Industry Looks to Help Consumers Understand What “UHD” Means

With the Consumer Electronics industry hell-bent on making Ultra High-Definition (UHD) television sets and other related products the next best thing, the video production and distribution community is looking to help with content—now that we all know what “UHD TV” actually means.

Vendors like LG, Panasonic, Samsung, Sony, Vizio and others are counting on all segments of the industry to help their cause, as even the lowering of price points (we saw 32-42 inch UHD TVs from several companies for less than $1,000) has not moved consumers significantly to buy these new next-generation TV sets.

Getting the definition straight in many people’s minds continues to be a moving target, although some standard specs have been established. It’s a potentially lucrative target, with market research form Digitimes Research predicting that the number of HDTV set sales will go from 1.5 million in 2013 to 68.2 million in 2017. And of all those TVs, 26.6 percent shipped in 2017 will be of the UHD variety.

We now know that UHD is defined as 3840 x 2160 lines of resolution (whereas true “4K” features the movie projection industry standard of 4096 x 2160 lines). That’s all well and good for production professionals and broadcasters, but consumers continued to be confused about what UHD is and how it’s better (more than eight million pixels of resolution and four times the resolution of 1080/30 HDTV).

So, how did we get here? Well, initially, in October 2012, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) put forth asset of guidelines on what type of products actually constituted a “Ultra High Definition (UHD)-compliant” TV, monitor, and other display devices in an effort to address various attributes of picture quality and help move toward interoperability, while providing clarity for consumers and retailers alike. These exact specifications were in reality voluntary guidelines that took effect in September 2014 and were embraced by some CE manufacturers but others chose to do things their own way.

In June of 2014, the CEA issued a second set of guidelines for the definition of UHD. These expanded display characteristics (called the CEA’s Ultra High-Definition Display Characteristics V2) further addressed the attributes of picture quality and sought to help move the industry as a whole toward interoperability.

Under CEA’s expanded characteristics, a TV, monitor or projector may be referred to as “Ultra High-Definition” if it meets the following minimum performance attributes:

Display Resolution – Has at least eight million active pixels, with at least 3840 horizontally and at least 2160 vertically.

Aspect Ratio – Has a width to height ratio of the display’s native resolution of 16:9 or wider.

Upconversion – Is capable of upscaling HD video and displaying it at Ultra High-Definition resolution.

Digital Input – Has one or more HDMI inputs supporting at least 3840x2160 native content resolution at 24p, 30p and 60p frames per second. At least one of the 3840x2160 HDMI inputs shall support HDCP revision 2.2 or equivalent content protection.

Colorimetry – Processes 2160p video inputs encoded according to ITU-R BT.709 color space and may support wider colorimetry standards.

Bit Depth – Has a minimum color bit depth of eight bits.

In addition, because one of the first ways consumers will have access to native 4K content is via Internet streaming on “connected” Ultra HDTVs, CEA has defined new characteristics for Connected Ultra High-Definition displays. Under these new characteristics, which complement the updated core UHD attributes, a display system may be referred to as a Connected Ultra HD device if it meets the following minimum performance attributes:

Ultra High-Definition Capability – Meets all of the requirements of the CEA Ultra High-Definition Display Characteristics V2 (listed above).

Video Codec – Decodes IP-delivered video of 3840x2160 resolution that has been compressed using HEVC and may decode video from other standard encoders.

Audio Codec – Receives and reproduces, and/or outputs multichannel audio.

IP and Networking – Receives IP-delivered Ultra HD video through a Wi-Fi, Ethernet or other appropriate connection.

Application Services – Supports IP-delivered Ultra HD video through services or applications on the platform of the manufacturer’s choosing.

The CEA’s expanded display characteristics also included guidance on nomenclature designed to help provide manufacturers with marketing flexibility while still providing clarity for consumers. Specifically, the guidance states, “The terms Ultra High-Definition, Ultra HD or UHD may be used in conjunction with other modifiers,” for example ‘Ultra High-Definition TV 4K’.”

In addition, CEA has an official UHD logo to assist consumers in identifying UHD products in the marketplace that meet CEA’s guidelines. The logo is available for voluntary use by manufacturers for product packaging, marketing materials and promotional activities. However, even today, the logo's use is not ubiquitous, which further confuses consumers.

Samsung’s curved UHD TV is one strategy to attract consumers, but retail staff education and UHD content is sorely lacking.

Fast forward to last month, at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. A group of Hollywood studios, consumer electronics brands, content distributors, post-production and technology companies announced the launch of the UHD (Ultra High Definition) Alliance. The new partnership, the companies said, will “set the bar for next generation video entertainment by establishing new standards to support innovation in video technologies including 4K and higher resolutions, high dynamic range, wider color range and immersive 3D audio.”

Like the CEA before it, The UHD Alliance hopes to provide information on premium Ultra-HD content and devices to ensure consumers have access to the best home entertainment. The Alliance said it is also focused on helping people benefit from a seamless, integrated and high-quality Ultra-HD ecosystem. Premium Ultra-HD content and devices will be clearly identified so people can easily recognize them in-store.

The Alliance includes such founding members as DIRECTV, Dolby, LG Electronics Inc., Netflix, Panasonic Corporation, Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd., Sharp Corporation, Sony Visual Product Inc., Technicolor, The Walt Disney Studios, Twentieth Century Fox and Warner Bros. Entertainment.

“As the UHD environment continues to evolve, we are strengthening our commitment to high-quality UHD content and devices,” said Hyunsuk Kim, President, Visual Display Business at Samsung Electronics. “The Alliance will encourage the development of high-quality UHD content while distinguishing TVs that provide the most premium UHD viewing experience.”

The UHD Alliance said it wants to ensure that all of the links in the chain—from the production, distribution and consumption of content to the playback capability of devices—“meet the premium quality standards, while also embracing options that are open and allow flexibility in the market.” The Alliance will develop a technology roadmap for the rapid evolution of UHD technology, worldwide.

“The innovative advancements and quality improvements with TVs are evolving rapidly, as seen throughout CES,” said Mike Dunn, President, Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment. “The UHD Alliance will benefit consumers by identifying products and content that will give the true UHD experience.”

The Alliance will focus on stimulating the industry to develop more content for UHD TV sets, which at present is sorely lacking, and work to better educate retail sales staff on how to market the technology.

“The thing we all have to recognize is that the sales staff is the first line of experience for the customer, so that sales person has to know what they are talking about,” said Dror Gill, CTO of video technology company Beamr. His company will join the UHD Alliance soon, he said, adding that interoperability among CE manufacturers is critical to UHD’s success.

Of course, 8K resolution TVs are right around the corner (currently being tested by NHK in Japan, where the country hopes to begin broadcasting live and pre-recorded 4K and 8K content by 2018), which could confuse consumers even more or at the least cause them to hold off on buying a “4K” set. Everyone agrees more information and a lot of education is needed by consumers in order to get this transition right. Initiatives like the new UHD Alliance and the CEA’s efforts go a long way toward that goal.

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