HBO legend sees a long road to 4K television

by Steve Blum • , , , , ,


Zitter didn’t just look into the future, he made it.

Bob Zitter, HBO’s revered chief technology officer, retires this month, ending more than thirty years at the cutting edge of television technology. In a valedictory keynote at the TV Connect conference in London, Zitter expressed near-term skepticism about the future of 3D and 4K television technology, but held out long term hope.

HBO tried offering 3D content, but Zitter said they never believed in it. The stumbling block is the need to wear special glasses, something consumers don’t want to do at home. “3D with glasses is dead“, he said, according to reporting by Television Business International and others at the event.

Screen size will limit any future market for 4K technology, an ultra-high definition format that doubles both the horizontal and vertical pixel count, he thinks. In order for resolution that fine to make a difference, the screen needs to be in the 60 to 70-inch range. Some consumers have enough room in their homes, but most don’t. Given current technology.

And that’s the key. Thin screen technology – think wallpaper or paneling – would change the equation if it’s ever developed. So would using 4K technology to eliminate the need for 3D glasses, according to Zitter. It’s not happening anytime soon. Despite showcasing demo units, glass-less 3D is ten years out on Samsung’s road map.

It’ll take ten to fifteen years to fully bake ultra-HD technology and move it into the market. That was the HDTV experience. Along with HBO and others, the company I was with in the 1990s – U.S. Satellite Broadcasting – tested and promoted HDTV for years before equipment prices dropped and consumers started buying it in volume.

Netflix’s public embrace of 4K notwithstanding, HBO is better positioned to capitalize on it when the time comes. As a satellite-based distributor, HBO can plausibly deliver the necessary 100 Mbps-minimum real time streams to a national audience, albeit on a broadcast basis.

Now, who was the guy who put HBO into the direct-to-home business? And pioneered the technology? Yeah. Bob Zitter.