Published in FierceCable, April 2, 2014
By Josh Wein
Technology vendors are heading to Las Vegas next week to show off new 4K equipment at the NAB show, but it’s not clear who will be buying. Cameras, workflow systems, displays and projectors will all be on display. And companies are hoping that the momentum behind 4K–more Hollywood productions are shooting in 4K, Netflix has promised to begin offering some 4K content this year, 4K TV sets are becoming more affordable, and everyone seems to be testing 4K gear in their labs–continues to build.
But demand for equipment is still in its infancy. Few if any consumers can view 4K at home today and major investment in 4K technology by distributors could still be years off. For now, Hollywood production and post-production shops and movie theaters are the main drivers of demand for 4K equipment.
“It’s in the marketplace,” said Dennis Wharton, executive vice president and chief spokesman of the National Association Broadcasters, which hosts the annual convention Las Vegas. “This is sort of the floor and it will start to become more widely adopted.”
Vendors see opportunity, particularly in online distribution of 4K video. “Pretty much anyone who wants to originate a 4K channel and there’s an audience for it, can,” said Paul Andrews, senior vice president of TelVue, which will be showing a TV-station-in-a-box product that plays 4K video. But there are limits: “I think it’s going to be boutique initially,” Andrews said.
Moreover, with NHK committed to shooting the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in 8K, there’s some concern that 4K is a transitional technology and investment in it could be limited, said Frank Hawkins, of Scalar Media Partners, a consultant to media companies.
JVC, Panasonic, Blackmagic Design, GoPro, and others will be exhibiting 4K equipment this year at NAB, Wharton said. And NHK will demonstrate an 8K broadcast on a TV channel at the NAB Labs Future Park using the latest codec.
Some of the demand for 4K gear has already been met. “Certain post-production facilities that are big enough and have the capital to invest in 4K displays and projectors and the infrastructure for storage, have probably been there for 12 months or so,” said Tom Lithgow, product specialist for Bluefish444, which will be showing several 4K demonstrations at the NAB event. As prices for gear come down, more segments of the industry will adopt it, he said. “We saw the same thing with HD,” Lithgow said. “For the first 2-3 years, people thought that was only for the high flyers. Then people started to realize they needed to create content for their industries as well, and it was implemented everywhere.”
One group that won’t be buying much 4K gear this year is U.S. TV stations. Broadcasters use the ATSC standard, which can’t support the encoding required for 4K broadcasts, said Mark Aitken, vice president of advanced technology for Sinclair Broadcast Group. “If you look at the bandwidth required, it’s not available over the air,” he said. Moreover, no pay-TV distributors are in a position to support it, he said. “It’s a slow process and it’s not going to be unlike the transition from analog to digital,” he said.