Tech Trends 2013: Video Page 4

What's on Ultra HDTV?

Announcements of forthcoming Ultra HD TVs at CES 2013 were plentiful, but info about content with sufficient pixels to fill those 4K-rez screens was in shorter supply. When the digital-TV transition got underway back in 1998, the arrival of the first HDTV sets in stores was timed to coincide with the first HDTV broadcasts. But Ultra HD broadcasting is still in the incubation stage, so those expensive new Ultra HD sets are going to require alternative sources of 4K content to fill their oversize screens. The Blu-ray Disc Association, a group responsible for setting technical standards for the format, is reportedly investigating the feasibility of 4K Blu-ray  - a process that should be made smoother by the recent approval of the next-gen High Efficiency Video Coding standard (H.265, or MPEG-5). HEVC is supposed to match the picture quality of the MPEG-4 standard - the one currently used to encode video for Blu-ray - while taking up 50% less bandwidth. While we wait for Ultra HD to go Blu, here are some other 4K sources in the pipeline or available now.

Sony Ultra HD Video Player

Not wanting to leave consumers who purchased its $25,000 XBR-84X900 Ultra HD TV in the lurch with no 4K movies to watch, Sony made its Ultra HD Video Player, a hard drive loaded with Sony Pictures movies, available as a very welcome accessory to the TV late last year. At CES, Sony announced that it would soon be up and running with a 4K distribution service that would allow users to download new content to the player. Specific details about the service were not available, but Sony is apparently on track to launch it this summer.

Redray 4K Cinema Player

Sony's player isn't going to be the only 4K game in town: Red, maker of the Red 4K cameras used for digital cinema production, also showed off its 4K Cinema Player at CES. The $1,450 player, which was made available for preorder in February, holds 4K-rez video encoded using the company's proprietary .RED file format on a 1-TB drive. Video output formats include 3,840 x 2,160-format Ultra HD, 1080p, 720p, and up to 60 frames-per-second 4K-rez 3D. The player's specs also indicate support for up to 12-bit color depth and 4:2:2 chroma subsampling.

You connect the Redray player to your Ultra HDTV (or regular HDTV) using its HDMI 1.4a output, while audio (7.1-channel 24-bit/48-kHz) is conveyed to a receiver via a second HDMI jack. There's a regular IR remote control, though an iPad control app will also be available. Content? That will apparently come via downloads from the cloud-based Odemax service, which as of February 2013 was nothing more than a Web page listing an e-mail address.

Netflix 4K Streaming

In an obscure aisle of Samsung's massive CES display, the company casually demo'd 4K streaming via Netflix to one of its new UHD TVs. I asked the attendant for more info but was basically told, "No comment." Looking into the matter further, I learned that Netflix recently partnered up with a company called EyeIO, which makes the proprietary video encoders that Netflix is using to improve streaming efficiency to its growing customer base. And it turns out that EyeIO, which recently became the first THX-certified online video-encoding solution, also provides a product called StudioRes that, according to a release, "delivers UltraHD, studio-grade H.264 videos (10 bit, 4:2:2 video, xvYCC)... for both package media and Internet streaming delivery to bring no-compromise pictures to the next generation of 85-inch and larger UltraHD/4K screens." The company also has an new technology called EyeIO.265 that incorporates the just-ratified HEVC standard. So, while Samsung had next to nothing to say about its Netflix/4K CES demo, the behind-the-scenes indicates that 4K video streaming from Netflix is in the works - and it just might be available sooner than you think. -A.G.