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4K didn’t happen in 2014. Will things look different in 2015?

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Here’s the 4K content you’ve been waiting for: Streaming service M-GO announced Wednesday that it is making 70 4K titles available through Samsung TVs, with the goal to have 100 4K movies for rental and sale by the end of 2015. However, many of those titles will be upsampled, meaning that they were originally filmed as HD, and have been digitally processed to a 4K resolution. “It will take a while for content to come in large scale,” admitted M-GO COO Christophe Louvion during a recent briefing.

That’s very different from what you got to hear at CES earlier this year, where it sounded like 4K would be just around the corner and the next big thing that would both get people to buy new TVs and spend more on digital media. 2014 was supposed to be the year of 4K, with services like [company]Netflix[/company], [company]M-GO[/company] and [company]Amazon[/company] Prime Instant leading the way while traditional broadcasters were still trying to figure out how to get movies, shows and sports recorded in ultra-high definition to consumers.

One example: At CES, there was talk that Hollywood would release at least 25 of its big blockbusters in 4K this year. “In reality, it was more like half of it,” said Louvion. One of the problems with 4K is that it’s more expensive to produce and distribute movies in the format, while studios aren’t really convinced yet that they can make that much more money with the format. Louvion called it a chicken-and-egg problem: 4K TV sets have started to arrive in retail shelves, but without compelling content, there are not a lot of good reasons for consumers to upgrade. And without enough 4K TVs out there, it’s not easy to make money with 4K.

The other problem is that 4K is actually pretty hard. Not only do video services have to master bandwidth challenges and broadband caps, but delivering a consistent experience across devices from multiple vendors that may only support subsets of codecs is also challenging, Louvion explained. That’s why M-Go partnered initially just with Samsung to roll out 4K, and why it was important for the company to build its own solution. “We own our own stack, process our own videos,” Louvion said.

House of Cards is one of the few shows in 4K available online.

That makes M-Go one of the few services capable of rolling out 4K. Others include Netflix and Amazon, but even those big players have been slow to gain traction with their 4K offerings. Both companies touted 4K streaming at CES as well, and both are now offering limited catalogs of titles in ultra-high definition. Netflix started to distribute some of its own content, including House of Cards, in 4K, as well as a handful of other titles, including NBC’s The Blacklist. But don’t expect to be able to stream Netflix videos in 4K just because you have a compatible smart TV. The company recently began to charge consumers an extra $3 per month for 4K — which won’t exactly help the nascent format.

Amazon made a point this week of stating that its subscribers won’t have to pay extra for 4K. However, the company hasn’t made a single title available in 4K yet, and is only promising to make some of its own original content available in 4K before the end of the year. Amazon wants to ramp up its 4K catalog in 2015, and so do Netflix and M-Go — but will consumers bite, or is 4K the next 3-D, destined to be ignored by consumers who may think that HD is simply good enough?

There are of course some key differences between 3-D and 4K, and the glasses are just one of them. 3-D demands a different level of immersion from viewers, and requires filmmakers to think about depth in their creations. 4K on the other hand is really just about more pixels — and as such, seems pretty much inevitable, just like we have seen storage and processing power continue to grow.

What’s still missing isn’t just a large enough number of 4K TVs in people’s homes — it’s also a business model that makes sense for ultra-high definition content. The question isn’t if consumers want 4K, it’s how much they’re willing to pay for it. The fate of 4K in 2015 may just hinge on studios and video services finding the right answer to that question.

This article was updated at 8:49am with the correct number of 4K titles available on M-Go at launch. 

14 Responses to “4K didn’t happen in 2014. Will things look different in 2015?”

  1. Travis Johansen

    As a filmmaker and video producer, I just have to comment on one thing that really stood out regarding 3d and how it “requires filmmakers to think about depth in their creations” versus 4k that’s purely more pixels. While depth becomes a much larger challenge, traditional DP’s for film are ALWAYS and always have been dealing with depth in their creation. Every single shot involves thinking about depth if you’re a pro-active filmmaker and storyteller with your work.
    If I want to isolate my actor or subject (be it a person or a product), I might chose a lens that’s super shallow depth of field (making the background and foreground blurry). I might also use a long lens to isolate what’s in the frame.
    Beyond lens choice you’ve got motion at your fingertips as a filmmaker to bring in depth. You might start your camera on the left side of something and slide into the frame (or dolly or track depending on what you want to call it) to reveal some other element of depth to the frame. By shooting “through” something like a foggy windows, tall weeds, or showing the back of someone (out of focus) adds 3d elements to your camera shots whether you use 3d dual lens cameras or not.
    That said – additional resolution isn’t just “clearer” either. Do you remember watching full 1080p on the big screen with news reporters for the first time? Or your first football game? Often people recall seeing the skin pores of talk show hosts and makeup for the first time. Or they noticed the actual turf had texture on the football field even from wide shots. All things that you didn’t really see on lower resolution TV’s. 4k will bring that even more so.
    The real reason I see 4k not being implemented is that we’re still using h264 video compression. Remember when we used .mpeg and quicktime video compression? (some still do). It resulted in much larger files and wasn’t even the same quality as comparable h264 footage. h265 is the next iteration of the video compression and will allow file sizes to stay the same but have 4x the resolution. The issue is that it requires faster processors and is more intensive than h264 because it’s dealing with much higher resolution video footage. Whether you like it or not – it’s coming – and I definitely agree with you there.
    Once they can work out h265 and implement it in cameras, computers, tvs, and video players, 4k will take off.

    Travis Johansen
    Video Producer at Provid Films – Minneapolis MN

  2. I’m getting a 4k tv as soon as I can get a 50in one for around £800. It’s only cost holding me back.

    I’m quite sure blurays will keep me busy while native content is still scarce.

  3. I’m still waiting for high-quality 2k to catch on. Most people don’t have blu-ray players, HD television isn’t 1080p, and even many Xbox One games aren’t. Seems a bit premature to talk about 4k.

  4. There are of course many technical reasons that 4K did not take off this year, but I think one of the simplest economic reasons is exemplified by HBO. Netflix has launched 4K and Amazon Prime will launch it soon. These services are motivated by providing the best cutting edge experience for their customers. HBO, while in many respects similar to these services, is constrained by the existing paid TV providers. HBO is under pressure not to shoot and stream 4K content that Comcast and TWC currently do not support, even if HBO could easily shoot and stream it’s shows in 4K to apps on 4K TVs. The same pressures exist for other cable channels. If HBO and the other premium cable channels were not currently reliant on the cable package for their distribution, I think we would see more of an arms race in 4K content this year spilling into next. As more unbundling occurs, I think we will see a much quicker adoption of other UHD enhancements like color and dynamic range as the major streaming video providers attempt to one up each other in picture quality for the latest televisions. An unbundled streaming world releases video standards from many of the capital constraints that made the move to HD a single costly jump. Past, current, and future TVs can all be sent the appropriate stream that provides the best picture for that individual TV. There is no spectrum scarcity that requires getting rid of the old to usher in the new. Hopefully, the changing economic incentives will further accelerate the advancements in picture quality.

  5. No one should waste their money at this time buying a 4k, UHD, 2160p or whatever they want to call it TV.

    There is no content at the current moment and there is a very good chance that what you buy now will be obsolete when real 2160p products start hitting the street next Christmas.

    Sony still has yet to figure out what it is doing with the Blu Ray format for 4k as there are presently 3 different storage sized discs in discussion with no players expected to hit the market till June of 2015 at the earliest.

    Then you also have Comcast and DirecTV saying that they will only allow VOD services to Samsung 4k displays from their cable boxes with 4k streaming also only coming to Samsung TVs.

    Also all these 4k TV manufactures are really not telling you much about the actual hertz rates that they can take from sources. 30hertz @ 8 bit color on 4k is a very poor quality picture and then at best you will get 60hertz @ 8 bit color max with HDMI 2.0 which really isn’t much better either.

    You really need large 2160p displays of over 70 inches to take advantage of all the increased pixels and then a TV with Display Port 1.2 which offers 10 or more bit color support or better yet Display Port 1.3 which offers up to 16 bit color and twice the bandwidth of HDMI 2.0.

    Save your AV budget money this Xmas or spend it on building out a DTS-HD surround sound system with 7.1 setup or better yet Dolby Atmos 7.1.2 system. The DTS-HD format will be around for a long time and will give you joy today.

  6. Another reason for the slow adaptation is the lack of consumer video recording in 4k. I was looking the other day a 4K camcorder and couldn’t’ find one unless i fork out $2K and above.
    With more and more contents produced at home these days, that itself will be enough to drive the HDTV set demand, if camcorders and cameras were in the mass market price range, say $500-$1500 IMHO.

    • Travis Johansen

      There are a ton of consumer cameras (and cell phones) that now shoot 4k and large screen 4k TV’s under $999. Just look at the Black Friday ad’s for example.


  7. 4k happened, just not in the US. What’s missing is a functional market and since there is no hope for better politicians,that’s that for now.
    But that’s ok, 4k gaming ,porn and piracy will slowly drive the market.

  8. I see no reason to be an early adopter of 4k. Current HDTV is awesome. I’ll wait a few years, 4K sets will be better and substantially less expensive and there will be content.

    It’s pretty tough to justify buying a 4k set now.

  9. There are hundred of thousands of films that were shot in higher than 4k resolution. Standard physical 35mm film can easily surpass 4k resolution. Larger formats such as 70mm and IMAX have many orders of magnitude more detail than 4k.

    • The technology that will make 4K (or Ultra HD) exciting is not the additional lines of resolution. It’s HDR (High Dynamic Range) which gives the viewer much more vibrant colors that they have ever seen before. Good news is that content producers are shooting in 4K and HDR now, but they won’t post-produce the content until there is a big enough demand for it to justify the expense.