Content Distributors Look at Evolution of 4K UHD, HDR, More

Consumer Reports is scrupulous about buying the products it tests and reviews. It’s fitting then that the organization’s electronics senior editor Jim Willcox brought together a panel to talk about the latest 4K UHD TVs without inviting a single television set manufacturer. After all, he says, they all have booths on the CES 2017 floor. He opened the discussion with a thought that 4K is in fact a Trojan horse, bringing features such as High Dynamic Range (HDR) that are more demonstrable to viewers.

First up was IHS Markit TV research director Paul Gagnon, who notes that the progression of the 4K TV market, which came into being in 2013, has been “very fast.” “Resolution seems to resonate more with consumers, especially at larger sizes,” he said. The numbers bear out his observation. In 2016, 55-inch+ TV shipments were already 73 percent 4K, and that penetration for 50-inch+ TVs will rise to 100 percent 4K by 2018. In 2017, a predicted 78M 4K TVs will sell, up 40 percent from 2016.

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HDR and WCG (wide color gamut) are trickier. Although 10M HDR TVs are predicted to sell in 2017, the consumer must pay close attention between the HDR-capable designation versus a true HDR display. “It’s part of the confusion that consumers will face,” said Gagnon, who defines WCG as “any TV that can reproduce 90 percent or more of DCI-P3 spectrum.”

AVTOP and Quality.TV managing director Florian Friedrich, an HDR expert who developed HDR testing patterns, emphasizes that, “the HDR label on the device doesn’t mean the representation of the image is really HDR.”

“Some have a maximum light output of 1000 nits, and some have 400 nits, which isn’t sufficient for HDR,” he said, reporting it’s important that the TV can represent colors with luminance that is “saturated at high levels, not just low levels.”

At Amazon Video, global head of video playback and delivery BA Winston reports his company began delivering 4K content two years ago, and has seen “significant growth and adoption among viewers consuming it in 4K.” Three factors have impacted that: more devices in the marketplace, dropping prices, and more content. Most Amazon Video content is now produced in 4K, and the company has over 175 hours of HDR content.

Warner Bros. Worldwide Home Entertainment Distribution president Ron Sanders is “very excited” about 4K HDR, especially the HDR portion. “The industry has 100 titles out and that will triple in 2017,” he explained. “There’s a concerted effort to match the growth and install base at home.”

While color grading and mastering for 4K are challenging, Warner Bros. is “aggressively” going into its catalog to accommodate the new standards. “We want to push the limits of the brightness and show how good it can look at home,” he said, adding that physical media is currently the best way to see 4K HDR as intended.

At Fox Sports, field and technical operations senior vice president Michael Davies reports his company will have more 4K cameras at the Super Bowl than ever before. He notes that Sky Broadcasting delivered up to 150 4K events in 2015, and DirecTV has a deal with MLB to do the same.

“It’s not coincidental that this is being driven by the people who have a hand in distribution,” he said. “But trucks, cameras, servers, switchers are 4K out of the box. You can build a truck and be ready for 4K, which is our strategy. But, for the time being, if you’re doing a 4K show, it’s a bit of a hodgepodge. You’re mixing in some 1080 sources but, by having a 4K platform, you’re still able to call it 4K.”