Lorenzo Zanni, Lead Analyst, IABM
IABM conducts an End-user survey twice a year – at NAB Show and IBC. In our 2017 editions of these surveys, we asked respondents what their likely timeline was for the launch of UHD offerings. The picture remains conservative; many commentators in the past expected UHD to gain traction more quickly.
With 72% of the NAB Show survey respondents based in the USA and 46% of the IBC respondents based in Western Europe, we might expect to see distinctly different responses, but in fact the results were quite similar for both, as is shown in the two charts below:
The most notable difference is the shorter timescale in Europe of those proposing to launch UHD services, with 37% proposing to launch in the next 1-3 years as opposed to North America with 22% in the same period. In both cases, over 30% of respondents have no plan at all to launch UHD services.
We have also analysed UHD Forum data (April 2017) and this showed that most UHD deployments are in Europe (45%), followed by Asia-Pacific (31%) and North America (20%) – LatAM and MEA have 4%, 2% respectively. In terms of transmission, most offerings in Europe and Asia-Pacific are IPTV, while in North America OTT prevails.
UHD at present remains principally a premium differentiator for Pay-TV broadcasters looking to attract new subscribers to a not-yet mainstream delivery format. For the new generation of media organizations such as Netflix and Amazon, UHD distribution is, however, growing significantly. This is perhaps not surprising given that TV dramas (and movies) are increasingly shot and posted in 4K, and delivering in UHD over the internet does not have the same challenges as over the air.
UHD at present remains principally a premium differentiator for Pay-TV broadcasters looking to attract new subscribers to a not-yet mainstream delivery format - IABM End-user survey: UHD Click To Tweet
The problem with UHD for mainstream broadcasters is twofold – increased infrastructure and distribution costs set against no clear extra revenue potential by selling advertising inventory (or the prospect of hiking licence fees for public broadcasters) in UHD. From a geographical perspective, it is mostly broadcasters in developed Asian countries such as Japan and South Korea that are investing heavily in UHD – this is to allow UHD delivery at the Winter and Summer Games in Pyeongchang (2018) and Tokyo (2020) respectively.
From a consumer perspective, the cost differential between HD and 4K TV sets is narrowing rapidly, and it is predicted that in both the USA and Western Europe, UHD sets will have penetrated close to 50% of households by 2020. It is not clear, however, that it’s the increased number of pixels of UHD is the attraction – rather the better pixels delivered by the HDR component – reflected in the answers to the next question we asked in our UHD survey.
From a consumer perspective, the cost differential between HD and 4K TV sets is narrowing rapidly, and it is predicted that in both the USA and Western Europe, UHD sets will have penetrated close to 50% of households by 2020 - IABM… Click To Tweet
HD + Enhancements is a clear leader at 55%, UHD is at 42% with UHD + Enhancements at 43%. Only 4% of end- users were interested in 8K – 6% responded ‘none of the above’. These results show that end-users are more interested in combining enhancements such as HDR and HFR with HD rather than with UHD. Also, they are less interested in investing in UHD only. This shows that ‘better pixels’ may be more important than ‘more pixels’ for them. We also asked end-users what enhancements they are interested in or have launched. The results are shown in the chart below:
A very high percentage of respondents chose HDR (88%), which corresponds with the results above with end-users interested in HD/UHD+ enhancements. WCG and HFR seem to be less popular with end-users, at 18% and 12% respectively.
The transition to UHD delivery presents many challenges from a technical perspective. When transitioning to HD operations, broadcasters had to upgrade their infrastructures to 1.5/3Gbps to make transfer and delivery of HD content within and outside of their organizations possible. With the arrival of UHD content, end-users need 12G of bandwidth to allow for transfer and delivery of the higher resolution format. Therefore, if they are to move their operations to UHD, they need to make substantial investments to replace their existing infrastructures and ‘fill the data rate gap’.
There are different options available to them:
- Upgrading their infrastructure to 12Gbps SDI
- Upgrading their infrastructure to Quad 3Gbps SDI
- Transitioning to a Hybrid SDI-IP environment
- Transitioning to an IP-centric environment
Broadcasters could upgrade their operations to 12G although 12G equipment and applications still carry a significant cost premium compared to 1.5/3G alternatives. Quad 3G implementations entail the splitting of UHD signals over four coax cables and are not considered an ideal approach by the majority of technical experts. However, both 12G and Quad 3G implementations are preferred by some due to their benefit of backwards compatibility with current SDI workflows.
Alternatively, broadcasters could move to a Hybrid IP-SDI or IP-centric environment where video signals are transmitted over Ethernet cables. This would be ideal from a technical perspective although the move to IP-based infrastructures is hindered by many constraints such as the cost premium over SDI installations, backwards compatibility with current SDI workflows as well as interoperability and security concerns.
This survey shows that UHD is a less important priority than multi-platform delivery and anecdotal feedback suggests that production and delivery of content in 4K/UHD has not even crossed the minds of many broadcasters. This is important to know for suppliers faced with the decision of financing UHD product developments at the possible expense of others.
UHD is a less important priority than multi-platform delivery and anecdotal feedback suggests that production and delivery of content in 4K/UHD has not even crossed the minds of many broadcasters. - IABM End-user survey: UHD Click To Tweet
The chart below shows the results for this question for only respondents with technical roles within their organizations.
Despite considering only technical respondents, 41% still do not know which technology infrastructure they plan to deploy for UHD content – this is flat compared to the previous survey. This is indicative of the difficult decision facing broadcasters that plan to transition to UHD. The most preferred approaches are IP (32%) and Hybrid SDI-IP (20%). 12G SDI has remained constant at around 7% and Quad 3G SDI has gone from 4% to 0%.
These results show that a significant portion of end- users remain unsure about the approach to adopt to deploy UHD. However, respondents that do have an idea about the optimal approach to UHD deployment strongly prefer Hybrid SDI-IP or IP installations over SDI-centric alternatives – 52% do so Vs 47% in our previous survey. These results confirm that the transition to IP infrastructures may facilitate the adoption of UHD technologies.
Respondents that do have an idea about the optimal approach to UHD deployment strongly prefer Hybrid SDI-IP or IP installations over SDI-centric alternatives - IABM End-user survey: UHD Click To Tweet
Considered by some to be the ideal compression standard for delivery of UHD content, HEVC brings the benefit of 50% efficiency gains compared to MPEG-4 but its adoption by broadcasters is still hindered by cost considerations, licensing issues and technical complexities. Broadcasters that want to move to HEVC delivery would also have to fully upgrade their existing delivery networks, including viewers’ set-top boxes. We asked respondents to this survey which media delivery compression standard they plan to deploy for UHD content. The results are:
Most research participants chose HEVC as their favourite compression standard for UHD delivery, 39% up from the 29% reported in the last survey. The percentage of respondents who answered “don’t know” has decreased significantly from 47% to 31%. These results – which account only for responses by technical professionals – show that the efficiency gains of HEVC are necessary to deliver UHD.
The chart below shows percentage usage of major compression standards for media delivery:
As mentioned earlier, HEVC adoption has been slow despite the higher level of efficiency guaranteed by this standard. 32% of respondents said that HEVC usage in their organizations is “low” or “very low” with 26% saying that they do not use the standard. Only 18% said that their usage of HEVC is “high” or “very high”. As opposed to this, 67% of end-users said that MPEG-4 usage within their organizations is “high” or “very high”.
HEVC adoption has been slow despite the higher level of efficiency guaranteed by this standard. 32% of respondents said that HEVC usage in their organizations is “low” or “very low” with 26% saying that they do not use the standard - IABM… Click To Tweet