Confusion over standards for Ultra HD TV could lead to the introduction of 4K being a "slow burn", according to industry experts.

The adoption of 4K Ultra HD TV could be a "slow burn", says Andy Quested, head of HD and UHD at the BBC. He was speaking at the Futuresource 'New Content Horizons' conference in London, held on 2nd June.

"4K UHD is not just about [higher] resolution, it's also about High Dynamic Range (HDR), better colours and sound. We can make UHD programmes now and soon will be able to transmit them at reasonable bit rates, so it will happen - it's not like the 3D fiasco," says Quested. "But it could be a slow burn, and I do think there is still room for a couple more updates."

When asked if he had bought a 4K TV, Quested replied: "No, I haven't bought one yet - I don't think they're ready. What we have at the moment is a conglomeration of three or four different [UHD} standards all vying to get to market. There are still a lot of variables: which frame rate would you like? What kind of colour do you want? Do you want HDR or standard dynamic range? What we have now is the base minimum."

MORE: Nine reasons to buy a 4K TV (and a few reasons not to)

A question of standards

He went on to add: "The ITU [International Telecommunication Union - a UN body for setting global technical standards] study period for UHD ends this July and then it will be six months before the next meeting, so in that time nothing happens. Currently there's a choice of five or six UHD standards, all of which work - but which one do you use?"

Quested was joined on the 4K UHD panel at the conference by Chris Johns, chief engineer for broadcast strategy at Sky. "The question for consumers is ‘when do I join the 4K revolution?’. Which standard do you define as the de facto 4K one? As broadcasters, we have to decide at what point we offer the consumer a 4K service. Personally I'm one for the big bang approach when everything is in place, rather than introducing gradual improvements. When will we have a real, full 4K standard? We're not there yet."

The official line from Sky is that "it has not got a 4K proposition to launch at this time", says Johns. But, like the BBC (which recorded the Queen's Christmas message in 4K), Sky has been playing around with 4K for some time. "The challenge is that there are different production values for, say, sport and outside broadcasts compared with drama.

When is the TV screen going to be able to deliver the big step change [in picture quality]? Current 4K TV sets won't handle HDR, nor the frame rates required for films and sport."

MORE: LG will bring HDR to its 4K OLED TVs

Regarding films, the BBC's Andy Quested also made the point that "there are still issues around copy protection. We don't know what Hollywood will demand and if the hardware will work with that."

Simon Gauntlett, chief technology officer at the DTG, is concerned that the current somewhat confused situation around UHD standards could mislead consumers: "How do we avoid retailers mis-selling 4K TVs that may be redundant in two years? You have to be very careful in case thay are not compatible with future upgrades."

MORE: 20th Century Fox commits to 4K and HDR

"We haven't yet agreed a combination of standards to define the UHD experience," continued Gauntlett. "That is something we are discussing in the UK UHD Forum. We need some sort of UHD-Ready label. The Blu-ray Disc Association has put a stake in the ground, but the broadcasters have not. We need to wrap it up this year and agree a standard [for broadcast 4K TV]."

Given that 43 per cent of consumers are looking for 4K in their next TV, according to Futuresource, that agreed standard can't come soon enough.

MORE: Ultra HD Blu-ray - everything you need to know

More after the break

4K Ultra HD Blu-ray

Gauntlett's other concern is that while 4K Blu-ray will look great on a 4K TV, standard-definition TV broadcasts "will look rubbish as they are being stretched too far".

As for launching new, dedicated 4K TV channels, the panel largely agreed that 4K content can be delivered in a variety of ways. "I don't see the need for any new 4K TV channel, it could be an evolution of different platforms," says the BBC's Andy Quested. " We could start 4K programming on-demand via BBC iPlayer rather than through a conventional channel."

Gauntlett adds: "It will be a while before we see complete 4K channels. We are more likely to see 4K via IPTV, cable and satellite first before terrestrial platforms such as Freeview."

Sky's Chris Johns points out that streaming current 4K on-demand programmes via Netflix, for example, requires a broadband speed of around 16-20mbps. Live sport and HDR content will require even higher bit rates, so the UK's broadband infrastructure will have to improve significantly.

And what about 8K, already being trialled in Japan? "Broadcasters in Japan don't see the need for a dedicated 8K channel," says Quested. "Rather, they'll use 4K or 8K depending on the type of content being broadcast."

MORE: 4K TV - everything you need to know


iMark's picture

Better sound?


"4K UHD is not just about [higher] resolution, it's also about High Dynamic Range (HDR), better colours and sound."

The television makers are excelling at producing HD TVs with crap speakers. So now the industry is working on "better sound" that still will sound crap on the new TVs. 

I'm sure the picture will be very nice but it won't be like the step up from SD to HD (even at 720p). 


Andy Clough's picture

Better sound

I suspect he was referring to the fact that Dolby Atmos and DTS:X are part of the 4K Blu-ray spec.

iMark's picture

I think I got that. I just

I think I got that. I just wanted to point out the completely disjointed efforts in the industry. What's the pointly of improving the soundtrack if the TV can't do this any justice?

Geddy76's picture

TVs are too thin (now) for speakers

I'm not sure installing hi-fi grade speakers on ultra thin TVs would be a great idea.  They would have to sell TVs with matching external speakers.

Dave Haynie's picture

It's not the TV

The player needs to have the facility to send higher quality audio somewhere for playback. A televison cannot possibly recreate the sound field of a 5.1 Blu-ray audio track. No one even bothers trying. It's not the telvision's job. If you care about sound, you have an external sound system that does that job, and the TV's speakers are turned off. If you don't care about sound, you're happy listening to the sound you get today and you're not worried about that television not being able to reproduce a 24-channel surround track anymore than you're worried today about it not delivering a proper 5.1 surround track. 

MGB's picture

No 4k TV

I'm suprised that the BBC's HD/UHD head isn't at least trying out 4k to better understand the issues to shape a better user experience for any future services.


Dave Haynie's picture

Sound, not speakers

If you care at all about quality sound, you have your TV speakers switched off. Period. The same reason you never, ever, use the internal microphones on cameras for anything but audio sync when shooting video -- these things are the basic low-end add-in that the manufacturer can get away with. Because they know it's impossible to produce high quality sound with in-television speakers. 

When they're talking about 4K/UHD being better at other things, including sounds, that means the set of technologies surrounding (sic) the 4K standards -- whatever they are -- will including another upgrade in sound over the 7.1 surround possible in today's best consumer HD format, Blu-ray. Such as the 24.1.10 sound (the last number being the count of elevated speakers) in Dolby Atmos for the home (which, despite the name, is something totally different than Dolby Atmos used in theaters... kind of a shame they can't just demand a base level of DSP for these things and do it the right way, but whatever -- guess it still has to fit on a 2-or-3 layer Blu-ray disc). 

landzw's picture

David you obviously don't

David you obviously don't remember CRT TV's alot of them came with good speakers not to mention i brought one of the first Samsung 40inch LCD which came with good quality speakers built in to the bottom, to a point i stopped using my £1500 AV system.

Since then TV speakers have gone down hill and it should not be an excuse "Well buy an external source" which is just another way of making more money and actually charging you more for something that should of been built into the TV in the first place. 

You don't buy a car and then look for better seats 

You can produce quality sound from TV speakers its just companys just don't care too

Sorry this has been something thats been under my skin for a long time

joe23's picture

You can't produce decent sound in a flat screen

This has nothing to do with the manufacturers having no interest in producing decent sounding TVs. Unfortunately, the consumer now demands a flat screen that takes up little space and can be hung on the wall if required. With such small volumes inside a TV cabinet it's physically impossible to create low frequency sounds. CRT TVs sounded much better not because they had better quality drive units, but because they had more space to shift air and create lower frequencies. The only way of getting a high quality speaker unit into a thin box is to use an electrostatic ribbon, but that's prohibitively expensive to do, creates its own problems in power requirements and even then, electrostats are not renowned for low frequency responses. Therefore, flat screens = external speakers required.

bigboss's picture

Agree with joe23. It's the

Agree with joe23. It's the increasing demand for thinner TVs that has compromised sound quality in TVs. The manufacturers will only make products as per demand.