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In Deloitte calendar, 2013 is the Year of the 4K television

Amongst the topics explored in its latest Technology, Media and Telecommunications Predictions 2013, consultancy Deloitte examines 4K television. The analyst reckons that it may be 18-36 months before 4K is technically and commercially broadcast-ready, but 2013 should see several significant landmarks in preparations:

- about 20 4K TV set models from more than ten vendors should be available by year-end;

- the first consumers should take delivery of 4K TV sets;

- a range of 4K content will become available, initially blockbuster movies;

- a growing range of professional and semi-professional 4K cameras should become available;

- new supporting standards should be agreed, including a new high definition multimedia interface (HDMI) standard to service 4K data rates; and

- multiple test broadcasts are likely, with commercial services expected 2014/2015.

The roll-out of any new broadcast standard is a major step, so the expected landmarks for 2013 should be considered significant.

Deloitte expects demand for 4K will grow over the medium-term, fuelled by using expectations of higher resolutions across all screens, as well as larger TV sets and next generation games consoles. Also, a growing range of smartphones, tablet and computers offer sufficient resolution for individual pixels not to be discernible. With a 40 inch 4K television, pixels would be hard to see dose up, and disappear from about a meter.

In view of the fact that the average size of TV sets will become steadily larger, the need for more dots to fill larger screens will grow. The analyst notes that 'Standard' HD on an 80-inch screen viewed from about three meters away would present a pixelated image.

Advances in video games could also drive demand for 4K. In 2013, powerful PCs with sufficiently fast Graphics Processing Units (GPUs) should be able to work with 4K TV sets. In subsequent years, new generations of games consoles might ship with 4K support.

While 4K TVs may be a medium-term purchase for mainstream consumers, wealthy early adopters should be able to satisfy their 4K needs in 2013. The commercial range of 4K TV sets should grow from a handful in 2012 to about 20 models by end-2013. At least half of these sets may be available for under $10,000.

Like all consumer electronics products, the price of 4K TV sets is likely to drop steadily and, thus, become accessible to an ever growing constituency. Within five years, if not before, smaller (about 50 inch) 4K TV sets might be available for under $1,000. Deloitte believes that the cost of manufacturing 50 inch 4K TV sets is expected to be about a third of the price of making 80-inch sets.

Given that no broadcast services are planned this year, 4K TV set owners will need to rely on pre-recorded or streamed content. Many blockbusters launched in 2012 and 2011 were digitally captured in 4K. About fifty films have been screened in 4K and films shot in 35mm can be scaled to 4K.

Blu-ray Discs could have the physical capability to accommodate 4K resolution content, but additional disc layers would have be added to provide enough space for a full length movie. Deloitte anticipates that this year, commercially available eight-layer Blu-ray discs, with 200GB capacity may become available. They say the first prototype of an eight-layer disc was announced almost ten years ago. Multi-layered discs are needed because a single Blu-ray disc, with 25 GB of memory, would be too small to store an entire movie.

Also, current Blu-ray disc players would probably not be able to play back native 4K content (which means consumers would have to buy a new player). However, there are limited number of Blu-ray Disc players that have incorporated built-in 1080p-to-4K upscaling capability, like Sony's S790 player. In other words, such players can upscale current Blu-ray discs to 4K for display on a 4K TV.

Streaming 4K content may also be challenging: with uncompressed files a user would require a half gigabit per second connection. Downloading an uncompressed 4K movie would take days over a standard broadband connection. But few consumers would ever download an uncompressed tile, says Deloitte. A one-hour compressed 4K film is about 160GB and would take seven and a half hours to download on a 50 Mbit/s broadband connection. In 2013, the first connectors supporting 4K data rates should be available, based on the HDMI 2.0 standard.

While high-capacity Blu-ray disc will be the first source of true 4K resolution material for home entertainment, broadcasters need to join the 4K content providing bandwagon.

A key landmark for 4K in 2013 should be test broadcasts, following initial trials in 2012, Deloitte anticipates. Broadcasters will need to balance minimization of bandwidth requirements while maximizing viewer experience. For sports, the frame rate may need to be 120Hz to provide a fluid picture with no blurring. Indeed, with higher resolutions image blurring is more visible, making 60Hz transmission less viable. Sport is likely to be one of the genres most likely to be captured in 4K given its strong commercial appeal, but it may require a higher bit rate.

One of the major bottlenecks to offering 4K services will be bandwidth. The analyst recommend that broadcasters should consider how much they are likely to need, and must have a handle on likely improvements in 4K compression. In 2013, 4K could require up to 40 Mbit/s; by end 2014 it should require as little as 20 Mbit/s, equivalent to the bandwidth requirements for the first standard HD transmissions in 2005, and the first 3D TV transmissions in 2010.

For TV manufacturers, Deloitte notes, one attraction of 4K is that it could provide a motivation to upgrade existing sets. Some commentators may question, however, whether 4K provides sufficient incentive to buy a new set. 4K's unique selling point - the intensity of its resolution - loses its uniqueness once the viewer is at a certain distance from the TV set. In other words, the visual quality of 4K is most evident when in close proximity to the TV set. Yet, few watch television in very close proximity.

Pointing to a rather quirky road to 4K acceptance, Deloitte suggests that the first owners of 4K TVs in 2013-2015, shortly after purchasing their set, might hold "pixel parties" at which friends and family are encouraged to view some 4K footage from close proximity - about a meter away. They may be asked to try and spot an individual pixel. This experience - should individual pixels prove impressively elusive - is likely to provoke admiration and envy, and possibly catalyse further sales. Thereafter the 4K TV set will be watched from normal distance, but the memory of the quality of that close encounter will likely linger...

Story filed 21.01.13

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