4K gets thumbs down from Discovery, BBC and others at IBC

AMSTERDAM -- Despite all the hype and support for the 4K resolution standard, executives here at the IBC show offered some negative comments on the technology.

"It's about more than just resolution," said John Honeycutt, Discovery Communications' CTO, noting that the pay-TV programmer plans to produce around 100 hours of 4K content this year.

Matthew Postgate, CTO of the BBC, said that he's "not really interested" in 4K technology.

And Ulf Ewaldsson, SVP and CTO of Ericsson, proclaimed that 4K "is not enough."

Honeycutt explained that, instead of simply focusing on 4K, Discovery is interested in three major elements in the presentation of its content:

  • HDR. Honeycutt said that there are a wide range of approaches to HDR and the technology is still very much in flux.
  • High resolution.
  • Frame rate. Standard TV is displayed at 24 frames per second (fps), but Honeycutt said Discovery would prefer around 120 fps. He said that speed makes content displayed at a high resolution appear much smoother.

Honeycutt voiced interest in 8K technology, which he said would provide Discovery with enough data that it could potentially offer different views of a recorded event. He said that technology could, for example, allow the programmer to show different angles of an instant replay from a sporting event.

Honeycutt noted that he wants to provide Discovery's subscribers with better experiences; "I'm not selling electronics," he said. A number of TV and phone vendors are trumpeting 4K-capable screens as a selling point. For example, Apple boasted that its new iPhone 6s and 6s Plus can record 4K video.

Rather than 4K, the BBC's Postgate said he's more interested in Ultra HD content, and Honeycutt agreed. However, it's unclear exactly which standard the two were referring to. And Ericsson's Ewaldsson said that the company is focusing more on creating interactive TV content rather than simply improving the content's resolution.

Despite the general apathy executives here have for 4K, those in the industry expect the technology to be widely adopted. "I have no doubt whatsoever that 4K will happen," said John Maguire, S3 Group's chief strategy officer. The company offers testing and analytics products to pay-TV operators and counts most of the biggest providers as customers.

Separately, Paul Dale, CTO of advertising firm Dentsu Aegis Network, argued that the bigger issue for the industry is that video is increasingly moving away from the television. He said that the increasing popularity of video on phones and tablets has fractured the standards for video display and rendering. Each of those devices has its own video transmission and display technologies, making it difficult for advertisers and others to ensure that their video streams are as clear as possible.

"I think the broadcast industry should get much more involved in web standards," said BBC's Postgate, explaining that a joint approach to video transmission and display technologies among broadcasters, programmers, Internet companies and others, would result in better experiences for users and lowered expenses for the companies involved. Indeed, Internet companies Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN), Cisco, Google (NASDAQ: GOOG), Intel, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), Mozilla and Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX) recently announced the Alliance for Open Media to create a new open source video format.

Joe Inzerillo, EVP and CTO of MLB Advanced Media, said that questions around the H.265 and HEVC patents for 4K have slowed the development of the technology. The HEVC Advance group was formed in April with a goal of compiling 500-plus patents related to the technology into a patent pool. The group reportedly has asked for a licensing rate of 0.5 percent of every content owner's or distributor's gross revenue from delivering 4K-quality HEVC or H.265 compressed video.

"The notion of gross revenue is the part that's just a non-starter," Inzerillo said, noting MBLAM likely won't provide that information to the patent pool effort. "If it was just another toll to pay and the toll was sort of reasonable … that wouldn't be such a big deal. But the gross revenues ... no mainstream company is ever going to do that."

"The H.265 patent stuff has really taken the wind out of 4K sales and 8K," he noted.

Research firm IHS recently reported that shipments of 4K TVs reached a record high of 3 million units in April. Of all TVs sold around the world, 14 percent were 4K-capable, the report says. The firm said sales of 8K displays are expected to only grow from just 2,700 this year to around 911,000 by 2020.

Full coverage: IBC Live 2015

Related articles:
Samsung and Fox roll out the first 4K Blu-ray player and discs
Analyst urges video industry to reject HEVC Advance patent pool
8K screen shipments won't even reach 1M by 2019, IHS says

Samantha Bookman contributed to this report.