By Steve Christian, SVP of Marketing, Verimatrix
Amid numerous trials the first commercial ultra HD (UHD) services have been launched this year, stimulated in part by major sporting events such as the EUFA 2016 European Football Championships, Olympic Games in Brazil. Rogers, Swisscom, Etisalat and BT Sport are among operators to have introduced such UHD services over the last 12 months.
At the same time the stage has been set for true UHD services that have been dubbed “second generation” because they will incorporate advanced technologies beyond just the higher 4K 2160 x 3840 pixel screen resolution, notably high dynamic range (HDR) and enlarged color space, as well as high frame rate (HFR) in some cases.
This move is being promoted by one of the key standards bodies, the UHD Alliance, by introducing the “Ultra HD Premium” branding, which signifies TV sets and other CPE equipment as being truly conformant with this second generation version. This specifies mandatory brightness and contrast levels for HDR, as well as 10-bit color depth and BT.2020 color space representation, as well as the 4K resolution.
For operators, broadcasters and indeed the whole UHD ecosystem, Ultra HD Premium looks like a mixed blessing in the immediate term even if it does lay down a more solid foundation for the future. It does define more clearly what a consumer should expect from a UHD experience, but it creates some challenges around capacity and consumer understanding of the branding.
While HDR does not increase bandwidth requirements significantly and does deliver a significant boost to quality even at full HD resolutions, meeting the other specifications will be more taxing on the network. There are also considerable implications for service planning and integration, as well as the matter of acquiring content rights for UHD.
Forensic watermarking has been mandated by Movielabs and will also most likely be required for distribution of premium sports content, since it enables illicit streams to be identified and taken down in near real-time before too much business damage has been done.
Consumer confidence or lack of it could be a major hurdle, given that initial versions of 4K TV sets have been sold with UHD labelling a promise that they will deliver the full quality of experience. This now turns out not to be the case, since such TV sets will not be compatible with all the new Ultra HD Premium specifications or likely to be upgradable.
Yet back in October 2012 the Consumer Electronics Association representing the world’s CPE makers (since renamed the Consumer Technology Association or CTA) defined its minimum standard for 4K video without the new specifications, creating the perception that conforming TV sets would be future proof for such services. Now the CTA is struggling over how to position the new Ultra HD Premium branding and create confidence that this time it really does lay firm ground for immersive TV delivering a big qualitative leap in experience for consumers.
The situation has not been helped by some major subscription VoD providers making cynical marketing moves by introducing services described as UHD when in reality they deliver little in the way of tangible improvement in picture quality over existing networks.
We do think these are teething troubles and that true UHD services have a great future, but these issues need to be addressed now. For our part, we have worked hard to ensure that the more stringent security requirements of UHD will be met, given that the threat level to new premium offerings is raised. There are various contributing factors here, one being the higher value of UHD content which in turn presents a more attractive target for pirates. This is compounded by the greater scope for camcording UHD content because of its higher quality, as well as the threat of recording directly from HDMI cables under certain circumstances. (Download “The Future of Revenue Security for Ultra HD Video” for further insight into these issues.)
The use of forensic watermarking with our VideoMark solution, along with associated technology, such as network forensics through our partnership with Friend MTS and Ultra Security certification program for UHD chipset providers, provides the ability to meet these threats and combat piracy for both on-demand and live UHD services.
This is essential to unleash the extra revenue potential and justify higher subscriptions for UHD content. In effect, we are all in this together trying to create a secure ecosystem that will give rights holders the confidence to make their premium assets available for UHD distribution both over legacy broadcast platforms and the Internet.
Experts from Comcast and the Ultra HD Forum joined me in an exclusive BTR Hangout to debate all these issues and more. Watch the on-demand version here: “4K 4 U: How to Prepare for Ultra HD Video”
Verimatrix specializes in securing and enhancing revenue for multi-network, multi-screen digital TV services around the globe and is recognized as the global number one in revenue security for connected video devices. The award-winning and independently audited Verimatrix Video Content Authority System (VCAS™) family of solutions enable next-generation video service providers to cost-effectively extend their networks and enable new business models. The company has continued its technical innovation by offering the world’s only globally interconnected revenue security platform, Verspective™ Intelligence Center, for automated system optimization and data collection/analytics.
Its unmatched partner ecosystem and close relationship with major studios, broadcasters and standards organizations enables Verimatrix to provide a unique advantage to video business issues beyond content security as operators introduce new services to leverage the proliferation of connected devices. Verimatrix is an ISO 9001:2008 certified company. For more information, please visit www.verimatrix.com, our Pay TV Views blog and follow us @verimatrixinc, Facebook and LinkedIn to join the conversation.