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Audio Industry Could Get Boost From Ultra HD

9/24/2013 08:00:00 PM Eastern

When Ultra High-Definition TVs and 4K video sources become more commonly available, the home audio industry could get a boost, with consumers trading in older audio gear for newer products that support 4K passthrough and 4K up-scaling, audio suppliers told TWICE.

The home audio industry could also get a boost from the CE industry’s transition to HDMI 2.0, which supports 4K video frame rates up to 60Hz, the 21:9 aspect ratio, 32 discrete audio channels, and audio sampling frequencies up to 1,536kHz, among other enhancements.

Today, no audio components, HTiBs or HDMI-equipped soundbars feature HDMI 2.0 technology, and most suppliers said their current audio products are not firmware-upgradable to HDMI 2.0 or are unlikely to be firmware-upgradable.

Harman Kardon's networked AVR1710 features HDMI 4K passthrough.

Sony, on the other hand, said five 2013 AVRs will be upgradable, via their network connection, to HDMI 2.0. Those models are the STR-DN840, STRDN1040, STR-DA2800ES, STR-DA5800ES and STRDA1800ES. The updates for the ES series models are expected to be available in October. For the DN840 and DN1040, the updates will be available later in the year but before the end of the year, a spokesman said.

Marketers at D+M, Onkyo and Integra said their current- and previous-generation AVRs and preamp processors are not upgradable to HDMI 2.0, and a Yamaha spokesperson said firmware upgrades of current and past Yamaha products to 2.0 are “not likely as this would be hardware-related.”

As a result, audio-equipment owners wanting to benefit from HDMI 2.0’s capabilities in future video sources and TVs will likely have to trade in their current audio gear for new gear available sometime in the future, suppliers said.

Similarly, most current owners of audio equipment will also have to upgrade their gear in a 4K video world, suppliers said.

“There is potential for upgrades with [Ultra HD] TV, but I think the bigger upgrade potential will be when we start seeing 4K sources becoming more common,” said Paul Belanger, product manager for D+M Group core products, speakers and video sound.

Samsung's HT-F9730W Blu-ray HTiB features both 4K passthrough and 4k upscaling.

Consumers with HDMI-equipped audio components, soundbars and HTiBs will want new audio gear whose HDMI ports support 4K passthrough of content from future video disc players and future set-top boxes from cable companies, telcos and over-the-top video providers, suppliers said.

Likewise, audio products incorporating 4K up-scaling of analog and digital video sources will grow in demand with the expected proliferation of lower-priced Ultra HD TVs from secondary brands, suppliers said.

“With most [current] Ultra HD TVs on the market being premium models, the 4K scaling capability [of the TVs] will be good enough that you wouldn’t necessarily need to rely on an AVR for the up-scaling,” explained D+M’s Belanger. “However, we are starting to see, and will see more, off-brand/low-end [Ultra HD] sets starting to hit the market, which could benefit from the 4K scaling in an AVR.”

The best way to determine whether a particular audio product or particular Ultra HD TV does a better job of up-scaling would be to perform an AB comparison, he said.

In the future, consumers with older Ultra HD TVs could benefit from newer audio products whose later generation up-scaling technology improves upon their TV’s up-scaling technology, suppliers added. At least one TV supplier saw the potential for some lower-priced Ultra HD TVs to eliminate 4K up-scaling in the future.

To prepare for the arrival of Ultra HD TVs and video sources, a handful of A/V receivers and preamp/processors arrived in 2011 with 4K up-scaling, and since then, both 4K up-scaling and 4K passthrough have become broadly available from major brands in mainstream and upscale AVRs and in preamp/processors.

One or both technologies have also become available in a handful of HTiBs and soundbars.

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