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Sony VP: ‘Tipping Point’ for UHD Adoption Will Be Sports in 2016

Jeff Berman, MESA: The transition to Ultra High-Def (UHD) is “going pretty well” and the “tipping point this year” is going to be 4K sports broadcasts, with DirecTV’s 4K broadcast of the Masters golf tournament in April a perfect example, Nick Colsey, VP of business development at Sony Electronics, said at the Streaming Media East conference May 10. The transition is actually going faster than the transition from SD to HD, in terms of U.S. consumer adoption of 4K TVs, he said, telling attendees there’s more 4K content available now than there was HD content at about this same point in the transition to HD. About 15% of U.S. homes will have 4K TVs by the end of 2016, Colsey projected. “That’s a pretty good number,” he said. A significant number of consumers — more than 15% — will be upgrading to make 4K their primary TV in the home, he added. But others on his conference panel pointed out that there continue to be challenges for the transition to UHD.

For one thing, there “still seems to be a bit of a waiting game” when it comes to all companies using the same 4K standard, said Telly Koidis, senior manager of video hosting at Bell Media. Other issues include the lack of availability of 4K hardware in homes (despite the promising start) and lack of adequate bandwidth, said Sara Poorsattar, director of product at Vimeo. Of bandwidth, she said, we’ve “still got a ways to go.”

Bandwidth, however, “hasn’t been as much of a problem” as Sony expected, said Colsey. Consumers realize they need more bandwidth to stream 4K content and are asking their service providers to upgrade their broadband services, he said. Poorsattar agreed, saying consumers have a “clear understanding” that 4K requires higher bandwidth to stream correctly.

Unlike May 9 at the Content Delivery Summit — held in conjunction with Streaming Media East — the panel didn’t take on the specific challenges involved with delivering live 4K over the internet. Those challenges include latency.

After Tuesday’s panel, moderator Keith Wymbs, CMO at the Amazon Web Services-owned software company Elemental Technologies, expressed doubt that Verizon Digital Media Services (VDMS) had actually been able to achieve latency of only four milliseconds, as cited by Jonathan Divincenzo, VDMS director-product management on May 9. Five to 20 seconds of latency is typical right now, said Wymbs. He played down the significance of latency, however, saying it’s not usually an issue unless somebody is watching the same live 4K broadcast over the internet as somebody else in another room at the same location who is watching it live on broadcast TV.

Like Divincenzo, Wymbs said it will likely be a while before 4K live content on the internet becomes the norm, in part because most online HD remains 720p as opposed to 1080p. Wymbs predicted it will take five to seven years for 4K content online to become the norm, about the time he expects it will take for 4K TVs to be in a significant number of U.S. homes.