Ultra HD for the Masses

Ultra HDtvs

Ultra HDTVs were the talk of this year’s CES expo. With an Ultra HDTV, you can expect to experience four times the resolution of current HDTVs. The clarity of Ultra HD videos is like nothing we’ve ever seen. While Ultra HD appears to be the future of television, the question being asked is, “How will content distributors deliver Ultra HD videos to homes?” Ultra HD video files are huge. For example, an uncompressed Ultra HD movie trailer of the The Amazing Spiderman was 500GB.  In comparison, a user at a MakeUseOf.com forum mentioned that an hour-long 1080p video is only 149MB. This presents a problem for content distributors, such as cable TV/satellite providers and ISPs, who are looking for ways to deliver Ultra HD content to homes. The solution is to compress these large videos into sizes that are easily distributed.

Ultra HD Compression is the Key

In the world of computer science, data compression is a process where the size of a file is reduced with little to no loss of quality. For example, MP3s are compressed versions of audio CD files. With MP3 compression, we can instantly send music over the Internet. In order to deliver Ultra HD content through cable/satellite TV signals or the Internet, the extremely large video files from Ultra HD cameras must be compressed to a much smaller size without a loss of quality. Ultra HD is said to have four times the picture quality of regular HD. This means that, without compression, content distributors would need four times the bandwidth to send Ultra HD video to homes.

Current Ultra HD Compression Methods

Sean McCarthy of Motorola Mobility recently wrote on GigaOm.com that in order for Ultra HD video to have mass market success, a video compression/decompression (or “codec”) process called High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) must be adopted by content producers and distributors. With the HEVC codec, Ultra HD video could be streamed using only twice the amount of bandwidth needed to stream regular HD. Another company creating an Ultra HD compression process is Red Digital Cinema Camera Company, a manufacturer of digital cinematography tools. Their process will compress an Ultra HD video from hundreds of gigabytes to 20GB. This would allow an Ultra HD movie to fit on a Blu-Ray disc.

Is the Success of Regular HDTVs Repeatable?

Much of the success of regular HDTV (720p, 1080i/p) can be attributed to compression standards.  The compression techniques used for HD videos allows content to be broadcasted on cable/satellite signals and streamed over the Internet to computers and mobile devices. Smaller Ultra HD video files means easier distribution via cable/satellite TV signals and the Internet. Better compression also means TV networks and other content producers will be more willing to shoot video in Ultra HD. More Ultra HD content will create more Ultra HDTV owners. According to a report by Strategy Analytics, this whole process should happen within the next 5-10 years. They expect 10 million households to have an Ultra HDTV by 2016, and more than 130 million households to have an Ultra HDTV by 20201.

What Next For Ultra HD?

More innovation in Ultra HD compression algorithms is needed to create the same mass market success as regular HDTV. Internet speeds are not expected to increase drastically in the next 5-10 years. And big infrastructure changes to provide Ultra HD content via broadcast, cable or satellite would require huge costs. But with smaller, compressed video files, cable/satellite providers and ISPs can deliver Ultra HD content without any need for infrastructure upgrades. At that point, TV networks and content producers will be more willing to create Ultra HD content for mass distribution. What do you think? Will Ultra HD become a mass market success?

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