The only thing I am 100% sure about in our industry is that things will change. 2017 was certainly a year of change from a content distributor’s perspective — we started the year being asked by our clients who license programming from us for HD, which then changed to all 4K, and then 4K with HDR. Licensors of content like Vivicast have had to be nimble to try and convince our producers to make the same changes. So, I was rather hoping that 2018 would give me and the rest of the industry a bit of a rest and maybe stabilize for a month or three. Alas, that is not the case.
Since I wrote my last piece “Attn Indie Producers,” where I focused on 4K HDR production and why I think that made sense for producers, one major TV manufacturer announced before CES that they were jumping behind an 8K TV. The Olympics this year are going to be shot in 8K and so the questions have started pouring in about 8K and whether producers should be shooting in that rather than 4K HDR. It is a great question, but I am not sure I could advise US producers to jump to 8K when there are far more questions regarding how the content gets distributed via broadcast and cable than there are answers.
I have read over the last several months that many cable companies are not yet fully capable of delivering true 4K over their aging infrastructure, which, aligned with limited 4K set-top boxes in the market, tells me we are probably many years away from 8K being widely available to end user subscribers. Then of course the consumer will need an 8K TV, and at the moment the high price point does not make this type of television something that everyone will have any time soon. Add in the the sheer bandwidth requirements for delivery of content in 8K and it is likely that only satellite (DTH) companies could deliver 8K right now and that is a limited number of companies to sell your hard work to!
In full disclosure, we have represented 8K content here in the U.S. and had some takers, but that content was downgraded to 4K and not delivered in its original format. A couple of TV manufacturers have also asked us for 8K content for them to display, but the catalog for 8K is very thin. Last October at MIPCOM I did hear an executive of a large European DTH company say that they were “all-in on 8K”, but I am not sure as an industry we have all come to grips with 4K yet. 4K HDR is certainly worth the effort as I have said before. HDR takes the 4K picture quality to a whole different level and as a consumer myself, I can honestly say that the difference in picture quality is outstanding and worth the view and you really can tell the difference between 1080 HDR and 4K HDR. Post-production costs for 4K HDR have also come down significantly over the past 6 months, in some cases up to 50% lower, so do take another look if you are still on the fence regarding shooting in 4K HDR due to post costs. You might be pleasantly surprised.
When people talk to me about 16K (and, yes, that is a thing) even my own eyes glaze over. I think we should start to walk before we run. But who knows, as things are changing so fast you might see an article from me in the next edition talking about the emergence of 32K. 😉
Stuart Smitherman serves as President of Vivicast Media, a pioneer in the worldwide distribution of high quality 4K programming and full-time television networks broadcasting 4K entertainment.