Amer­ica’s 4K revo­lu­tion is go

Ev­ery­thing’s big­ger in the States, and soon that’ll in­clude the num­ber of pix­els in TV shows. Mean­while, we lag be­hind…

Australian T3 - - CONTENTS -

State­side by Chris Smith

What do we want? 4K TV! When do we want it? In Aus­tralia, some time in the next decade. No rush. In the USA – right now! But we can’t have it.

It’s now been quite a while since The Res­o­lu­tion For­merly Known as Ul­tra HD in­her­ited the “next big thing in telly” tag from 3D. But in­stead of div­ing, naked and un­in­hib­ited, into the warm trop­i­cal ocean of ex­tra pix­els, the TV in­dus­try has been un­com­fort­ably hob­bling along the peb­bly beach, ten­ta­tively dip­ping a toe into the brine be­fore run­ning back to the com­fort of the seafront pub and an­other pint of the usual.

The re­luc­tance is un­der­stand­able. Af­ter the 3D de­ba­cle, broad­cast­ers and ca­ble com­pa­nies are less will­ing to in­vest heav­ily in cre­at­ing and trans­mit­ting ul­tra HD con­tent un­til the TVs out­num­ber Be­ta­max VCRs in liv­ing rooms. And maybe not even then – when was the last time you watched some­thing in 3D on your 3D telly?

Con­sumers, mean­while, aren’t drink­ing the 4Kool Aid un­til there’s sport on Sun­day and movies at night. It’s the old chicken and egg chest­nut, in­nit?

There is a plus side, though – at least the States is miles ahead of Aus­tralia on this one. There’s a slowly im­prov­ing sta­ble of con­tent be­ing shot in 4K by Amer­i­can con­tent pro­duc­ers – Net­flix pro­duces all its orig­i­nal se­ries in the res­o­lu­tion, and Ama­zon re­cently vowed to do the same. The new guard is also step­ping up in terms of de­liv­er­ing all those ex­tra pix­els: Net­flix streams House of Cards sea­son 2 in 4K, with Break­ing Bad to fol­low.

This rep­re­sents the best hope for con­sumers, and for TV man­u­fac­tur­ers des­per­ate to start shift­ing new sets. Satel­lite and ca­ble gi­ants DirecTV and Com­cast are mov­ing for­ward, agree­ing to stream con­tent through Sam­sung TVs, but de­liv­er­ing 4K via tra­di­tional air­waves is more dif­fi­cult; you can’t cram 10lbs of vi­su­als into a 5lb bucket.

Di­rect stream­ing is seen as a bet­ter op­tion be­cause in most cases it doesn’t re­quire a set­top box up­grade, but that also has in­her­ent prob­lems. A 15-20Mbps in­ter­net con­nec­tion is es­sen­tial, and even then, the 40GB movie down­loads to Sony’s US$700 4K re­ceivers have to hap­pen overnight. In this way, the fu­ture looks a lot like the past – re­mem­ber load­ing games on a Com­modore 64, or down­load­ing TV se­ries via tor­rents?

It’s prob­a­ble the ex­tra band­width re­quired will also fur­ther fuel the build­ing con­tro­versy over net neu­tral­ity.

Cost is an­other is­sue. Sony has 80 4K films ready for view­ing, but is ask­ing US$30 for each. Sam­sung ships USB drives with its curved UHD tele­vi­sions, loaded with five movies and three doc­u­men­taries, just so buy­ers have some­thing to watch. But Sam­sung’s curved UHD tel­lies cost the same as a small car, and both com­pa­nies are en­sur­ing all this lovely 4K con­tent is re­stricted to their tel­lies only.

So the USA’s 4K li­brary is grow­ing. Slowly. But as with HD, it’ll take sports broad­cast­ers like CBS, ESPN, Fox and NBC to take the plunge be­fore the tech dads – tra­di­tion­ally the na­tion’s chief pur­chase mak­ers – start rush­ing to the shops.

In my view, 4K’s floun­der­ing is pay­back for the rush for cash with 3D. That worked for Hol­ly­wood, but not for broad­cast­ers or TV mak­ers, who paid dearly for div­ing in with­out ask­ing us whether we wanted it. As a re­sult, it’ll prob­a­bly take years for 4K to gain a main­stream foothold – a damn shame.

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