Tag Archives: 4k

Chinese policy builds parallel demand for tech, broadband

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

4K televisions and home automation, two product categories that are particularly tied to broadband demand, grew significantly in 2015 and the trend is expected to continue into 2016, according to market research presented yesterday at CES in Las Vegas, by the show’s organiser, the newly rechristened Consumer Technology Association.

Home automation accounted for about 9 million units. The $1.2 billion in revenue that generated is an 18% bump over 2014.

On the other hand, CTA researcher Steve Koenig said it looks like 13 million 4K sets sold world wide – outside of China – in 2015. The 4K forecast for the world, again outside of China, is 19 million units in 2016, a growth rate just under 50%.

The real story, though, is what’s happening inside China. Koenig said that 29 million 4K televisions will be sold in China alone in 2016, bringing the global total to 48 million sold this year. In 2015, 27 million 4K sets were sold in China, an even bigger proportion of the global total. Part of the reason is undoubtedly due to economic growth simply making it possible for more Chinese households to buy televisions. Even if 4K sales represent a small fraction of the total, it’s still a lot in absolute terms.

“It’s a numbers game”, Koenig observed. But it’s also a matter of government policy.

“There’s a wish on the part of the central government in China to drive these technologies into the market”, he said.

It also hints at something about broadband availability in China. Even if the selling proposition were mostly about the status symbol, at least the promise of sufficient content has to exist for China to account for three out of five 4K televisions sold worldwide. It’s not just televisions that upwardly mobile Chinese are buying. They’re buying new homes, too. And when those homes are built, it’s also government policy to connect them with fiber.

Correlation doesn’t prove causation, but it does offer clues for policymakers to ponder.

There’s more network traffic at 4K levels, but can growth be sustained?

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Home field advantage.

The prospects for widespread adoption of 4K television technology and programming – often referred to as ultra high definition – are slowly getting better in the U.S. According to Akamai, which just released its State of the Internet report for the second quarter of 2015, about a fifth – 21% – of U.S.-based users on its network are running at 15 Mbps or better, which ranks 18th best in the world. That’s the minimum service level needed to stream 4K programming.

California does better than that with 26% of Internet connections on the Akamai content delivery network measuring 15 Mbps or faster, which would put us at 14th internationally, with about the same adoption rate as Finland and the Czech Republic. As with Internet speeds, South Korea, Hong Kong and Japan rank first, second and third respectively.

South Korea is particularly strong when it comes to 4K capable homes, more than half – 53% – clear the 15 Mbps benchmark. That gives South Korean manufacturers in general and Samsung in particular a big competitive advantage. The ability to field test new products in the home market, where high speed broadband adoption is robust enough to support significant content production as well, will boost development of the technology.

The U.S. and Californian figures are encouraging, but might also be misleading as well. The more people that buy service packages at or above the 15 Mbps level, and the more they start streaming high bandwidth 4K programming, the more clogged local and long haul infrastructure will become. It’s one thing for a relatively small fraction of users to occasionally hit high speeds. If that becomes the norm for streaming traffic, though, core infrastructure, from the neighborhood level on up through connections at Tier 1 Internet exchanges will have to be upgraded to handle the volume and avoid complete logjams.

Lots of solid singles, but no home runs this year at CES

by Steve Blum • , ,

Crystal ball view of Eureka Park.

All the major manufacturers had a range of 4K televisions at CES this year, giving credence to the Consumer Electronics Association’s (CEA) prediction of 4 million sets sold in the U.S. in 2015, with price points dropping below $1,000. No significant 4K content announcements, and DISH was the only company pumping up the volume on the distribution side.

New wearables were everywhere, but the theme seemed to be me too. There wasn’t much to differentiate between the dozens of fitness trackers and smart watches on display. Most of the action came from small start-ups and mid-sized companies that have a history in the space – think Garmin or Polar. That means plenty of opportunity and incentive for the big CE companies to acquire talent and technology if they decide to get into wearables in a serious way.

It was a similar story for home automation. Lots of new products, but little coherence.

CEA was successful in attracting more entrepreneurs to the show. The number of exhibitors in the Eureka Park section grew to 375, from 220 last year, and it moved from a backwater in the Venetian hotel to front and center in the Sands convention center. It’s a clear winner. C Space – a venue pitched to content-oriented companies – was not. It was buried in the Aria hotel, far away from the rest of the CES action. No crowds and little buzz there.

CES is crowded – that’s the whole point of the show – but the 170,000 reported attendees and 3,600 exhibitors were easily accommodated. Only major glitch I encountered was the show’s mobile app – not ready for primetime. All in all, it’s a good start to 2015.

Live sports, new production, high bandwidth will drive 4K adoption

by Steve Blum • , , , , ,

The killer app.

There’s not much true 4K ultra high definition content available right now, and it’s going to take time for inventories to build.

Sony Pictures has about 75 feature films and fewer than 100 television episodes available now, according to Rich Berger, senior vice president for advanced platforms at Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

He was the only representative from the production side of the business at a panel session on 4K content at CES yesterday. The rest were all from distributors, which included Netflix, DirecTv, Comcast, M-GO and the Blu-ray association.

Berger said that Sony gets 4K content in two ways: either producing it directly in an ultra HD format, or re-mastering it from sufficiently good 35mm film. Up-converting existing HD programming doesn’t produce acceptable results. At least for for most.

“We have a clear content spec. It’s either full 4K resolution or it’s not ultra HD”, said Phil Goswitz, senior vice president of engineering at DirecTv. “Anything originally shot in HD just isn’t 4K”.

“We’re purists”, agreed Chris Fetner, director of media engineering for Netflix. “Anything with a 4K label was produced in 4K”.

Comcast, though, isn’t as picky. “The more content the better”, said Michael Schreiber, Comcast’s senior vice president for content acquisition. “If it happens to be native that’s great. If it happens to be up-converted, that’s great”.

There are many feature films that can be turned into true 4K content, but that’s not enough. “If you look at HD adoption, the movies arrived first”, said Gozwitz. “But what really drives the adoption by customers in large numbers is sports”. He specifically mentioned the NFL – a key DirecTv programming partner – as one of the organisations that has to commit to ultra HD technology in order for it to grab hold in the consumer mainstream.

Bandwidth requirements are going to be steep. Panel members agreed that current 4K contents needs a minimum of 15 Mbps, although M-GO COO Christophe Louvion said that near term compression improvements will bring that number down to maybe 12 Mbps.

Blu-ray, on the other hand, plans to have a 4K format ready later this year, with products based on it maybe available by next Christmas, according to Victor Matsuda, CFO of the Blu-ray association. Aiming to be the reference standard for ultra HD content, Matsuda said they’re looking at 128 Mbps.

Consensus: 4K streaming needs 15 Mbps, for now

by Steve Blum • , , ,

“You’re going to need bandwidth speeds in the range of 15 Mbps,” said Michael Schreiber, SVP for content acquisition for Comcast. Ultra high definition content would still flow at a lower speed but “it wouldn’t be a 4K experience”. He was responding to a question about 4K bandwidth requirements at a panel session at CES this afternoon.

Netflix’s Chris Fetner agreed, saying their 4K content runs at 14 to 15 Mbps. Christophe Louvion from M-GO also pegged 15 Mbps as the current minimum, with the caveat that new compression algorithms will bring that down.

DISH is first to complete the 4K product-content-distribution loop

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Any 4K you have.

Like HDTV before it, 4K ultra high definition television programming will enter the U.S. consumer mainstream via satellite. At its CES press conference yesterday, DISH Network announced that it will soon offer the 4K Joey. That’s what it calls its new set top box that streams satellite-delivered UHD channels to any 4K-capable television. Content availability, though, is less clear. According to the company…

DISH will deliver 4K content from several providers. Specific announcements will be made closer to the consumer launch of 4K Joey, which is slated for the second quarter.

Vivek Khemka, DISH’s SVP of product management, claimed that the new box is the first to be compatible with any 4K TV that uses the HDMI/HDCP standards.

The 4K Joey will be built on top of a Broadcom dual-core chipset and Broadcom 7448 dual-core ARM processor that Khemka says will support 4K at 60 frames per second.

Assuming the content is there – programming produced in 4K or better, not just HD bumped up as best as possible – DISH is providing the fuel that can make CEA’s prediction of a 4K firestorm feasible. Expect DirecTv to follow, at least in 4K-to-the-press-release fashion. And DISH’s other big announcement yesterday – streaming traditional sports, news and other live and linear channels over the Internet – means it’s positioned to deliver that 4K content that way too.

If broadband networks can handle the load. With continuous streams in the 5 to 10 Mbps-plus range – maybe several times plus if the programming is live – it won’t take too many 4K-capable homes on a given DOCSIS or VDSL node to slam traffic to a crawl. Copper might handle those speeds for a few, but with U.S. 4K penetration forecast to clear the 20% breakout hurdle before the end of the decade, the only plausible alternative now to satellite is fiber.

Update: DISH is first to jump into 4K with new STB, but no programming until spring

by Steve Blum • , , ,

The first nationally available 4K television programming in the U.S. will be coming via satellite from DISH Network. Or that’s the plan. The DBS company introduced its *4K Joey* set top box at CES this morning. No programming announcements were made, though. That’ll wait until the 4K STB is actually available in the second quarter of 2015.

Ultra definition TVs coming faster and cheaper, CEA predicts

by Steve Blum • , ,

The Consumer Electronics Association is forecasting 4 million 4K televisions will be sold in the U.S. in 2015, representing 20% of the market for 40-inch or larger screens. That prediction ramps to 14 million – 63% of the big screen category – in 2018. Those numbers are significant: in a short period of time, ultra HD TV’s will move from technophiles – less than 1% of the market – into the hands of the 15% to 20% of consumers who can be characterised as mainstream early adopters.

Worldwide, CEA says 23.3 million 4K sets will move, with most – 57% – sold in China.

Whether that’s enough to build sufficient pressure to drive wide scale fiber to the home deployments is an open question. Satellite systems can fill the near term gap. As Steve Koenig, CEA’s industry analysis director, pointed out, manufacturers are simply replacing high end 1080p units with 4K sets in their product lines, which means many buyers will just be chasing the high end of the range, rather than specifically looking for ultra definition capabilities. That’s in line with his predicted sub-$1,000 price points for 50 to 60-inch ultra sets.

Content is still a question. CEA’s chief economist, Shawn Dubravac, only offered two examples of 4K content producers: Netflix and Amazon. There are others, albeit still limited to showcase programming. But studios are using 4K, 8K and other high end production formats, so the libraries are beginning to fill.

CEA might be tempted to lean to the optimistic side at times, but they often get it right, at least as often as other crystal ball gazers. Even if they just have the general shape of the adoption curve right, the tipping point will come sooner than I’ve been expecting – maybe by the end of this decade rather than in the early to mid years of the next. Broadband companies need to think about how to meet that demand.

Update: CEA makes bullish prediction for ultra HD products

by Steve Blum • , ,

At its opening press conference at CES this afternoon, the Consumer Electronics Association predicted that 4 million ultra high definition – 4K – television sets will be sold in 2015, against 77,000 in 2013 and an estimated 1.3 million in 2014. By 2018, CEA says that annual 4K sales volume will hit 14 million. Price points for sets in the 50-inch range – the smaller end of the scale in 4K terms – are expected to drop below $1,000.

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.