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4K OLED: the last status symbol before TV obsolescence? By Julien Happich Ultra High Definition also known as 4K (boasting 3840×2160pixels at either 60 or 120 frames per second) was in pretty much every announcement at the NAB Show which took place last month in Las Vegas. The content exists or can be “digitally upgraded”, the displays are ready, but are consumers ready to fork out for a 4K upgrade yet? Even if LCD or OLED TVs grow larger, flatter and thinner, my impression is that cloud-based services and video compression will eventually kill wall-mounted TVs as a concept. In fact, the move to 4K could be seen as a desperate attempt by the TV industry to reverse the global market trend: two consecutive years of decline since the 2011 peak of 255 million units shipped worldwide. “4K is a very important strategy for most brands, but particularly those targeting the high-end TV market,” observed Paul Gagnon, director of global TV research for NPD DisplaySearch. But overall TV shipments fell 3 percent in 2013 (7% in 2012) and even newer LCD TVs declined 1 percent as early as 2012 (CRT and plasma TVs being the hardest hit technologies). But NPD DisplaySearch expects the number of UHD TVs to reach 62 million in 2017. The research firm sees OLED and 4K TVs as growth drivers, it expects curved TVs display shipments to reach nearly 800,000 units in 2014 and to exceed six million units by the end of 2017, boosted by OLED TVs. But the novelty of OLED and curved TVs will wear off too and even the higher selling prices and higher profit margins of such TVs will certainly fail to compensate for the overall market shrink. What probably makes it harder to attract television buyers, especially in saturated markets such as Europe and the USA, is that consumers spend more time on their smartphones and other internet-connected devices, with online content and games at their fingertip wherever they are. Splashing tens of thousands of dollars only to be stuck in a room watching the same mediocre content (with a better resolution I admit) that you could access from any mobile device does not make much sense unless you are after a status symbol. Even as a very wealthy photographer or video maker, you would think twice before spending that sort of money only to lose flexibility. Portable projectors are also moving into the wide-screen space, again with unbeatable portability and projection size. On the bright side for high-end TV makers, China will be the new Eldorado for 4K TVs, with Chinese brands accounting for 84 percent of global 4K TV shipments which totalled 1.6 million units in 2013 according to NPD DisplaySearch. Pricing war is then likely to reduce the high-margin benefit of making such large display units. 4K TV broadcasting ends-up on smartphones Ultra High Definition also known as 4K (boasting twice the horizontal and vertical resolution of the 1080p HDTV format) was a hot topic both for content creators, broadcasters and display manufacturers. Even going beyond 4K, at NAB, Japanese public broadcaster NHK demonstrated over-the-air transmission of 8K content (socalled Super Hi-Vision featuring 7680x4320 pixels) in a single 6 MHz UHF TV channel. In February, the company had announced an 8K sensor that could shoot video at 120 frames per second, it has developed an 8K-capable video camera weighing under 2 kg. For the efficient delivery of heavy Ultra HD content boasting 3840×2160pixels at either 60 or 120 frames per second, you must not only be able to acquire and process video at that sort of resolution and frame rate, but you must also be able to encode and decode it efficiently to enable data streaming. High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) is the name of the game. H.265 / HEVC is said to double the data compression ratio compared to H.264/MPEG-4 AVC for the same level of video quality. It can support 8K UHD and resolutions up to 8192x4320. At NAB, MaxLinear and STMicroelectronics announced a reference design for Ultra HD set-top boxes and gateways, for satellite pay-TV operators. The reference design supports multiple decode, multi-channel personal video recorders (PVR), 16 Electronic Engineering Times Europe May 2014 www.electronics-eetimes.com


EETE MAY 2014
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