Ultra HD: Evolution or Revolution

Ultra HD: Evolution or Revolution

The global television industry is on the verge of another technological transformation: HD and Full HD are replaced by ultra-high definition television (Ultra HD). The fact that the future behind him, no one has no doubt. However, market participants are still lost in conjecture, how quickly the generation of formats of television content will change.

For the first time, the market was thinking about Ultra HD back in the 90s of last century. In particular, the first recommendation of the International Telecommunication Union on high-definition image transmission systems was developed in 1994 by a research commission headed by Mark Krivosheev (July 30, 2017, the famous Russian scientist will celebrate the 95th anniversary). The minimum resolution of the image in Ultra HD format is 3840 × 2160 pixels, whereas the HD-image in the maximum quality of 1080p is only 1920 × 1080 pixels.

However, before ultra-high-definition television clarity began to move into the masses, it passed many decades. And still, despite the fact that all the major figures in the world’s broadcasting industry call the introduction of the Ultra HD format the main vector of the industry’s development, the results so far do not allow talking about technological reform as a fait accompli. So, according to the results of 2016, there were a little more than 40 TV channels broadcasting in the Ultra HD format in the world. At the same time, although ten of the world’s largest pay-TV operators have already implemented Ultra HD, at the beginning of this year, the number of households that accept content in a progressive format was only tens of millions. Nevertheless, the first quarter showed a positive trend: the supply of TV panels supporting Ultra HD worldwide increased to 33.3% of the total volume of TVs sold.

The Ultra HD standard is generally accepted, but the world market for Ultra HD is still poorly developed: it is too expensive for content creators, broadcasters, operators and consumers alike, “states the director of the television network operation and maintenance department “AKADO Telecom” imgAlexander Kosarev. In his opinion, the Ultra HD market is at the stage of formation, and the main driver of this process so far is the manufacturers of TVs.

According to Huawei, the development of ultra-high definition television is at an early stage, and explosive growth can be expected in the next year or two. “According to our forecasts, in two years the share of Ultra HD channels will reach 5%, the share of TVs with Ultra HD support is 15%, and the Ultra HD content of subscribers is 10%, the share of 4K-TVs is 15%. At the same time, the Ultra HD market will enter the maturity phase in five years, “predicts Ivan Efimov, director of digital services at Huawei in Russia.

Five-Year High Definition

Experts of the domestic pay-TV market agree that mass-scale and popularity is waiting for Ultra HD format not earlier than in five years. According to Andrei Chazov, marketing director of ER-Telecom Holding (TM “Dom.ru”), this is due to the fact that in our country there is almost no quality content for broadcasting in Ultra HD format, and the number of TVs supporting this technology, while minimal. “The development of a new format depends on many factors. These include the willingness of customers to update the TV set, the amount of content in Ultra HD format, the availability of the technical infrastructure of pay-TV operators, and the involvement of players from different industries in this process. These steps are yet to be completed, “Andrei Chazov is confident.

Alexander Kosarev (AKADO Telecom) is convinced that for the effective delivery of a signal in the UltraHD format, a library of relevant video content or several high-grade television channels is needed. But so far, many production studios and broadcasters, including leading Russian, are still working in the classic SD television standard with a 4: 3 image format and mono sound. To move to a new level of image quality and sound, they need ultra-high definition video cameras, special systems for processing and storing images and sound, and many other technological solutions that imply a complete renovation of the production fleet. In addition, 4K content distribution has significant technological and economic limitations. In particular, broadcasters need to implement a new HEVC (H.265) coding standard, which will inevitably entail a massive renewal of the subscriber equipment park.

“Do not forget that the Ultra HD format is not only a picture of ultra-high definition but also a high-quality 16-channel sound, which also needs to be formed and delivered to the subscriber, decoded and reproduced. Televisions that are represented on the mass market, yet have enough restrictions on interfaces and decoders for receiving Ultra HD signals from cable or satellite operators. And the subscriber devices that support HEVC are still very few on the market, although this is the main trend in the development of subscriber equipment, “said Alexander Kosarev.

Space Trailblazers

Pioneers of Ultra HD worldwide are rightly recognized as operators of satellite communications – in many respects, it was thanks to them that the new format took a course for mass popularization. In recent years, the cost of satellite resources is gradually decreasing, and with it, the revenues of the satellite communications market are falling. To compensate for the slowdown in business growth, satellite operators, whose activities are focused on the broadcasting sector, have relied on the development of broadcasting in the Ultra HD format. In particular, one of the world’s largest satellite companies – SES S.A. – already distributes through its satellites more than two dozen Ultra-HD-TV channels.

In Russia, the main driving force of Ultra HD is the operators of paid satellite TV services. “National Satellite Company” (“Tricolor TV”) in June 2013 carried out a trial broadcast of the signal in the Ultra HD format, and in July 2016, the first among the domestic market players launched the broadcasting of TV channels in the ultra-high definition format for commercial use. The Ultra HD package includes three TV channels: Tricolor Ultra HD, Insight UHD, and Fashion One UHD. Following “Tricolor TV” on the launch of satellite broadcasting in Ultra HD format, NTV-Plus and Mobile TeleSystems were announced.

According to Andrei Chazov (ER-Telecom Holding), all Russian operators wishing to broadcast Ultra HD need upgrading in the form of software upgrades for receiving, transcoding and modulating the TV signal, which will allow using frequency and streaming resources more efficiently. At the same time, support for Ultra HD technology with subscriber devices has already become the norm for operators in Europe, the United States, South Korea, Japan and some other countries. In the Russian market receivers with support for Ultra HD are still significantly more expensive than consoles with support for Full HD. “Our company uses DVB-C technology to distribute Ultra HD signal and therefore can offer subscribers corresponding content without a set-top box at all, using the CAM module. Last year, we successfully tested Ultra HD, broadcasting it via DVB-C, with leading manufacturers of TVs, such as Sony, Samsung, and LG, “emphasizes Andrei Chazov. The abbreviation CAM stands for Conditional Access Module. This device is a compact adapter that is connected to the TV via a specialized interface to provide users with access to encrypted content transmitted by the operator of satellite, cable or terrestrial TV.

OTT Leadership

In addition to the satellite segment, the domestic market Ultra HD is developing with leaps and bounds thanks to online cinemas and Smart TV. In particular, Russia is leading both in terms of the number of OTT players who announced access to Ultra-HD content and the number of content available within these services. At the beginning of 2017, three online theaters announced their support for Ultra HD: Ayyo, Okko, and ivi.ru.

According to the research company Juniper Research, the number of users viewing Ultra HD content through OTT services will grow from 2.3 million this year to 189 million in 2021. And by 2022, every tenth person in the world will watch videos on the Internet in ultra-high definition format.

Superficial Problems

Despite the efforts made by key players in the television industry, and generally a positive user attitude towards the new Ultra HD format, its mass distribution is constrained by factors that have not changed for the past few years.

The first and main problem is the lack of content in the Ultra HD format. It is primarily due to the high cost of software and hardware for mass production of ultra-high definition video. The second problem is the unavailability of the networks of the majority of telecom operators to mass distribution of Ultra HD signals. Equally significant is still the relatively high cost of user equipment supporting Ultra HD, especially TVs. Well, finally, the advantages of Ultra HD in front of Full HD are not obvious and are not very noticeable, especially on small screens. At the same time, most users do not have the opportunity to purchase a TV with a large screen, not only because of its high cost, but also because of the modest area of the average room, and as a consequence – lack of space.

Nevertheless, the penetration level of UE equipment supporting Ultra HD is constantly growing. “If last year only 300 thousand Ultra-HD-TVs were sold and the prices for them started from 65 thousand rubles, then this year the advertising of electronic supermarkets is saturated with offers from 26 thousand rubles and, according to the forecasts of the research company OVUM in 2017, it will be sold 710 thousand such TVs, and in 2018, more than 2.65 million. According to our estimates, starting in 2017, almost all produced TVs will support the Ultra HD format. As for signal receivers, we expect that by 2018, all TV sets delivered to the Russian market will support Ultra HD. In the end, we expect that all major operators in Russia will offer subscribers access to ultra-high definition content, and the most popular channels will launch Ultra-HD broadcasting, which will lead to the mass distribution of this format in Russia, “comments Ivan Hufei.

According to Alexander Kosarev (AKADO Telecom), much in the future fate of Ultra HD will depend on the consumer: whether he wants to watch such content or not. And if there is demand, then there will necessarily be a proposal. “In general, the appearance of Ultra HD is just as natural a stage of technological progress as, for example, the introduction of HD, which was 10 years ago also a curiosity. However, the audience appreciated the format of high definition, and after that, the producers of equipment, operators, and studios, and developers of TV-receivers were tightened up. With Ultra HD, the situation will be similar – its mass distribution is only a matter of time, “Alexander Kosarev is convinced.

Andrei Chazov (ER-Telecom Holding): “Several factors contributed to the spread of HD in Russia, the main ones being the growth in sales of HD-supported TV sets, the increase in the number of HD channels and their active promotion by pay-TV operators. We launched digital TV “Dom.ru.ru TV” in the summer of 2012, offering customers 20 HD channels. For five years, our company has increased their number fourfold – to 84. I think that Ultra HD will develop in a similar scenario, and the pace depends on the consistency of the actions of content producers and operators. ” In addition, according to his assessment, the development of Ultra HD will be promoted by hardware manufacturers: in mass production, the cost of user devices and equipment for content production will decline.

According to the research company IHS, sales of devices that allow receiving UHD-signal will make up in the world in 2023 38% of total sales of TV equipment. In addition, the popularization of Ultra HD will help to shoot in this format of mass events, especially sports. According to forecasts, in 2025 in the paid TV market will be presented hundreds of channels in the Ultra HD format, for example in Europe – 220, and in North America – more than 300.

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Posted on: October 11, 2017Ana Nichols