4K: Revolutionary, Evolutionary, or What?
As you likely know, Videon has been in the digital video business for over twenty years and with that comes a lot of exposure to a lot of different technology.
I recently got back from a major industry trade show (NAB – National Association of Broadcasters) and I wanted to share with you my observations and thoughts regarding technology and market trends associated with the ongoing evolution of digital video solutions. To start this, let’s first think about the revolution and evolution of digital video by rolling back the clocks to the start of time in the world of digital video.
DIGITAL VIDEO’S FIRST REVOLUTION – DVD
Going back 20 years, the world of video was being rocked by a revolutionary technology called DVD. Revolutionary was the operative word as DVD represented a radical new way to watch video. No more VHS tapes! Consumers were presented with the option of purchasing something that added so many new features while creating convenience. Revolutionary products only come forward so many times and DVD was clearly that. It caused rapid adoption of the standard.
DIGITAL VIDEO’S SECOND REVOLUTION – HIGH DEFINITION
Fast forward a few years and another revolution happened. Analog TV was being replaced with the HD video format. When HD was first released the TV resolution supported 480p, 720p and 1080i. We were all stunned. I still recall watching my first HD sample video of Duke vs NC State football brought to us by WRAL. It was amazing. I and many others quickly flocked to our various stores to pick up our new HD TV.
DIGITAL VIDEO’S FIRST EVOLUTION – 1080P
1080p was not part of the initial HD release. Eventually 1080p was released as an evolution of the technology. Consumers were naturally skeptics. What is this 1080p thing, can I see the difference, what content is being transmitted in 1080p? These were the questions being asked. But in time, as the difference between a 1080p TV and a 1080i TV came down to mere hundreds of dollars, consumers said that difference was worth the cost to future proof the TV to when 1080p would be available.
Many of you have those 1080p TV’s. You made the logical decision to future proof yourself, right? But wait a moment. What content is being provided in 1080p format? Is your cable TV provider giving you 1080p? No. But is your streaming provider enabling 1080p? Yes, for the most part. And so too is another evolutionary product, that being a Blu-ray disc player which has a native 1080p resolution. Hence, your buying decision was logical.
Let’s move the clock forward to today. That 1080p TV is looking a bit old. You walk into the store and there you see it, a 4K TV! Wow does the demo look great. But just as before, you say what is this 4K thing, can I see the difference, what is being transmitted in 4K? Again, these are all good questions. Yet the difference in price is only a few hundred dollars. And surely you do not want to be stuck with a 1080p solution, right? That would be “old school”.
DIGITAL VIDEO’S SECOND EVOLUTION – 4K
We are in the evolution of video resolution just like we were with the move to 1080p. Display technology is the leading indicator of where the market will move. Have you heard about 8K? Likely yes. And in time, you will walk into a store and an 8K TV will be a few hundred dollars more than a 4K TV. Of course you will buy an 8k TV as the market has made it available.
SO WHAT WAS NAB 2018? THE EVOLUTION TO 4K STREAMING!
Streaming is the biggest disrupting force in the broadcast world. It has been both a revolution and an evolution. Affordable streaming services give smaller content producers (think a little league team or middle school theater club) the ability to broadcast to people around the world. We have moved from a broadcast industry dominated by a few big names to one where anyone can be heard (more on this topic in a future post). These smaller content producers are focusing on internet-based streaming rather than traditional cable delivery. Because of that, smaller content producers are able to stream in ways that are not possible over existing cable infrastructure and THEY are driving the evolution to 4K.
The biggest issue facing small content producers is encoding their video into a format that a) is high quality and b) is small in size. After all, internet speeds are limited and the smaller the size of the stream the better. Enter Videon Shavano. Shavano is the industry’s only affordable 4K HEVC video encoder. What does that mean you ask? It means that Shavano makes it easy for content producers to stream 4K video in less bandwidth…
When Videon announced our Shavano 4k HEVC/H.264 encoder under the slogan “4K under $2K” we knew that we were radically upheaving the industry. Other 4K encoders were selling for five times our price and some announced (but never shipped) for roughly 2-3x our price. Today, six months post that NAB East announcement, Shavano continues to be a trendsetter in features/price. But what does this really mean? Do people want 4K? To understand the answers to these questions, let’s think back to years and years of wisdom that Videon has pioneered in the digital video industry.
The streaming industry is going through an evolution at the moment. 4K is becoming affordable. When you examine Videon’s Shavano product vs the leading 1080p competitive products Shavano is either under, equal to, or within a few hundred dollars. It is like walking into the store to buy a TV. Do you really want to spend more, or the same, or save just a little bit of money to buy yesterday’s technology? The 1080p evolution happened nearly ten years ago. The evolution to 4K streaming is happening at a rapid pace and the thought of spending more, spending the same, or saving a few dollars to purchase an encoding solution that supports ten year old technology might be considered a questionable decision. But to really understand why this is questionable, read my next blog post “It is all about workflow” coming in a few days.