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Services Working To Quickly Expand 4K Content

LAS VEGAS — As 4K Ultra HD shifts into the industry’s next major TV display movement, the availability of high-quality native 4K content is becoming more and more critical to maintaining the momentum.

That was the assessment of some of the panelists on a DEG-sponsored panel Tuesday, entitled “The Road To 4K Content.”

Speakers included Rich Berger, Sony Pictures Entertainment worldwide digital strategy senior VP; Chris Fetner, Netflix media engineering and partnerships director; Phil Goswitz, DirecTV video, space and communications senior VP; Christophe Louvion, M-Go digital media COO; Victor Matsuda, Blu-ray Disc Association global promotions group chair; and Michael Schreiber, Comcast content acquisition senior VP.

Berger said Sony Pictures has been among the earliest proponents of 4K, and its current library number more than 170 4K features and TV episodes. Sony’s content is either produced by 4K digital cameras or scanned to 4K from film. Both practices are considered by the studio to be the most desirable for curating high quality images.

Netflix’s Fetner said his service has committed to producing all of its current and future original content series in 4K, and has enjoyed success with the delivery of its popular series “House of Cards” in 4K last year.

“We don’t think of 4K as just the resolution. It’s not just more pixels it’s better pixels,” Fetner said, adding that the service is now working on implementing high dynamic range, wider color space and higher frame rates into its 4K content offerings.

DirecTV’s Goswitz said the satellite service recently launched a satellite, with a second on the way, to help deliver live linear 4K content. The company launched a 4K over-the-top 4K streaming service last year through a temporary exclusive for TVs and has made it a goal “moving quickly to live linear 4K programming,” particularly for sports to help make the 4K demand spread faster.

As for Blu-ray Disc, Matsuda said he is expected licensing for an “Ultra HD Blu-ray” — the formal name just announced for the 4K Blu-ray format — spec to begin about midyear this year and “it would not be surprising to me” if the first products reach market before the end of the year.

Among the advantages for Ultra HD Blu-ray will be much higher bit rates than are likely to come from any streaming or download titles.

The panelists associated with streaming 4K content said they expect bit rates of about 15Mbps, where Blu-ray will transfer rates as high as 128Mbps.

Schreiber said Comcast launched an app on Samsung 4K Ultra HD TVs providing a streaming app providing about 50 episodes of USA Network TV shows, including “Covert Affairs,” “Suits” and NBC’s “Chicago Fire,” with plans to add “Parks and Rec” shortly.

As for using up-conversion on HD material to supplement early 4K libraries, panelists had differing philosophies.

Louvion said that due in part to “a lack of content” in 4K, M-Go’s approach to UHD has been to up-scale some content and in doing so — to “do much better in HD, so you can call that UHD. It may take different shapes and forms specifically when it streams — some people are streaming a 1Mbps and some people are streaming at 10Mbps. We have worked with studios and up-scaled pictures that look absolutely stunning, and when you can use new technologies like HEVC and other compression, you can get images that are way better than HD. It may not be the maximum best of the latest TVs, but it still satisfies consumers with the latest TVs that they bought.”

Berger said that Sony Pictures “hasn’t gone down the path of doing up-conversion. We are either filming in 4K or capturing scanning in 4K. That is the approach we have taken and we think it brings the best result.”

Berger said that he thinks it is important that people “know what they are getting, so communicating to the consumer that a show was shot or captured in 4K or up-converted is going to be very important.

Regarding enhancements to the 4K picture using new technologies including high dynamic range (HDR) and expanded color gamut, Netflix’s Fetner said his company wants its customers “to have the full 4K experience with HDR augmentation as soon as possible. We’d love to have them see it this year.”

Regarding standardization of some of these coming changes, Fetner said Netflix has joined the Ultra HD Alliance announced at the International CES this week, and “the goal is to pragmatically get agreement.”

Louvion said M-Go has also joined the alliance, with the end goal of “coming together very quickly with a view across the whole value chain.”