Are You Ready for 4K and ATSC 3.0?

If you’re not, don’t sweat it. 4K isn’t ready for 4K, and ATSC 3.0 isn’t either. Spoiler Alert: 4K TV RF/IP rests on a number of emerging technologies, so this blog is a longer than normal.

Your Eyes Aren’t 4K

4K Not

The problem is, your eyes can’t discern 4K from normal viewing distances. You’d have to be less than 10’ from your 75” 4K TV to begin to see the difference, and the optimal distance would 5’. Way too close for comfort. In addition, 4K TVs vary as to how good the TV renders your existing 1080p content –which is most of the content you’ll find over the next few years. Many displays get very dim and somewhat choppy when you activate 120 Hz and higher refresh rates – it’s a lot of video to process – many reviewers suggest turning the feature off. So the question is, do we need 4K if we can’t perceive it?

What may have more impact is the better dynamic range of active dimming for backlight LEDs – and especially OLED TV, the real game-changer in visual quality.

HDR High Dynamic Range may have a greater visual impact than 4K video.  However, there are two competing standards – Dolby Vision and the free HDR10 standard. Some brands, recently Vizio, include both. If the TV doesn’t say DolbyVision – it’s likely HDR10. While both are based on the same SMPTE standard, DolbyVision is a more closed loop (video must be originated in DolbyVision), must be factory installed, and is more intimate with your TV settings. HDR10 can be downloaded to your TV at a later date. HDR10 is also the Ultra HD Blu-Ray standard.

By the way, if you’re a videophile and had your TV professionally calibrated – DolbyVision will override those settings. Broadcast engineers note that humans have a color memory of about 23 minutes – meaning that the visual wow you see at the start will fade over time.

So is 4K basically the same hype as 3D? Some would say Yes! Forbes agrees!

What is the status for 4K Encoding?

The promise of HEVC is to double the efficiency of MPEG4, with 50% smaller bitrates, and 4K streams at the same 9-8 Mbps bitrate as 1080p MPEG4.

The dirty little secret is that right now HEVC is only 20% more efficient than MPEG4, so the streams are too large for streaming vendors such as Netflix, Apple, Hulu and others.

In addition, the MPEG creators want a cut of all subscription streaming profits. Streaming vendors are fighting back. Amazon, ARM, Cisco, Google, Intel, Microsoft, Mozilla, NVIDIA and Netflix have founded the Alliance for Open Media, working to create an open source, royalty-free codec ultra-high video content. The new codec, AOMedia AV1 is expected to be released in March, 2017. The new codec could be 25-50% more efficient than HEVC and Google VP9. If the new codec performs as specified, it could mark the end of royalty-based codecs like HEVC. 

What’s up with ATSC 3.0?

The official short answer as to when ATSC 3.0 will become commonplace is, “How long is a ball of string?” The ATSC 3.0 concept was tied to the government selling off huge sections of broadcast channels, forcing stations to share channels. The payback was that the channel auction will pay broadcasters for the cost of the 3.0 transition. After several failed auctions – the buyers weren’t interested in meeting the reserve price – the final auction sold only 84 MHz of bandwidth – channels 38-50. 

What’s not clear at this point is if this is enough to trigger a major transition. Stations aren’t all that excited, as there is no guarantee that the change to 3.0 will be profitable. And the change is not mandatory as it was back in 2009. 

What ATSC 3.0 represents is that channels would be broadcast over CODFM instead of ATSC – similar to DVB European channels with better performance of mobile TV. The content would be IP based – a variety of streams and formats instead of one MPEG transport stream. As with IP, there could be several different codecs, including HTML5, HEVC, the upcoming AOMedia AV1, or others. The tuner would be radically different than ATSC 1.0 tuners, and may have an IP server as well as HDMI. 

The picture for ATSC 3.0 will become clearer towards the end of 2017, as standards and broadcasting technology evolve. Users will continue to watch the same programming as local channels via satellite, cable, and IPTV receivers, so it’s not clear if they would pay more to see the same content from the local channel. ATSC 1.0 will stay either way. Stations that convert to ATSC 3.0 must still simulcast in ATSC 1.0. At present, all US tuners and TVs are based on ATSC 1.0, which is still the standard.

What’s the Impact for CR Encoders and Tuners?

Not much will change for our tuners and encoders. As noted above, off-air channels must broadcast in ATSC 1.0 – as the transition is not mandatory and most TVs and tuners use ATSC 1.0. In-house QAM channels stay the same for encoding and tuning. 

MPEG2 and MPEG4 will continue to be the standard for IPTV streaming for both corporate and consumer applications, and adoption of a new standard will be very slow.

Over time, when new broadcasting standards and codecs are established, our encoders and tuners will adopt new standards as well.