HERE) what is known to be happening on the development of three industry standards that when, and if, completed will facilitate bringing Ultra HD video into the consumer’s home.  The three items previously discussed were:
  • -  the next generation of the HDMI standard;
  • -  an update to the Advance Video Coding –AVC (commonly called
    • MPEG-4) codec with the new version to be called High Efficiency
    • Video Codec – HEVC; and
  • -  the potential a future standard to define a Ultra HD version of
    • Blu-ray Discs.
I now have a few updates share on these 3 critical developments. HDMI - Based on information coming from statements made at CES 2013, the schedule out of the HDMI Forum for the completion of the next generation HDMI standard (perhaps to be called version 2.0) is now the “first half of 2013”.  This is as much as half year delay from the previous prediction of 4th quarter 2012.  This new HDMI standard will be very useful to provide upgraded support for Ultra HD since it will offer support for higher video refresh rates and color depth as compared to the very limited 4K video support offered by the current HDMI 1.4b standard. ITU H.265 Standard - The H.265 standard has slipped just a little as it was not released by the “end of 2012” as originally planned.  However, in a January 25, 2013 press release (available HERE) the ITU announced

A new video coding standard building on the PrimeTime Emmy award winning ITU-T H.264 / MPEG-4 AVC was agreed by ITU members today.

The press release went on to say, in part:

ITU-T H.265 / ISO/IEC 23008-2 HEVC will provide a flexible, reliable and robust solution, future-proofed to support the next decade of video. The new standard is designed to take account of advancing screen resolutions and is expected to be phased in as high-end products and services outgrow the limits of current network and display technology.”........

“The ITU/ISO/IEC Joint Collaborative Team on Video Coding (JCT-VC) (formerly JVT) will continue work on a range of extensions to HEVC, including support for 12-bit video as well as 4:2:2 and 4:4:4 chroma formats. Another important element of this work will be the progression of HEVC towards scalable video coding. The three bodies will also work within the Joint Collaborative Team on 3D-Video (JCT-3V) on the extension of HEVC towards stereoscopic and 3D video coding.”

The bottom line is it appears the version of the HEVC standard that has just been released provides the basic tools for the more efficient coding of 2D UHD video, as well as HD formats, but there are future extensions to the H.265 standard planned to add support for 3D, greater color resolution and increased bit depths.  So the new HEVC standard is a first step, but full support for the coding of 3D and higher quality versions of Ultra HD video will have to wait for a future revision to the H.265 standard. Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc – The Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA) is the controlling body for the standards applicable to Blu-ray players and the optical discs themselves.  It is supported by virtually all of the major consumer electronics companies.  Throughout 2012 the BDA had been silent about plans, if any, for a new generation of the Blu-ray Disc standard that would add support for 4K or Ultra High Definition video.  Sony and LG trade show representatives speculated, as far back as 2011, about the potential for a future version of Blu-ray Discs to support the higher resolution but it appears the BDA was not actively working on this.  However, recent news out of CES 2013 includes Andy Parsons, the president of the BDA, quoted as saying:

“We created a task force three months ago to study the prospects of adding new technologies to the format,”......“We will evaluate three criteria, starting with the technical feasibility of doing 4K, which is four times the picture quality of 1080p.”

So it now appears that the BDA created a task froce in the October 2013 time frame that is starting to investigate the technical feasibility of an upgrade of Blu-ray to support 4K.  In this context I would assume 4K means the consumer Ultra HD variation. It seems to me that among technical decisions and trade-offs considered by the BDA, assuming they decide to move forward with the development of a Blu-ray Ultra HD standard, will be the following technical considerations:
  • -  What specific resolutions will be supported:  i.e., only Ultra HD
    • 3840 x 2160 format or will the digital cinema standard
    • 4096 x 2160 format also be supported?
  • -  Will enhanced color encoding formats be supported
    • (e.g., 4:2:2, 4:4:4)?
  • -  Will enhanced bit depth be supported (e.g., 10-bit, 12-bit)?
  • -  Will 3D be supported at full UHD resolution?
  • -  What refresh rates will be supported for 2D and for 3D UHD
    • video (i.e., 24Hz, 48Hz, 60Hz, etc.)?
  • -  Which codec(s) will be supported for UHD (e.g., HEVC)?
  • -  What total storage capacity will be needed to support
    • Ultra HD with the most demanding of the allowed
    • features/options and will more than the current
    • two data layers be necessary to support the increased
    • storage capacity requirements?
If I get out my (perhaps not ultra high definition) crystal ball, I can foresee new Ultra HD TVs and projectors becoming available by the first half of 2014 that are equipped with next generation HDMI inputs and perhaps the first generation of Ultra HD capable Blu-ray players and the first Ultra HD movie discs becoming available to consumers possibly by the end of 2014, but sometime in 2015 is probably a better guess.  Perhaps as was the case when Blu-ray was first introduced in 2006, the next generation of Sony’s PlayStation (i.e., PS4) may become the vehicle to get an Ultra HD video player into millions of homes.  While there are no official details on any 4K or Ultra HD support with Sony’s new game console (expected by many within the industry to be released perhaps as early as mid-year but certainly before the end of the year), there is a lot of speculation that it will include, or be upgradeable via firmware, to offer some level of support for the new 4K Ultra HD format.  This support could be as 4K UHD video player for Sony’s already announced 4K UHD video download service (planned for mid-year startup) and perhaps also as a player for UHD Blu-ray Discs.  As a side note many of you may recall that that Sony was able to add support to the PS3 for such things as Blu-ray 3D, Dolby TrueHD, DTS HD-MA, etc. via firmware updates.  It is possible the PS4 will also evolve over time to include UHD support beyond what is offered when the PS4 initially goes on sale. The bottom line seems to be that while there are still many technical and business decisions that must be made by the Blu-ray related consumer electronics associations and manufacturers, it does now appear that the enabling pieces are starting to fall into place to make a Ultra HD version of Blu-ray possible.

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