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End-to-end Developments

4K has made a lot of headlines this year, especially on the display side.

Nov 20, 2013 11:41 AM, By Cynthia Wisehart


Ultra HD Guide

Connecting 4K: The Last Link is the Hardest

4K Products

4K has made a lot of headlines this year, especially on the display side. There has been a steady rollout of displays from LG, Planar, Sharp, Sony, ViewSonic, Samsung, Panasonic, Mitsubishi, Sony, Seiki, and now Christie. These displays have been met with near-universal admiration. The ranks of HD haters who greeted the debut of HD with skepticism or disdain have not been matched with 4K counterparts. 4K doesn’t have to fight film artifact nostalgia, it doesn’t come in a brand-new aspect ratio—it doesn’t look aesthetically different from what came before, other than looking much better.

On the content side, NAB saw a noteworthy amount of 4K-production and postproduction gear. Although there is not yet a great deal of consumer 4K content, the will be more. Broadcasters think the World Cup and Olympics will be 4K. And already it’s possible to make custom 4K video and graphic content for 4K signage and collaboration.

Even the distribution aspect is starting to budge with the release of HDMI 2.0, which supports 4K at 60Hz, though with some disappointing compromises. The successor to H.264—HEVC/H.265 was published in June and carries potential for delivering up to 8K at 60Hz.

The 4K infrastructure for professional AV is beginning to emerge. The space between 4K content and 4K display is starting, very gradually, to fill in.


Most of the 4K I’ve seen presented has been coming off a custom PC-based player. Intel’s John Webb says that at the Intel Developer Forum in May, Intel supported the Planar 84in. 4K touch display with a small form-factor desktop that you can hold in one hand—the NUC (Next Unit of Computing kit). The Planar application used the brand-new NUC Haswell (soon-to-be-released as we go to press), which runs off a 15W Haswell CPU. This 4th generation NUC comes with the latest HD Graphics 5000 and Quick Sync video to accelerate encoding, a DisplayPort 1.2 jack with 4K capability, four USB 3.0 ports, an infrared sensor, stereo/mic jacks, and a Gigabit Ethernet controller. There’s no pricing or date yet (the earlier generations are in the $250 range), but bear in mind that you’ll need to add RAM (up to 16GB) and an mSATA drive. “This is a system that you can hold in your palm and still serve 4K,” Webb points out, as part of a larger view that 4K is on a faster track than “you may even realize in the display segment.

“Within our chips, within all our core processors, we are handling 4K, and the range of intermediate resolutions between 1080p and 4K. 4K was everywhere at CES, and it’s not just panels, monitors, and TVs, it’s tablets and PCs—so consumers are used to that visual experience on their devices. They have a natural desire to get that level of pixels, colors, and experiences.”

Nvidia has also put its high-end graphics expertise to work on 4K. For example, in July NanoTech Entertainment announced that it would use the Nvidia Tegra 4 native 4K mobile processor as the basis for its Nuvola 4K Ultra HD players, incorporating 72 custom Nvidia GeForce GPU cores and the quad-core ARM Cortex-A15 CPU.

On the standalone player side, Sony made headlines early this year with its consumer FMP-X1 4K Ultra HD media player, which shipped in mid-July as a content play—preloaded with 10 4K titles and exclusively for use with Sony’s pricy UHD TVs; in September, Sony added an unlimited 4K download service for its TV/FMP-X1 customers.

Last November, Red Digital Cinema announced pre-order of the $1,450 Redray 4K Cinema Player (and began shipping in June). The Redray plays 4K video from an internal 1TB hard drive at 24 to 60 frames per second at 10-bit 4:2:2. It has six HDMI ports, two of which are capable of 4K and four that run up to 1080p (or carry digital audio). The Redray only supports 4K video that’s encoded to the proprietary Red format. The company says Red files can offer both 4K video and 7.1-channel 24-bit 48KHz LPCM audio for just 2.5Mbps, enough for approximately 100 hours of content on the included 1TB drive.

None of these players are not specifically aimed at our market, nor are these big companies particularly accessible to our market. An alternative is a custom PC-based player, which integrators have certainly built. There are also two dedicated high-end 4K players aimed at the pro AV market.

Tokyo- and Santa Clara, Calif.-based Zaxel claims to offer a range of video servers that can output 8K or larger resolutions, 48-bit RGB pixels, and frame rates up to 240Hz for postproduction facilities, museums, planetariums, theaters, and research laboratories—so that does touch our market at the high end. Zaxel has been shipping 4K servers since 2003 and this year the company started shipping a 12-bit 4:4:4 uncompressed 8K server (for the JVC DLA-VS4800 8K demo that was in the NHK booth at NAB).

“Our player is uncompressed and a very high frame rate,” says Zaxel’s Nori Suzuki. “We are the only one with deep color (up to 16-bit) and the first to be able to drive the Christie 120Hz 10-bit 4K projector (the new Mirage). We did the test last month in Christie’s Cypress facility. We can support any projector, videowall, display, or television.”

The Zaxel player lineup includes the 8K, 4K RGB H.264 and 4K RAW H.264 players, and the Zaxtar 5, a 4K 10-bit 60P DPX and TIFF playback server. At NAB 2013, Zaxel demonstrated Zaxtar 5 by driving a Sony VPL-GT100 projector through two DisplayPorts.

The most accessible and familiar-to-our-industry player is the Carbon 4K from Alcorn McBride. Alcorn already supports 4K at 30Hz with the Binloop, says engineer Hunter Olson. “It requires a bit of a process, but it can be done,” he says. The company’s newer Carbon 4K can support 4K at 60Hz (or 30), “which is really where you want 4K to be,” Olson says. The Carbon decodes four H.264 streams in parallel; parallel processing is the norm for 4K (and for 8K—remember those 17 parallel streams in the NHK demonstration). Files are split into four on any PC via Alcorn software and load to the Carbon via four compact flash cards or four Ethernet ports. Olson says the player software makes it feel like a single channel player. “With this kind of data size, you have to use parallel processing. 3G SDI can do 1080p, 6G SDI can still only do 4K at 30 frames.

“The big breakthrough that allowed us to do this was when we could get the synchronous architecture we already had for Binloop at 60 frames.” Into the display it’s quad-link HDMI 1.4 out or four SDI, which suits displays including the Christie 4K projectors, or the new Christie QuadHD84 panel.

“We’ll obviously be looking at HDMI 2.0, but it’s too new to know exactly how we will implement it,” Olson says.

HDMI 2.0

The debut of HDMI 2.0 at IFA was the fruit of a long labor and many were optimistic that it would be what’s needed for 4K. Others are concerned that the spec falls short of delivering enough bandwidth to do 10-/12-bit color and 60 frames simultaneously. And it does not go over 60 frames, which seems shortsighted considering what we’re seeing from projector manufacturers. HDBaseT was announced about the same time. For those who have taken advantage of compatibility between HDMI 1.4 and HDBaseT, it’s worth noting that HDBaseT does not support the 18Gbps bandwidth in HDMI 2.0; it maintains the 10.2Gbps bandwidth of HDMI 1.4. In short, HDMI 2.0 and HDBaseT 2.0 are not fully compatible when it comes to bandwidth for 4K—as confirmed by the HDBaseT Alliance. Transmitting 4K content over 60Hz requires the “full envelope” of 18Gbps bandwidth in HDMI 2.0, but HDBaseT 2.0 does not extend beyond the 10.2Gbps bandwidth found in HDMI 1.4. Since the goal is 4K over 60Hz, which requires the entire 18Gbps envelope, this discrepancy will have implications for longer runs.

At CEDIA Sony announced the world’s first 4K HDMI 2.0 native projector—the VPL-VW600ES—as well as announcing an hardware upgrade path to HDMI 2.0 for its 84in. Bravia 4KTV, and the VPL-VW1000ES 4K projector. Panasonic debuted the world’s first HDMI 2.0-compliant 4K TV at IFA—the Viera WT600.

H.265 HEVC

High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC), the H.265 successor to H.264/MPEG4, was formally published in June. Its name gives away its main objective: efficiency, delivering much smaller file sizes than H.264, hence less bandwidth. But it also proposes to support up to 8K UHD. This is not near-term news for 4K, but it will be relevant, especially as HDMI 2.0 is taken up by more manufacturers, and as 4K encoders and decoders continue to become faster, more power-efficient, and cheaper. In the meantime, a number of manufacturers in the streaming and broadcast spaces have started implementation of HEVC, and there were prototype demonstrations at NAB. For our world—and also at NAB—NHK and Mitsubishi announced that they had jointly developed the first HEVC encoder for 8K Ultra HD TV, which is also called Super Hi-Vision (SHV). The HEVC encoder supports the Main 10 profile at Level 6.1, allowing it to encode 10-bit video with a resolution of 7680×4320 at 60fps. The HEVC encoder has a whopping 17 3G-SDI inputs and uses 17 boards for parallel processing, with each board encoding a row of 7680×256 pixels. The encoder was part of NHK’s 8K demo at NAB.

A Note On Interactivity

With 4K touch now a reality, the obvious question is what about annotation/whiteboard software? Netherlands/U.S.-based OmniTapps, Evernote Skitch (free), Office 2013, and Hitachi StarBoard are places to start.

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