Futuresource: sports to help drive 4K breakthrough in 2015

Ultra High Definition (UHD) television and 4K technology will begin to break through into both the professional and consumer markets in 2015,with sport again a major driving force. This is according to reports and projections from research consultancy Futuresource, which sees higher resolution TV equipment as crucial for manufacturers to deal with falling price points and a way for broadcasters to offer something different as HD becomes the norm.

Earlier this year Futuresource reported that the domestic TV market was returning to growth during 2013, with 4k predicted to make a real impact in two years time. The company’s head of consumer electronics, Simon Bryant, observed: “Global 4K TV shipments will grow from just 62,000 units last year, to 780,000 in 2013 and 22 million units in 2017. The arrival of native 4K content and increased consumer awareness will help boost sales from 2015 onwards.”

While some broadcasters, notably Sky Sports, have already ventured into this new territory, others are wary and have concerns over the cost of implementation, particularly with cameras and lenses.

Adam Cox, head of the professional broadcast team at Futuresource, says the full take-up will not happen immediately because the necessary technology is not completely ready: “The encoding silicon isn’t there yet, so 4K H.265 HEVC-based encoders won’t be fully in place until late 2014, early 2015.” He adds that broadcasters and facilities currently working with 4K have to use digital cinematography cameras for outside broadcasts, which is not ideal. “These cameras aren’t a natural fit for a live television environment and so are very much a stop-gap measure,” says Cox.

As for the reasons behind the emergence of 4K equipment and test broadcasts, Cox explains: “Manufacturers need 4K because price points are falling and, as workflows are simplified, functionality from different products is being combined into single devices, further eroding revenues overall. It’s also a benefit for pay TV operators because, once HD loses its cache and become standard, they are going to need something new to differentiate themselves from the competition.”

Cox concludes that 4K “will happen” but the big question is, how quickly? He says that, as with HD and, to a lesser extent, 3D, sport – football in particular – is the favoured programme genre for the initial roll out of UHD/4K. While Sky Sports has already begun to embrace the technology, its major commercial rival in the UK, BT Sport, has not committed itself on the subject. During the launch of the new BT Sport channels earlier this year a spokesman said it would consider 4K if there was demand for it.

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