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4K Claims Commercial Video Market

Ultra HD format goes beyond consumers and makes way into digital signage, control rooms and other B2B applications.

Aaron Stern
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Most Ultra HD discussions are by default about flat panels, but if 4K projectors can be made in high volumes, they could gain a major foothold — again, likely in the same vertical market applications that 4K displays will first catch on, and already with more traction in the commercial sector than residential. Companies like Sony and Christie offer high-end three-chip 4K projectors, but the addition of single-chip 4K projectors would alter the landscape.

“My view of the world is DLP, and TI (Texas Instruments) hasn’t indicated if they’re looking at a single chip — obviously they’re going to have to,” DeMartin says. Whether that first single-chip projector is DLP- or LCoS-based, DeMartin says it’s only a matter of time. “That would be huge, obviously, if they did that. That would open it right up,” he says. “DLP’s a little ways away, LCoS might come first.”

Weighing the Limitations

Eagle says that the biggest roadblock to 4K is the difficulty in signal transmission. With a bitrate ranging between 3.5 and 20 Gbps, standard HDMI 1.4 is not the ideal cable solution. The newer HDMI 2.0, with 18 Gbps, is the ideal cable solution, with HDBaseT (see sidebar below), at 10.2 Gbps, also being better suited for Ultra HD content transmission. Compression is also an issue. The H.264 codec isn’t sufficient to enable 4K, but the HEVC, H.265 codec is. The new spec, widely employed, would enable widespread adoption of 4K, with 12-15 Mbps at 24-30fps.

“The biggest obstacles to 4K are compatibility issues between brands, cable length limitations, and the lack of known-good solutions. … You need solid sources and displays that live up to the demands of a distributed 4K system to be successful,” adds Silberstein.

Of course, sky-high price points are the most tangible hurdle for potential end users right now. DeMartin says those points will drop as manufacturers continue to send new products to market and consumers come quickly to expect rock-bottom prices, as they do in their flat panels today. In between here and there, though, will be a potentially profitable opportunity for integrators.

“It’s going to be a short window, but I think there will be a window where dealers can grab some extra margin,” he says.

The limited amount of 4K content is also part of what is holding back the advance of Ultra HD. This has been a common concern on the residential consumer side, but one, at least in some applications, does not present the same challenge on the commercial side, notes Silberstein.

“The commercial market has a big advantage compared to the residential market when it comes to 4K: they produce their own content, ranging from X-rays and engineering diagrams to promotional videos,” he says. “Therefore, they can benefit from the new technology enabling 4K Ultra HD right away without waiting for television networks and movie studios to begin distributing content en masse.”

Standard HD content can be scaled to show on 4K displays, but the best results are gained by shooting and creating content in native 4K. Hollywood and other content producers are working hard to create that content, says DeMartin, but even then content protection remains a sticking point.

“That’s all in flux right now, and I’m sure you’ll see shake out a little bit in 2014 from the major studios and also consumer electronics manufacturers,” says DeMartin. “That will have an impact on the commercial side.”

DeMartin was a panelist on the same CI Summit panel on which Sony’s Shackelford gushed about the superior image quality of Ultra HD, and when it was DeMartin’s turn to talk he played a short video of his family’s over-excited puppy shaking its tail so vigorously that the motion shook its whole body. Consumer adoption of Ultra HD is the tail that will wag the commercial market’s dog, DeMartin said.

“HD’s pretty good for a lot of [commercial] applications at this point,” he says.

That tail is only now beginning to twitch but will pick up steam in 2014; commercial 4K will really take off in 2015 and 2016.

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