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4K TV signals a changing world for broadcasters

4K TV signals a changing world for broadcasters

As technology advances, the associated learning curve gets steeper and more abrupt. If you don’t believe us, check out this photo history of cell phones: notice how the last 10 years brought more innovation than the previous 20?

In television, the next curve ahead is 4K.

4K television, also called ultra-high definition, is the biggest and best picture available. The 4K means the TV has four times the resolution of the former high definition standard, 1080p; to put it another way, all of the pixels from your current HD TV could fit into a quarter of a 4K screen. D&M Sound owner Anne Moore said the picture is “like looking through a window.”

“The result is stunning,” Moore said. “Almost everyone who sees it does a double take and voices a ‘wow’ as they watch.”

In the first quarter of 2015, 4K TV made up 9 percent of all TV shipments, but shipments also grew by 400 percent while the rest of the TV industry was stagnant (even slightly down). 4K grew even more among bigger screen sizes, which of course make the picture even prettier and the technology more impressive.

“Our customers tend to be trendsetters,” Moore said. “Locally, our best selling TVs are all 4K.”

The technology here is so advanced that it’s outpacing content providers. Currently, most TV shows film in HD. A 4K set then converts the HD signal to something close to ultra-high definition, but it’s like having a Ferrari in slow traffic: the machine isn’t showing off its full potential.

Digital streaming providers have been the first to rollout 4K content: Netflix is introducing a handful of new shoes and movies that are 4K compatible. DirecTV streams 4K movies, and 4K Blu-ray players could be ready for their spot beneath your Christmas tree in 2015.

No cable providers offer 4K content yet, although Moore says that a new, 4K compatible broadcast standard is coming soon. But even with the technology, local providers like KOMU 8 feel strung between the past and the future.

“Obviously, the switch from analog to digital took some change too,” said Chris Swisher, chief engineer at the station. “When we first put HD on here at KOMU, there were only a handful of people that could even see that signal.”

In that transition, the FCC provided KOMU 8 with a separate channel, so it could broadcast in both analog and digital. But for a switch to 4K, the change will be abrupt.

“There are a lot of options available for us in 4K technology, but the FCC isn’t going to provide a second channel. There isn’t a big enough spectrum to do it,” Swisher said. “So it would have to be a flash cut, and economically, that has a lot of question marks around it.”

If KOMU 8 started broadcasting in 4K, then anyone without 4K would be left in the dark. So, the network is maintaining the current high definition status quo until 4K dominates the market; then the network could begin broadcasting to that market without fear of shedding a fatal number of viewers.

But, without missing out on 4K content, would enough viewers make the switch? In a quick poll of department heads around his office, Swisher found that he was the only owner of a 4K TV.

“It comes down to a content thing,” said Matt Garrett, director of audience development at KOMU 8. “Is it going to be the chicken or the egg? Is content going to drive technology, or is technology going to drive content?”

For now, the network’s plan is tentative experimentation: acquire the technology, play with it, shop it to their audience and see where it will fit in the future. But the HD “flash cut” still only exists somewhere in the hypothetical future. Swisher was quick to point out that 3D was supposed to be the next hot technology in the field, but it fizzled. Still, he’s more receptive to 4K.

“I anticipate this will be a golf ball that rolls down the hill and becomes a fast-moving, good sized snowball,” Swisher said. “But right now, we’re still at the top of the hill with the golf ball.”


Photos courtesy of Anne Moore.


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