Opinion

TV industry needs to educate consumers on 4K: Anthony Smith-Chaigneau of Nagra

Anthony Smith-Chaigneau is Senior Product Marketing Director at Nagra.

Consumers may find themselves with an unnecessary dilemma over which HDR-format TV to purchase and manufacturers need to work hard to educate consumers writes Anthony Smith-Chaigneau, Senior Product Marketing Director at Nagra.

Globally, demand for 4K HD TV sets continues to rise. Buoyed by the prospect of twice as many pixels as standard HD, consumers are now helping 4K TV sales to grow by a forecast 38% in 2017. And it’s not just for TV sets at home. 4K resolution is also proving useful for CCTV and surveillance, drones, tablet screens and even in the medical field with 4K UHD baby scans.

As 4K technology’s popularity continues to grow, so too does the availability of 4K content. From Blu-Ray titles to the latest Netflix series, viewers can enjoy a wider range of 4K content than ever before. Globally, there are more than 60 4K services available on air and over IP.

And some TV vendors are looking even further ahead. Last year, Japan’s public broadcaster NHK launched the world’s first 8K resolution (7,680×4,320) broadcasts. South Korea teamed up with Samsung to develop 11K resolution screens boasting 2,250 pixels per inch. And more recently, Etisalat’s 5G network launch means 4K streaming could soon become much more normal.

Not that consumers should be too worried about their 4K TV set becoming obsolete just yet. With 8K content unlikely to become commonplace for some time (Sony and Panasonic are setting the 2020 Olympics as their target), consumers likely face a similar situation in the early stages of 4K – given the relative scarcity of content, they struggle to justify the purchase of a compatible TV set.

But alongside the ever-mounting pixel count, consumers are now seeing high dynamic range (HDR) form part of the offering from vendors. But it will take some time for HDR to be embraced by consumers – it’s sometimes difficult to fully appreciate these technical features, except for when watching live sports where, for example, half of the screen may be in shadow. Outside the consumer market, however, film studios are now using HDR in post-production. They are able to work on the entire image using the depth of the data captured in the pixels, producing a better experience for consumers once the content is released.

Whether or not consumers can fully appreciate it just yet, content producers are still responding to HDR’s growing presence. Amazon and Netflix are producing HDR titles, for example. Likewise, manufacturers are looking out for the consumer on this front – most TVs sold today implement HDR10, one of the formats required to enjoy 4K HDR on Blu-ray (Netflix and Amazon are using this format, or at least an optimised version of it).

But given HDR10 isn’t the only standard for HDR, consumers may face some confusion on this front. For example, alongside HDR10 is HLG, another HDR format that incorporates backward compatibility. And while most TVs incorporate both of these formats for the sake of the consumer, there are even more HDR formats available. Most are largely used by manufacturers to demonstrate variety when it might otherwise be lacking – to the point where they merely become marketing buzzwords. Consumers may find themselves with an unnecessary dilemma over which HDR-format TV to purchase.

Manufacturers need to work hard on this front to educate consumers on not only their TV’s compatibility but also the formats their favourite content requires. They need to be brought fully up to speed on 4K HDR and its various labels and incarnations. And this needs to happen before innovation accelerates beyond the point that even coherent labelling cannot keep up.

There is a seismic technological shift in the way 4K content is consumed and delivered. And unlike with previous technological advances, where available content lagged behind reception hardware (such as with the initial launch of HD and 3D TV), the rollout of 4K TVs is set to serve as the catalyst on an unprecedented scale. The task for the TV industry, therefore, is to ensure that consumers are sufficiently informed to understand what’s available today, so that they can understand what’s going to be available to them tomorrow.