New Broadcasting Standards (1of 3): Putting UHDTV into Practical Perspective

Thursday 4 July 2013
New Broadcasting Standards (1of 3): Putting UHDTV into Practical Perspective


by Simon Pryor,
Market Development Director for Broadcast @ Newtec;

There are a number of new broadcasting standards entering the market for quality (UHDTV 4K/8K), compression (HEVC) and satellite transmission (S2 Extensions). They are generating a lot of noise and hype, but underneath, there are real benefits to be gained to the user experience and business of being a broadcaster. They will only be beneficial if they are applied wisely and where they make sense.

Putting UHDTV into Practical Perspective

The demos of UHDTV are alluring. I was lucky enough to see the London 2012 Olympics demo by NHK in ‘Super Hi-Vision’, otherwise known as 8K TV with 22.2 surround sound. It certainly made my materialistic yearnings say ‘Ooh, I want one of those’. But I’ve also been around long enough for my rational side to think ‘Hey, here we go again, the next instalment of SD to HD’.

It is true that the manufacturers see this as a big opportunity to drive a replacement sales cycle of TVs, packed with the latest and greatest 4K resolutions. But where is the content going to come from, how will it be delivered to those TVs and who’s going to pay for it and make money in the process?

4K Becomes Mainstream UHDTV Focus

Realistically, it seems 4K is liable to become the mainstream UHDTV focus; 8K is just too far on the horizon. Even in Japan they are looking at 4K for the 2014 FIFA world cup rather than the somewhat daunting 8K. Although 4K needs only 4 times the bandwidth of Full HD 1080p, most live HDTV is actually broadcast in 720p/1080i. This actually means it is more likely 16 HD channels for each 4K channel with today’s compression technology.

High Frame Rates for High Value Content

At those large 4K resolutions and screen sizes, high frame rates become very important too, especially for high value content like sports. This complicates things significantly and cannot be ignored. 

For instance, getting 4K at 50/60fps to the TVs will require HDMI 2.0, which is not even standardised yet. The current HDMI 1.4b only supports 4K to 25/30fps, which is probably not high enough. Indeed, the final distribution ‘market standard’ of 4K is unclear but is likely driven by compatibility with the TV chipsets. There have been some recent real 4K over satellite demos but many at tradeshows still use ‘Quad HD’ receivers, which are not identical to the ITU Rec.2020 standard for 2160p 4K.

And then there’s audio. Going beyond 8 channels (for 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound) to something like 22.2 (MPEG-H 3D) will also require HDMI 2.0, not to mention new home theatre audio systems, as well as new TVs.

Where is the Content Going to Come From?

For home 4K, the current generation of Blu-ray disks is not sufficient either. They would need to store a 200GB movie; so new 8-layer disks are under discussion, but they are not here yet; so where is the content going to come from?

What are the Physical Limits?

Further up the live TV production chain, the current mainstream cabling and switching infrastructure is HD-SDI. This 1.5Gbps uncompressed standard is for 720p/1080i HD. The alternative is 3G-SDI, which is required for 1080p operating at 3Gbps. The problem is that, while being increasing used in new channel/MCR builds, it is still very expensive and there are limitations in component choice and cable distances.

4K will essentially mean the end of broadcast copper and BNC connectors. Moving to 4K will require at least 12Gbps uncompressed or maybe even more with high frame rates like 14bit, 120fps. This implies all OB vans, studios, production, post and asset management will move to a fully IP/Ethernet ICT infrastructure. This is something that is already happening by early adopters but is far from mainstream today. In fact, many are still to fully make the SD to HD transition. Even with ICT infrastructure, the current practical limit would be 10GbE which is not enough for uncompressed 4K, so some ‘light’ compression would be needed even here. The 40GbE and 100GbE technologies are for aggregation and core networks, not really LANs. This even ignores workflow impact like working with low-res HD proxies in editing and post, but the impact and cost is huge.

The likelihood of commercial success of 4K still divides opinion. Prices of 4K TVs are now in the $7k range, dropping to around $3k by 2014. But predictions for take-up of 4K capable TVs are only for 4% of US market by 2016 and 15% of worldwide market by 2020. Others believe that the market will just wait until 8K, skipping 4K. What is definitely an emerging trend is the integration of the receiver & CA functionality into the smart TV, with the STB likely to disappear in many situations.

Let's Summarize: 4K When and How?
When and how 4K will happen beyond World Cup and Olympic demos is still very debateable. 
What is sure though, is that for 4K TV broadcasting, key considerations like compression (e.g. HEVC) and transmission (e.g. S2 Extensions on satellite and other fiber and terrestrial efficiency improvements) will be key to making it happen.
Outlook 2nd and 3rd Blog Bost: Stay Tuned

In my 2nd part I'll write about

  • "Saving Bandwidth with MPEG HEVC (H.265) "
  • Improved Satellite Efficiency: ‘S2 Extensions’ and
  • "Timescales for Combining ‘S2 Extensions’, HEVC & UHDTV "

And finally in the 3rd one, I'll provide your with "Findings & Recommendations" plus "Practical Strategies for the Future".

So, thanks for reading number 1 of 3 blog posts and stay tuned,




Go to [blog post 2 of 3]: "Improved Satellite Efficiency".

Go to [blog post 3 of 3]: "Recommendations for Adoption of UHDTV, HEVC & S2 Extensions"

Read the [White Paper]: "Migration Strategies S2 Extensions, UHDTV and HEVC"