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User experience gain must trump resource consumption for UHD success

This opinion blog is about 3 things that could derail UHD if User Experience lets them.

Ok so you can already tell that I’m biased. I believe in UHD and its five components that will change user experience:

  1. Higher resolution (4K)
  2. Higher Dynamic Range (ability to see details in both brighter whites and darker blacks simultaneously)
  3. Better colour (more colours, closer to human perception)
  4. Better sound (more channels than speakers, object based surround sound)
  5. Higher refresh rate (especially for action which can otherwise look choppy at very high resolution without higher refresh rates)

My crystal ball hasn’t confirmed that this is the order in which these components will arrive, or to what extent it’ll be a big bang approach, or even if some components might get left by the wayside. I’ll delve into that in another blog. In the last 15 years or so, I’ve witnessed HD succeed and I have written several times about why I believe UHD’s time is now (recently here or here in early 2014 for example). I have nothing to sell and no vested interest in UHD, I’m simply driven by my geeky fascination with the promise of a great new experience brought to TV and IP technologies that I’ve been working with for so long.

But just in case I am wrong, here are 3 things that that some of us fret about and still could prevent UHD success.

Thing Description Issue Why it won’t stop UHD
Fragmentation Vendors pulling in different directions Device & content incompatibility Industry bodies like the Ultra HD Forum or the UHD Alliance
Energy Extra brightness, more pixels and more images consume more power Regulation, consumer reluctance, UHD perceived as not Politically Correct Technology progress has often consumed more power (e.g. HD vs SD). Better efficiency means extra power required is less than extra user experience delivered. CPE power issue is more in standby mode than peak consumption. Need not consume much more power with HD-only signal.
Bandwidth UHD can require over 4 times HD bandwidth / file size. Channel and content distribution issues. Monthly data caps will be an issue for OTT households. Networks grow in quantum leaps, UHD will help spur the next one. All-fibre connections and future 5G networks will provide more bandwidth than UHD can consume. A new generation of low-orbit satellites is also on its way.

The driving force providing the impetus to overcome challenges such as those mentioned above is User Experience. This is the part of the equation I have to rely on gut feeling or faith for. My premise is that UHD ushers in a great new User Experience with a sensation of realism and immersion.

If it actually turned out that UHD didn’t bring that “wow” effect so many of us in the industry believe in, then any one of the above “things” could alone derail UHD from becoming a market success and we’ll have to find another game changer in the TV industry.  My experience so far suggests that UHD will be that game change but also that there are still niggles that need ironing out.

As it happens I’ve been watching quite a lot of 4K TV via Amazon and Netflix in the last few months. Landscapes and close-ups are all pretty amazing, but I do have a nagging worry over some indoor scenes, which despite being shot by top-of the range pros (e.g. Amazon’s Transparent, or Breaking Bad, …) leave a strange feeling that something isn’t quite right in 4K resolution. It occurs when there is some mild camera movement yet when most of the scene is in focus. I get this counterintuitive sensation that there is something maybe amateurish in the composition. This could be due to the shooting not having been properly thought out by the director and cameraman for 4K TV playback, or maybe it’s just me not yet being used to processing so much data on screen. If either of these is true, which I suspect is the case, the issue will quickly disappear. But this highlights my only real concern over UHD’s success: will it be consistently “wow” enough to overcome resistances like the three issues stated above? If so I have no doubts that vendors, content providers and operators, as personified in the Ultra HD Forum, will be insure that the whole UHD movement is not derailed by relatively minor teething troubles.