What a difference a year makes.
In the last 12 months, the rollout of Ultra HD television has taken on a bold new transformation in a burgeoning major market.
The industry’s largest stake holders have increased both the number and quality of Ultra HD products on the market and have helped to direct significant new sources of native Ultra HD content to maximize the high-resolution characteristics of these new sets.
At the same time, a number of industry standards have come together, and others continue to move to completion, giving consumers peace of mind that the Ultra HD products they buy today will continue to deliver the same clarity and imaging dynamics many years into the future.
At its basics, Ultra HD TV brings four times the resolution of today’s FullHD 1080p sets, ideal for the new bigger dimensions of today’s TV screen sizes.
At a time when flat-panel televisions are trending dangerously close to commoditization, Ultra HD is offering manufacturers and retailers an opportunity to boost profits, and generate sales of ancillary products.
At the same time, Ultra HD product deployments should soon start to incentivize a new market for native high resolution content, which will lead to UHD delivery over streaming services, cable and satellite systems, and new format 4K Blu-ray Discs.
“Ultra High-Definition TV is our future, and the future is now,” Jeff Joseph, CEA communications and strategic relationships senior VP, told TWICE. “We believe UHD is the next step in the continued evolution of television, providing an unprecedented and breathtakingly lifelike and immersive viewing experience. CEA estimates the industry will ship more than 800,000 UHD TVs to dealers this year, a dramatic increase over the 77,000 shipped in 2013.”
Equally bullish manufacturers feel UHD unit sales should cover between 8 and 10 percent of overall U.S. TV sales in 2014 and should grow to exceed 20 percent, in 2015, according to Drew Pragliola, Amtran/JVC TV sales VP.
“As we enter into 2016 and content is readily available, it will become 90 percent of the assortment on the selling floors,” Pragliola added. “As with any technology product, prices will drop and the delta between 1080 and [UHD] models will be minimal, making this affordable for the masses.”
Sony market executives believe Ultra HD will not only sell more high-resolution TVs, it will sell sets with greater screen sizes. Sony Electronics’ president Mike Fasulo said, “Sony’s industry estimates as of now are 1 million 4K Ultra HD units sold in fiscal-year 2014 and over 4 million units in fiscal-year 2015.”
CEA’s Joseph helps direct the almost-year-old UHD TV Communications Working Group, which is comprised of manufacturer and retailer members working together with the goal of helping promote the technology; educating consumers, retailers and the media; and, ultimately, driving sales.
Work to date has included coordinating Ultra HD exhibits at consumer-facing trade shows to bring the “seeing is believing” experience to attendees and build buzz, producing coordinated messaging for the industry, and holding a national satellite media tour, he said.
The group also developed a voluntary logo to help consumers identify products that meet CEA’s recently updated core characteristics for “4K Ultra HD” TVs, monitors and projectors for the home.
“As we move forward, we will continue to undertake activities aimed at generating consumer excitement around UHD and driving them to move from jaw-dropping awe to purchasing a UHD TV, monitor and/or projector,” Joseph said.
At its basics, the CEA defines an Ultra HD display as having an aspect ratio of 16:9 or wider and at least one digital input capable of carrying and presenting native video at a minimum resolution of 3,840 by 2,160 pixels, which is four times the resolution of FullHD 1,920 by 1,080 images.
Last June, the CEA updated its Ultra HD guidelines addressing TVs, monitors or projectors, saying that a “UHD” TV must present at least 8 million active pixels, with at least 3,840 horizontally and at least 2,160 vertically; be capable of up-scaling HD video and displaying it at Ultra HD resolution; have one or more HDMI inputs supporting at least 3,840 by 2,160 native content resolution at 24p, 30p and 60p fps; and at least one of the 3,840 by 2,160 HDMI inputs must support HDCP revision 2.2 or equivalent content protection.
An Ultra HD display must also process 2160p video inputs encoded according to ITU-R BT.709 color space or wider colorimetry standards, and have a minimum color bit depth of 8 bits.
The CEA also added terminology and characteristics for “4K Ultra HD Connected,” recognizing that “one of the first ways consumers will have access to native 4K content is via Internet streaming on connected Ultra HD TVs,” it said.
A Connected UHD display must meet all of the above specifications plus be able to decode IP-delivered video of 3,840 by 2,160 resolution that has been compressed using HEVC/H.265 coding; decode video from other standard encoders; receive and reproduce and/or output multichannel audio; receive IP-delivered UHD video through a Wi-Fi, Ethernet or other appropriate connection; and support IP-delivered Ultra HD video through services or applications on the platform of the manufacturer’s choosing.
In some circles, particularly the content community, the resolution level is also informally referred to as “4K,” because it has roughly 4,000 horizontal pixels, but, technically speaking, 4K denotes a very specific display resolution. Many 4K professional and home video projectors support 4,096 by 2,160 pixels.
Many Ultra HD TV manufacturers polled by TWICE supported the efforts of CEA’s UHD committee, adding that as “the future of TV,” consumer education on all levels is necessary and desirable.
In addition to collective efforts on Ultra HD standards and terminology, a number of manufacturers and retailers have started stepping out with consumer promotional efforts of their own.
Sony’s Fasulo, for example, pointed to multiple efforts with Best Buy and one in-theater effort with CineMedia to promote awareness to the benefits of Sony 4K Ultra HD movies, TVs, camcorders and cameras.
“As with any new technology, there needs to be an industry push with aligned messaging so that every consumer is educated and has an understanding when making purchases,” Fasulo told TWICE. “While great progress has been made, Sony continues to push for more industry standards as well as more native 4K content so that there is more consumer awareness of 4K Ultra HD. Consumers need to clearly understand the benefits of 4K Ultra HD and that this is not just a trend or a distant future technology — it is here now, there is already good, quality 4K content available, and the industry as a whole is committed to bringing more 4K content to consumer’s homes.”