Where is All the 4K Video Content?

cameraman-382886_1280Remember a few years back before 4K or UltraHD TVs were introduced and all of the electronics companies were pushing 3D TVs? Consumers did not really buy into it as the benefits of the 3D picture were fairly limited. For instance, each person viewing needed to wear special glasses and the image was generally darker than a non-3D screen. 4K video is the next big push by consumer electronic companies to try and get people to pick up TVs but there is a bit of an issue. While 4K TVs provide a much higher definition image, they can only do so if the content is actually shot at that resolution and delivered to the viewers. So, what exactly is holding back the 4K video adoption?

Cost Of Production

Cost of production refers mainly to the actual filming and production of the content and not the hardware necessary to view it. After all, most consumer computers are already at the state where they can view 4K video reliably provided they have a screen that can display it. With the limited ability of consumers to view 4K video right now, the production companies are reluctant to produce content at the resolution. In order to produce the content, they need to use 4K recording and editing gear. The higher resolution requires much more detail which means flaws become more obvious. Actors need to have more and better makeup. Sets need to be more detailed so it doesn’t look like a low cost production. Finally, many shows rely on digital effects. The time to render these effects is much greater. The net result is that it cost much more to actually make the shows.

Now movie studies are more likely to embrace the 4K resolutions because they want more detail than what consumers can get at their home. After all, why go to the movies if you can get a similar picture and sound experience at your home. The issue here is support for the video standards at the theater. When they moved to digital projections, most theaters standardized on 2K resolutions. This means it really is not that much better than what the home theater setup can provide. In order to get 4K support, all the theaters need to upgrade their projectors. Some have done so, but many still need to convert. With many movie chains already struggling to stay afloat, the costs are too much and they are just not likely to upgrade equipment they replaced just in the last decade.

Limitations in Delivery

Most consumers get video in one of three ways: direct TV broadcasts, streaming video and physical media. Of these three, the most important for 4K video is the streaming video. Why? Well, consumers are moving away from direct TV offerings such as cable and satellite and purchasing less of physical media such as Blu-ray and DVDs. This can be heavily attributed to the rise of streaming video services and the ability to watch what you want pretty much whenever you want. It is more than just that though.

The direct TV broadcasts is one of the easiest to address. Right now, the FCC has not approved any over the air broadcasts in a 4K format. This means that the existing over the air method can only support up to 1080 video. If this is the case and there is not foreseeable 4K transition, the production companies are not going spend the money on 4K productions. It took a very long time for the US to adopt HDTV standards, it is going to take equally as long for UHD.

Cable and satellite providers have a bit more flexibility here as they could conceivable support 4K video transmissions. The problem is one of bandwidth though. The technology for the satellite signal and the amount of data on a cable line restricts how much definition they can put into each channel’s picture. Make sure to note that I said each channel. The reason is that they do have the bandwidth to do it but it means they would carry much fewer channels and since these services make much of there business by trying to cram as many channels into a package, they aren’t likely to drop all those channels. They are also unlikely to do this at this point since the majority of their customers only have HDTV sets.

Physical media has a bit of a different problem. Sales for DVD and Blu-ray have been steadily declining over the past couple of years. Much of this has to do with the fact that consumers are much more likely to watch their videos in a digital format. This could either be in the form of digital purchases from services like iTunes or Google Play or through streaming services like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu. Blu-ray in particular has not had the same success as the previous DVD format. While there is the ability to do 4K on physical discs like Blu-ray, there is no much interest in it because of the added cost of upgrades plus the limited interest in consumers for physical media.

That leaves streaming as the primary method that consumers are likely to get their video media services, but it also has some significant issues to overcome. 4K video gets its name because it offers four times the resolution of the HDTV format. With four times the resolution, the raw video information is four times as large. The problem this time is with consumer internet bandwidth. The average American broadband connection is typically 11Mbps or less right now. A single 4K video stream can eat up to 15Mbps with existing compression technology. This means that most US consumers could not support 4K video.

What Needs to Change?

4K video is not going to grow in popularity until the delivery and content production problems get resolved. The bigger of the two is really the bandwidth required to delivery the content to the consumers. This can be addressed in two ways. First, the average internet connection needs to get faster. This is already starting to happen somewhat with the link. The second issue is compression. If a way is found to take that existing 4K video feed and reduce the amount of bandwidth required to delivery that content, it lessens the need for higher speed bandwidth.

Once the content delivery issues are resolved, then the industry is going to need to push harder to actually produce the content that can take advantage of the high resolution. Increased access to the technology and ability to view the content will eventually push the producers to adopt 4K. This is similar to the problem that HDTV content faced until the mandated switchover in the US.

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