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September 17, 2014 17:11 dmercer

An article in today’s TV Technology describes The Weather Channel’s (TWC) plans “to fully convert to 4K content acquisition, production and distribution by 2018”. Apart from a few highlights channels launched to support early 4K services in Asia, this is the first confirmation in the US or Europe that a major network plans to commit to the 4K/Ultra HD future. Indeed, its plans for 10-bit colour and 60fps confirm that fully-fledged Ultra HD is on broadcasters’ roadmaps.

As an aside, it scarcely seems possible that it was only seven years ago that I also noted Weather Channel’s plans to convert to HD, when the SD-HD transition was a “cost of doing business”. We are probably a bit too early in the Ultra HD process to use the same description today, but it will surely come sooner or later, even if TWC are now ahead of that curve.

TWC’s investments may come a surprise to some of those who attended the IBC Show 2014, where caution about content owners’ and broadcasters’ 4K plans was in evidence. Naturally enough, perhaps, given the inevitable increased costs associated with these upgrades across the video ecosystem. Networks, broadcasters and service providers are all nervous about the usual “where’s the money?” question and few want to risk a nasty sting from arrows in first movers’ backs.

So credit to The Weather Channel for going public on its commitment. OK, so 2018 is not exactly around the corner, but this was never going to be an overnight transition – indeed “transition” is probably not the best word, implying that all video will one day be shown in 4K. Even today, more than 20 years after HD broadcasts began in Japan, SD is still prevalent worldwide. We are at the beginning of a long process likely to be measured in decades rather than years.

David Mercer

 


September 4, 2014 22:12 dwatkins

The IFA consumer technology show is not usually used as a platform for new TV set announcements as most brands reveal their line ups at the beginning of the year at CES. That said IFA’s press conferences did throw up a few noteworthy announcements around UHD TV and of course ‘the curve’!

Samsung has extended its line-up of curved TVs over the last few months to 17 models ranging in size from 48 to 75-inches and at IFA today the company announced the launch of a 105-inch UHD version with 11 million pixels, 21:9 aspect ratio and five times the resolution of Full HD. Samsung also announced the launch of the world’s first curved soundbars designed to accompany its 55 and 65-inch curved sets. The HW-H7500 soundbar is expected to be priced at $799.99. Samsung also showed off a bendable curved 105” UHD TV at its press conference which is set to become available in Europe later this year. The set allows a consumer to control the curvature of the screen at the touch of a button. (Samsung had shown an 85-inch bendable TV prototype at CES earlier this year).

Sony meanwhile has used IFA to give us a first look at its curved UHD debut – the 65 and 75” S9005B series. The curvature of the sets is much more subtle than that employed by Samsung and others, while the rounded edges of the bezel, which house the speakers,  give the sets a stylish look.

TP Vision (under its Philips brand) is placing a big focus on TV at this year’s IFA and has also joined the curved set party by announcing the 8900 55-inch, Android powered (4.2.2 Jelly Bean) curved UHD display. The set incorporates Philips’ Ambilight technology on 3 sides while recent upgrades to Ambilight means fast moving scenes are free from motion blur. Pricing was not available but the set is expected to be in stores in Europe later this month.

In UHD TV news, Samsung announced a new partnership with 20th Century Fox to securely distribute UHD content using SCSA (Secure Content Storage Association) content security standards. The company also confirmed plans to launch Amazon’s UHD VOD service in October along with confirming European deals with other major UHD content partners Netflix, Maxdome, Wuaki.tv and CHILI.

TCL is using IFA to present its new 55-inch UHD TV using Quantum Dot (QD) technology for a fuller colour representation while Panasonic and Toshiba will also be exhibiting new UHD TV ranges at IFA and I’ll be checking them out tomorrow.

 

David Watkins


July 25, 2014 15:42 esmith

This is the year that 4K Ultra HD (UHD) TV sales are set to dramatically rise from the embryonic status it has occupied for the last two years. Sales figures in 2014 are in line with our forecast from a few months ago. Now, trade groups and TV vendors are getting more serious about how to define and promote UHD TV.

Both the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) and the Steering Board of the DVB Project released guidelines to define UHD TV in the past month, as compared below:

 

CEA UHD TV

DVB UHDTV Phase 1

 

Resolution

3840 x 2160

3840 x 2160

 

Aspect Ratio

16:9

16:9

 

Upconversion

from 1080p to 2160p

 

 

Frame Rate

24p/30p/60p

24p/30p/50p/60p

 

HDCP

v2.2

 

 

Colorimetry

ITU-R Recommendation BT.709

ITU-R Recommendation BT.709

 

Color Bit Depth

≥8

≤10

 

Compression

HEVC

HEVC

 

Both organizations essentially punted on the issue of “better pixels” as the European Broadcast Union (EBU) noted in a recent policy statement. It’s important to note that the EBU is looking to set a robust broadcast standard before any non-test broadcasts have taken place on the continent. Furthermore, there are no TV sets currently being sold which could meet these ambitious goals. Meanwhile, trade groups like the CEA and DVB are concerned with keeping the standards broad enough to sell TVs, build a healthy installed base, and incrementally bring innovation to the market while reaping profit from their massive investments. UHD TV standards will necessarily lag behind real world innovation as a result, and consumer confusion is likely to reign as we consider what else is possible for UHD TV:

  • Frame rates of beyond 60 per second to enable smoother pictures for fast motion scenes such as sports
  • Wide color gamuts to display colors more closely associated with what we see in the real world
  • Extended dynamic range to simultaneously display plasma-quality blackness in one part of an image and bright white in another

 

Pixel count is an easily marketable number and UHD panel prices have plummeted, allowing for UHD displays to narrow the price gap with their 1080p cousins. From the discussions we have had with major TV vendors, however, they are eager to differentiate their products by touting better pixels.

Case in point, Sony’s July Holiday Showcase in New York last week. Aside from the odd symbolism of a Sony event held inside the “Haier Building,” I noticed more attention from Sony spokespeople on the merits of UHD TV beyond just the pixel count: Triluminous displays that can reproduce colors like “Denver Broncos Blue” or “California Highway Sign Green”; dual control of backlighting and shutters (X-tended Dynamic Range PRO) that allow for a brightness range of up to 3x that of a standard LCD TV; HEVC compression shipping standard on all models to support UHD OTT streams; and, UHD upscaling from 1080p content to address the content gap from linear and physical content inputs.

Their flagship XBR-X950B 65” UHD TV (pictured above) includes all of those features listed above as long as you have $7,999 to spend. That hefty price tag, though considerably lower than six months ago for a similar quality set, is probably why trade organizations are content with defining the basics of UHD rather than pushing for higher pixel quality.

Perhaps when pixel quality is addressed, we will begin to see TV vendors prominently exhibit side-by-side UHD/1080p comparisons and it will be up to consumers to understand the various parameters of UHD TV. Until then, bringing UHD TV prices as close to 1080p TV prices will be the main goal in introducing UHD TV to more mainstream consumers.


July 24, 2014 13:32 esmith

NVIDIA continues to extend its gaming reach with the launch of the gaming-focused SHIELD Tablet, the latest in a long line of embellishments to its position as a leading supplier of GPUs and SoCs to PCs, laptops, smartphones, mobile games consoles, and tablets. The SHIELD Tablet itself is well specified for its base price point of $299 and with it, NVIDIA seeks to expand a niche segment of gaming tablets much along the lines of the matured PC market. Further insight and analysis on this topic can be found in our published report here: NVIDIA Plays to Gamers with 8-in SHIELD Tablet.


July 8, 2014 10:25 dwatkins

Google’s widely anticipated Android TV software platform was unveiled at its annual developer’s conference in San Francisco last month, marking the technology giant’s third shot at taking control of the living room TV experience. While early impressions are positive particularly surrounding its gaming and cross device capabilities, for Android TV to become a universally adopted TV platform then Google will come back up against the challenge of securing premium Pay TV and Multichannel TV content for the platform. Google, as well as Intel and Apple know from bitter experience that those deals are far from straightforward. Further insight and analysis on this topic can be found for subscribers in our published report here: Google Brings Android to the TV


June 13, 2014 16:57 MGoodman

Joining a crowded streaming music scene that already contains Rhapsody, Pandora, Spotify, Apple and Samsung, Amazon unveiled Amazon Prime Music in the US. Prime Music provides access to more than one million songs to all Amazon Prime members, at no extra cost.

 

Key Prime Music features include:

 

·         Access to over a million songs delivered ad-free

·         Hundreds of expert-programmed Prime Playlists

·         Prime members can download music to their phone or tablet to listen offline

·         Amazon will use previous purchase behavior to recommend songs to customers

According to Amazon, Prime members in the U.S. can start listening to Prime Music immediately at www.primemusic.com. Kindle Fire HD/HDX devices will get Prime Music in an automatic, over-the-air update while mobile phone users can download the latest Amazon Music app from the Android and iTunes appstores.

 

Prime Music does, however, have a few warts. Specifically, it has fewer songs than services like Spotify or Rhapsody, and at least at the moment due to a disagreement over royalty payment, has no deal with top-ranked Universal Music Group. That means that popular stars such as Katy Perry, Taylor Swift and Jay-Z are not available on Prime Music.

 

This move is indicative of the rise in popularity of streaming and the decline of digital downloads. According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), U.S. sales of downloaded songs slipped 1% last year to $2.8 billion while streaming music revenue grew 39% to $1.4 billion.

 

Amazon is developing a very robust on-demand service, spanning multiple media formats that offer much more than the competition. For a $99 annual subscription fee, Prime members have access to:

 

·         Free two-day shipping on eligible items to addresses in the contiguous U.S.

·         Unlimited streaming of movies and TV episodes, including five new kids and five new comedy/drama pilots for members in the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

·         Unlimited, ad-free access to Prime Playlists and more than a million songs for members in the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

·         The ability to borrow from over 500,000 from the Kindle Owners' Lending Library.

·         Early access for members in the U.S. to download a new book for free every month from the Kindle First picks.

·         Access to Prime Pantry, where members can purchase and ship to addresses in the contiguous U.S. low priced grocery, household and pet care items for a flat delivery fee of $5.99 for each Prime Pantry box.

Making Prime more attractive to Amazon users is in Amazon’s best interests. According to Morningstar, “Prime members spend “approximately twice as much" as their non-Prime counterparts each year, shop more frequently and buy pricier items.”

 

In addition, Amazon offers the Kindle Fire HD/HDX tablet and Kindle Fire streaming media player. The only thing missing from their device portfolio is a phone? Wait, doesn’t Amazon have a big press event scheduled for June 18th……..?


June 12, 2014 20:42 esmith

Though I had a lot of interesting discussions and briefings at E3 (to be covered in a separate written insight soon), and had the opportunity to play some very beautiful and innovative console games to be released in the months to come, I wanted to briefly touch on VR at the show.

I had the chance to demo Hot Shot on Oculus Rift, now owned by Facebook. It was a very simple game with a simple mission: Walk down a hall while dodging bullets, pick up a gun, and shoot your enemies. The graphics were nothing spectacular. The room was black and white with red bullet trails and enemies. Despite this very simple display, the experience was so immersive and captivating that I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. It was also a very disorienting experience, especially noticeable walking around after the five-minute demo I got. There were several other games available for play and it should be noted that Oculus does need to connect to a PC for processing power.

Across the show floor, I was able to try out Sony’s Project Morpheus, connected to a PlayStation 4. I played Street Luge and The Deep, which both had very similar immersive qualities, but I must say that The Deep was truly amazing. Even though I knew I was playing a game of sea exploration in a shark cage, I felt a physiological fear response that I don’t think is possible on a traditional gaming platform. I was shooting my flare gun at the shark for fun while it swam around me, but once it ripped the door off the cage, I found myself standing very still, not shooting, and really hoping the shark would just swim away.

Developers with whom I spoke seemed very excited about having the opportunity to be trail blazers on this new platform as opposed to writing the next iteration of a first-person shooter. The VR developer is free to nearly remove the controller from the equation and really focus on the player’s point-of-view as the main control within the game. The head-tracking abilities of both systems are key to the immersive experience, and Project Morpheus builds on that by tracking the movements of the DualShock4 and Move controllers.

Needless to say, VR is not going to enjoy significant consumer success in the next 12 to 18 months. Price will be a massive hurdle for any device vendor to clear in the consumer market. A stable of content or at least a few must-play games on the platform will also be crucial in attracting interest. I get the impression that developers are still experimenting with what relevant applications VR can have in gaming as opposed to just throwing any type of game into a VR headset and expecting it to be fun or functional in this new medium. Finally, solutions for movies, training, and health are just a few examples of the wide reach that VR could play outside the gaming world once the technology is further refined.

Virtual Boy, this is not.

- Eric Smith


June 12, 2014 14:12 esmith

The Nintendo Digital event was filled with games, colors, and fun. In a way, it was everything one would expect from a Nintendo E3 broadcast, but that doesn’t mean that there weren’t gasps from the audience as some fan favorites were revealed.

“There’s nothing wrong with having a little fun.” – Reggie Fils-Aime, NOA President and COO

Through the campy presentation, Nintendo announced a heavy release schedule of exclusive games that they hope will carry the momentum of Mario Kart 8 sales through the holiday season. Some of the big exclusive titles for 2014 release included:

 

  • Super Smash Bros. coming to 3DS in October 2014 and a broader holiday 2014 release data for Wii U
  • Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, an action puzzler, has a holiday 2014 release window for Wii U
  • Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire will release on 3DS in November 2014
  • Bayonetta 2 will come to Wii U in October 2014 and will come bundled with the original Bayonetta, which previously only released on Xbox 360 and PS3
  • Hyrule Warriors, a Dynasty Warriors title with Zelda characters, will attempt to sate the need for Zelda titles in 2014 with an October release for Wii U in the US

 

Super Smash Bros. was an intense focus for Nintendo throughout the show. Mii characters can now join the game as Mii Fighters with moves that rival traditional Super Smash Bros. characters and add an element of personalization.

Nintendo will use the Super Smash Bros. Wii U release to debut its NFC toys-to-life figures, called “amiibo,” with other first and third-party titles to follow, such as Mario Kart 8, Mario Party 10, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, Disney Infinity 2.0, and Skylanders. By placing a character on the Wii U Game Pad, a two-way NFC link is established to transfer player stats and skills specific to that game and brings the character to life in the game. As the character grows through in-game experiences, that data is sent back to the amiibo. No pricing is available at this point, but the figures are incredibly detailed as currently displayed and certainly have a collectible aspect to them – now where have we heard “Gotta Catch ‘em All” from before?

There were several games set for 2015 release which bear mentioning as well:

 

  • Yoshi’s Woolly World, a side-scroller stylized in yarn for Wii U
  • Zelda (perhaps titled World of Zelda?) will get a new title on Wii U
  • Kirby and the Rainbow Curse comes to Wii U
  • Xenoblade Chronicles, which stood out among other Nintendo releases with its epic anime movie look, comes to Wii U
  • Mario Maker, a level creator for Super Mario Bros. on Wii U
  • Splatoon, a new third-person shooter IP, will release in 2015

 

Nintendo has definitely found some new religion on getting first party titles to consumers as there is now a steady pipeline of classic games and new IP for this holiday season and through 2015. The core gaming community got a few long-awaited announcements like Zelda and Star Fox; Splatoon offers a family-friendly online multi-player shooter; and, though details were scarce overall for Mario Maker, it has potential for greater social gaming on Wii U.

There was also serious attention given to utilizing the Game Pad more effectively with games from the NFC standpoint with amiibo, using the gyroscope for intuitive POV control with games in development like Star Fox or the Projects Giant Robot and Guard, or using the second screen for more immersive co-op play without a split TV screen. Nintendo is far from giving up on this generation, though there is still debate whether gamers have moved on from Nintendo at this point.

As intimated earlier, my coverage of E3 won’t stop with these first-party vendor overviews. EA and Ubisoft had press conferences which tie into how the next generation consoles are evolving; I had some time to explore the show floor and have some initial thoughts about gameplay with new console platforms; and, there was plenty happening behind the scenes to cover. I have a written insight and perhaps one more blog entry planned on the topic.

- Eric Smith


June 10, 2014 16:23 esmith

The day started off with a full frontal assault on the senses from Xbox diving into 90 minutes of nothing but game. They set out to show that they had learned from their mistake of not catering first and foremost to core gamers at the console’s launch. Trailing PS4 by about 2 million units, the presentation screamed reboot.

The Xbox One Reboot

“We are humbled and amazed by your comments…you are shaping the future of Xbox and we are better for it.” – Phil Spencer, Head of Xbox

After plainly displaying gratitude and deference to the core gaming audience, Xbox showed game after game on the massive screen at the Galen Center. Some of the major 2014 exclusive titles included:

  • Forza Horizon 2 launching exclusively on Xbox One on September 30, 2014
  • Dance Central Spotlight launching exclusively on Xbox in September 2014
  • Fable Legends beta launching exclusively on Xbox One in Fall 2014
  • Sunset Overdrive launching exclusively on Xbox One on October 28, 2014
  • Ori and the Blind Forest, a new side-scrolling IP from indie developer Moon Studios, will launch exclusively on Xbox One in Q4 2014
  • The Halo Master Chief Collection launching exclusively on Xbox One on November 11, 2014

The Halo Master Chief Collection is a remastered set of the first four Halo games on one disc in 1080p/60fps with all content unlocked so players can explore the story in whatever order they wish. This will also include content from the Halo TV series as well as a beta demo of Halo 5: Guardians prior to its 2015 launch.

Exclusive titles announced without release windows were:

  • Phantom Dust will be an Xbox One exclusive title
  • Scalebound, a new IP called from Platinum Games (creators of The Wonderful 101) will be an Xbox One exclusive title
  • Crackdown will be an Xbox One exclusive title

We excited about the future of “the new Xbox” – Phil Spencer, Head of Xbox

The tone couldn’t be any clearer: Microsoft has heard the howls of gamers and it is repenting. There was absolutely no mention of streaming media, save for the brief mention of the Halo TV series. This was an intensely focused show for hardcore gamers: It was loud, flashy, and gory.

 

Sony Goes Beyond Software

Sony capped the night off with a wide-ranging presentation – vastly different than Microsoft’s in my opinion. It was more deliberate, less focused on games, and frankly less stunning. That being said, Sony certainly didn’t disappoint. In fact, the event got better as time passed.

“PlayStation is the best place for gaming” – Andrew House, SCEI President & CEO

It struck me as strange that Sony would lead off with Destiny, a game that launches concurrently on PlayStation and Xbox on September 9, 2014, but it was a good chance to show off the new Destiny bundle with a white 500GB PS4. Major exclusive PlayStation 2014 titles included:

  • Infamous First Light will be a new stand-alone DLC, an exclusive launch for PS4 available in August 2014
  • Little Big Planet 3 will launch exclusively for PlayStation on November 14, 2014
  • Entwined, a new artsy tunnel flying IP by Sony San Mateo and Pixelopus, launched exclusively and immediately on the PlayStation Store for $9.99
  • The Last of Us will be remastered for PS4 and launches exclusively on July 29, 2014

Sony also brought some key non-software announcements for 2014:

  • Powers, an original TV series based on the comic of the same name, will be released in the US in December for PSN members (first episode only) and PS+ subscribers (all episodes)
  • PlayStation Now will launch as an open beta for the North American market on July 31, 2014 exclusively for PS4. PS3, PS Vita, and select Sony TVs will join the beta shortly thereafter
  • PS Vita TV streaming and remote gaming device was previously only available in Japan, but Sony announced that it would arrive in North America and Europe in Fall 2014 with pricing tiers that match exactly with Amazon’s Fire TV

Perhaps it was the jet lag, but the first half of the presentation left me a little underwhelmed on the software announcements. That was all rectified by the 2015 and beyond pipeline:

  • Bloodborne, a creepy new first-person shooter IP by Hidetaka Miyazaki and From Software, launches exclusively on PS4 in 2015
  • Far Cry 4 launches on PS4 with a very unique feature: Co-op play invites can be sent to friends on PS3 and PS4 even if they don’t own the game

Announced without a release window were two games that could steal the show

  • No Man’s Sky, a new IP from Hellogames, launches first on PS4; it literally offers an infinite number of environments (each player starts the game their own unique planet) for gamers to explore
  • Grim Fandango’s remaster launches first on PS4 and PS Vita

Finally, Sony announced that over 25 free-to-play games will debut on PS4 in the next 12 months backing up claims by Shawn Layden, the new SCEA President & CEO, that Sony “is committed to making PS4 the best destination for free-to-play.” Many of these games looked very good on a big screen.

All in all, it was an exciting first day with some neat surprises, stunning graphics, and innovative game play. I’m eagerly looking forward to what Nintendo has to offer as a follow up to its competitors and will continue to post updates as the days progress at E3 here and on Twitter (@esmith_SA). Of course a lot more happened in public and behind the scenes; the details of which I will publish in a written insight shortly after the show ends.

- Eric Smith

6/11 EDIT: I managed to leave out the October 28, 2014 release of Sunset Overdrive on Xbox One.


May 13, 2014 10:19 dmercer

Our latest research highlights the importance of Ultra HD (UHD) in television’s future. Global Ultra HD TV sales reached 1.7 million units last year, although the vast majority of these were sold in China. Sales in the US and Europe will begin to pick up this year, and 4% of all flat panel TVs sold worldwide in 2014 are expected to be UHD-ready. DigitalEurope, Europe’s industry body for consumer electronics manufacturers, is preparing to approve logos which will provide consumer confidence in UHD TV during the latter part of 2014. By 2020 ownership of UHD TVs will have reached a third of US homes and 22% in western Europe.

 

UHD is at the beginning of a growth curve and there are already signs that commentators are nervous about its future. The less enlightened ones point to 3D TV as evidence of recent failures, but Strategy Analytics was always cautious about 3D TV (see 3DTV Opportunity? Look to the Cube Tubers! ), and while 3D-enabled TVs still sell relatively well there is of course very little 3D-originated content. Other UHD concerns centre on pricing, lack of content and lack of need.

All of these concerns are unjustified and Ultra HD will be successful for several reasons. Viewers don’t need to wear glasses (always one of the primary objections to 3D TV), the experience of true Ultra HD content is a real step up from regular HD, UHD TV prices will fall steadily towards regular HD levels, and the content and distribution industries are already gearing up to support video in the new format.

For these and other reasons we expect Ultra HD to become the next HDTV, but it will take time and inevitably some observers will comment on the supposedly slow uptake in the next few months and years. The reality is that the TV industry has to work to different timescales from the internet world, even though some early 4K content will come from internet content players like Netflix. While we’ve seen a couple of early announcements about 4K broadcasting it’s likely to be 2016 before the major pay TV broadcasters like DirecTV and Sky start major rollouts of their 4K services.

Content producers are already gearing up for the 4K future and a number of trials of 4K sports productions have taken place. A few games at next month’s World Cup finals will be captured and distributed in 4K, although it’s not clear yet where they will be watched – my bet is that a few cinema outlets will carry them. Content people will talk about learning the new language demanded by 4K: camera positioning and techniques will change because viewers can see much more detail from a greater distance. Personally I find the ability to watch the entire football pitch without an editor interfering with close-ups quite compelling and as close to “being there” as it is possible to get with today’s technology. We’ll see over time whether that’s something that becomes commonplace once UHD broadcasting begins.

I’ll be chairing two panels on Ultra HD next month in London and Dubrovnik – it would be great to see you there:

Connected TV World Summit

New EU Market

David Mercer