Shift to 4K on existing channels will take some time

As hyped as it’s been at this year’s CES, Ultra High Definition 4K television has been a technology searching for a reason to exist. But a panel Thursday agreed that UHD is essential for bringing the cinema experience into the home.

Ted Schilowitz, co-founder and “Leader of the Rebellion” CQ of RED Digital Cinema, said flatly that even full 1080p HD isn’t enough for true home theater. “HD is TV-level pictures,” he said. “If you want to bring cinema into the home, where everybody sits closer to the picture information, HD is not good enough.”

The panel, “Next Gen TV: Building an Ultra HD Ecosystem,” had reps from production and CE makers together discussing the case for 4K and how it fits with other TV trends.

Chris Cookson, president of Sony Pictures Technologies, made the point that while the average viewing distance in the U.S., around eight feet, hasn’t changed, TVs are getting bigger. On an average-sized standard-defintion TV, a pixel was about the smallest thing that could be seen from that distance. A pixel is also about the smallest thing that can be seen from eight feet away on a 46-50-inch HD screen.

“If you put in an 84-inch 4K set, about the same. It’s a matter of having a wider field of view within the same room.”

David Walton, assistant VP, marketing & communications for JVC Professional Products, agreed that 4K is crucial for a true home cinema experience, but argued that most people don’t watch TV that way. “Most people are watching TV at too great a distance to really take advantage of the size sets they have,” said Walton. He also pointed out that broadcasting hasn’t even reached 1080p yet.

Cookson said that while the soon-to-be-final High Efficiency Video Compression codec promises to make 4K broadcasting possible on existing channels, it will likely take a while to reach that quality. He recalled the transition from the old MPEG-2 codec to the AVC codec used on Blu-ray. “It was hard to tell the difference in some of the early Blu-rays that were created, even though the potential existed in AVC, the tools in MPEG-2 were more mature.” He predicted HEVC will initially only be about as efficient as the current AVC standard, but once more tools are built, it will improve.

The panel also addressed the question of whether 4K makes 3D unnecessary. Cookson explained that UHD has a greater appearance of depth than HD because other depth cues, such as particles in the air and the way color changes at a distance, are reproduced more faithfully in UHD. “When we shoot across a valley, people view the footage and say ‘Is that in 3D?’ Because they’re seeing the (depth) cues they’re used to seeing that they’re not seeing in 2K.” Cookson argued that 3D still has a place, though, especially in scenes played close to the camera, where stereo is an important part of natural vision.

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