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Ultra HD Picture Gets A Little Clearer

11/17/2013 07:00:00 PM Eastern

NEW YORK – A couple of announcements in recent weeks may give a little better insight into just how long it may take for the Ultra HD TV revolution to arrive.

First, a global Ultra HD TV market forecast from ABI Research’s First Screen Video Devices and Cloud Video and Video Hardware Research services indicated that the North American market will see a 5 percent Ultra HD household penetration rate by 2017 and 10 percent by the end of 2018.

Then, DirecTV’s CEO Michael White said in a thirdquarter earnings call that DirecTV is working on Ultra HD delivery systems but would wait and walk cautiously before flipping the switch to Ultra HD service after its experiences with 3DTV, which left some in the industry feeling burnt.

The ABI forecasts cited rapidly falling prices of Ultra HD TVs with driving expansion of the installed base as consumers upgrade older HDTV sets.

ABI believes Ultra HD broadcast trials around the world bode well for the eventual broad-based availability of native UHD content.

Ultra HD video production of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil and Sochi Winter Olympics will be among early highlights for the medium, but will arrive too early to have much impact, the firm said.

Meanwhile, over-the-top (OTT) delivery of Ultra HD content, led by Sony’s new Video Unlimited 4K download service, and built-in up-scaling systems in Ultra HD TVs will hold over early adopters and raise consumer appreciation of the format, ABI said.

To support its predictions, ABI pointed to consumers’ appreciation of high-resolution mobile devices, such as those using Apple’s Retina displays, as evidence that consumers eventually will understand and embrace Ultra HD TVs.

Meanwhile, DirecTV’s White said during the recent earnings call that the satellite-TV provider is working on the technologies needed to deliver Ultra HD programming its subscribers, but hesitated on issuing a estimated time of arrival as it treads cautiously in the aftermath of 3D, adding that “it’s a very complex rollout that would be required.”

In June 2012, DirecTV downgraded its n3D channel to part-time special-events status, and last June ESPN announced it would shut down its 3D channel at the end of the year.

Limiting factors for Ultra HD, White said, include the fact that consumers will need to purchase a new TV set, add a new set-top box capable of accepting a new compression system, have Ultra HD-produced programming and/ or be able to up-convert HD content to Ultra HD resolution levels. White predicted that it will likely take until “2015 or 2016, to get all of these parts to come together.”

Still, he pledged that DirecTV will “continue to innovate, and we hope to be there first with the best experience, the best sound and the best picture, as we always have, and that’s our commitment.”