The pros and cons of 4K transmission have dominated this year’s IBC, with the debate causing deep divisions amongst some members of the broadcast community. Everyone recognises that 4K is now very definitely on the agenda, and most of the news is positive. Russia’s NTV+ plans of test transmissions of the Sochi Winter Olympics, for example, but the challenge for broadcasters is that image capture standards are still being discussed, and transmissions standards far from certain. Also under discussion – and yet to be firmly decided – are key elements such as frame rates, bit-depth and dynamic colour range.
“Every new technology is a risk, and the successful adoption of Ultra-HD faces many challenges,” says a study from Deloitte, released as part of their special IBC session on The State of the European TV Sector. “Ten years ago,” said Maureen Hughes, Partner at Deloitte, “Over half of the TV sets sold were 24 inch or less in size. What we are now seeing is that by 2020 we expect the vast majority of TV displays sold will be 33 inch or larger. Basically we are all going to have to move house to fit in these new sets!”
Mark Harrison, Controller of Production at BBC North, said the BBC was extremely interested in 4K, and that its Natural History Unit was now actively producing in 4K, and better. “Our co-production partners insist on 4K. One just senses a momentum towards 4K that I also felt when HDTV was emerging, and I have to say I did not feel towards 3D. Today’s 4K enthusiasm is running ahead of our capability to broadcast it.”
GfK’s Nick North (Head of Innovation & Measurement) said he expected 4K to drive up people’s quality expectations, and a much greater intolerance of Standard Definition output. “There’s also not much doubt that for 50+-inch displays, the growth at the high-end is substantial in terms of volume and value.”
Responding to a question that asked whether people would actually pay for better image quality or did it all come down to the quality of the production itself, and the BBC’s Harrison said: “Something quite intriguing is happening to TV production today, which is that the existence of these higher-quality formats is forcing the industry to higher-quality shooting as well as script-writing behaviour. When we first went digital it could be argued that production budgets came down. The way that HDTV exposed us was in elements like missed focus, which showed! What we are now seeing, I believe, is the rise of craft skills throughout the capture process and generally much higher production values.”