Ultra-high definition (UHD) has set the bar for quality high. Now the pay-TV industry has to clear it. With four times the resolution of traditional HD displays and HDR setting new standards in picture colour depth and contrast, UHD is a big step-up in overall picture quality. Making that leap means having the right technology infrastructure in place.
And with resolution only slightly smaller than a cinema screen, pay-TV operators need to overcome a variety of technical and strategic challenges. However, with consumers ready to pay for more pixels when buying new TV sets, the race to be UHD-ready is on.
In recent years, UHD has become one of the biggest trends in OTT (over-the-top) TV. Amazon, Netflix and other major content providers now shoot original content in UHD and sell ultra-high definition as the jewel in the crown of their premium packages. This strategy relies on attracting sufficient consumer interest in UHD to make their investment pay. But early signs suggest they have made the right move. Recent research indicates that consumers are happy to pay for UHD with 26 per cent of those who have watched 4K TV interested in buying one.
But while they may be ahead of the game, OTT providers still have a few hurdles to clear. Assuming high-quality broadband is available, managing the content distribution network (CDN), especially over a public network, remains an important issue as not all OTT platforms have been designed to handle UHD requirements. One of the challenges with streaming in UHD, besides resolution, is their high frame rates, translating into higher bitrates. Delivering the best experience implies that the streaming platform captures smart data from the apps and devices that render content, with advanced analytics capabilities to detect and address issues in real-time.
For hybrid satellite and cable platforms, UHD is also becoming an important differentiator. The challenges for service providers, such as upgrades to the broadcast infrastructure, also includes the launch of next generation set-top boxes. Yet the perceived value from consumers, as illustrated by OTT TV provider offerings, has reached a point that will make it a must-have feature going forward.
The higher resolution, faster frame rates, extended colours and more detailed picture mean that UHD content today is undoubtedly highly-desirable. With UHD currently the hottest content on the block, it is a prime target for criminals. Since its early days, the pay-TV industry has faced non-stop raids from content pirates. Operators have managed to combat this threat by deploying an effective security solution, with support from content security specialist firms. With UHD, MovieLabs developed the Enhanced Content Protection requirements, the latest recommendations for how the industry can protect its best content. To stay successful, both broadcast and OTT service providers have a vested interest to implement these new recommendations, including leveraging watermarking technologies.
The question is whether providers are ready to give viewers what they want. We are going to need big steps forward in compression but once economies of scale bring down the costs of distribution to the masses, we will be closer than ever to an age of perfect picture quality. Superior television is coming – and it’s in UHD.