Cable Show: CableLabs Kicks Tires on Ultra HD

Industry's R&D consortium also demos next-generation cable modem tech running at up to 6 Gbps

Phil McKinney Headshots

WASHINGTON — CableLabs has launched a project to shoot its own 4K Ultra HD video — which has four times the resolution of today’s 1080p HD — to understand how cable operators will distribute content in the high-bandwidth format if or when Ultra HD TVs take off.

“All indicators are that 4K will be coming to video-on-demand first,” said CableLabs president and CEO Phil McKinney (pictured above).

The Louisville, Colo.-based R&D consortium, which is owned by cable operators, has bought a Red Epic 4K camera as part of its Ultra HD lab.

At the Cable Show, CableLabs showed 4K content playing on a Sony Ultra HD television. One segment was encoded in MPEG-4 at a variable bit rate of between 60 and 120 megabits per second, and another was in HEVC at 20 Mbps.

In addition, CableLabs is staging two broadband demos, one showing up to 6 gigabit per second download speeds—delivered over coaxial cable. The industry has maintained that it doesn’t need an expensive fiber-to-the-home buildout, like the networks Google Fiber is deploying, to deliver very high Internet connections.

However, to achieve the speeds, the cable modems would consume the bulk of the spectrum on a typical cable system.

In the first demo, a cable modem based on the current DOCSIS 3.0 spec is delivering 4.6 gigabits per second over 768 MHz. The other demo uses the still-in-development DOCSIS 3.1 specification, with silicon from Broadcom, to deliver 6 Gbps in 750 MHz.

“This is dispelling the question, ‘Is DOCSIS 3.1 real?’” said McKinney, formerly CTO of HP’s Personal Systems division who joined CableLabs last year.

Chipsets for DOCSIS 3.1 are expected in early 2014, with products ready for cable operators to roll out starting in 2015, according to CableLabs.