The first 4K television arrived on the market with Toshiba in 2011. The new format – technically called UHD – arrived with eight million pixels, multiplying the resolution of HD by eight. But in 2019, a good part of Spanish homes continue to enjoy their lonely million pixels at home. The implementation of this technology has been slow. It arrived when there were hardly any cameras that recorded in those qualities (only two then in Spain) or prepared professionals. And the costs were very high. Now, step by step, it is becoming the definitive standard: more than half of the new televisions sold are 4K, according to data from the IHS Market Research Company. Samsung raises them to 75% of sales. But, when it is not yet settled and has a long way to go, the 8K is already here with its 33 million pixels. Part of the audiovisual world has met this week in Malaga in the 4K HDR Summit to analyze the situation that confuses the user, who does not know in which technology to invest his money.
For now, much of the sector is clear: the present and the future will be seen in 4K. "You have to go that way well and we will arrive, in time, to 8K," says Marúa Rúa, executive director of the market research company IHS Markit. Your words are sustained with the data. There is hardly a channel in the world that broadcasts in 8K, it is called NHK and it is in Japan. Precisely from the Japanese country they want to give a boost to this technology with the retransmission of the recent Rugby World Cup and the next Olympic Games in Tokyo (those from Rio were broadcast in 4K). However, the forecast is that less than 1% of households around the world have an 8K television next summer. Samsung launched its first 65-98 inch models last year, huge formats. Many other manufacturers such as LG, Sony or Panasonic have joined this year. Around 6,000 euros.
To the high price the total practice absence of contents must be added. To counteract it, Samsung offers to scale any format up to 8K by artificial intelligence “increasing pixel by pixel to reach 95% of the real format”, explains Nacho Monge, director of Television Marketing for Spain and Portugal of the Korean multinational. The market is not so clear that this is the solution or that it convinces the consumer. Nor does it help that in order for the human eye to be able to fully capture the resolution of 33 million pixels, it must be located a span away. From the sofa, things change. "At the user level, nobody will be able to see the difference between the two options," said Emili Planas, chief technology officer at Mediapro.
For all these reasons, the audiovisual sector continues to look towards 4K, which it considers as the best formula to obtain an immersive television experience. Producers predict that it is the standard that has come to stay. "It is ideal because it is the limit that the human eye can capture," adds Planas. But it still lacks. Just see that there are only 177 channels in that format worldwide. In Spain, Orange and Vodafone offer some of them and Telefónica and Movistar + have content. Although they gain platforms from streaming like Amazon (with 446 titles) and Sky (382), although the list is led by Netflix with 646 titles. Of course, to enjoy them at that resolution you have to pay double: the premium fee is 15.99 euros compared to the standard of 7.99 euros. Specialists believe that the consumer is not very willing to pay that difference because with HD or Full HD it has more than enough. In addition, there are still numerous problems with standards, configurations or wiring. It is problematic even for professionals. And this makes the user not always know if the signal that his device is receiving is really the one he has hired.
With that perspective, "Is there hunger for 4K content?" Peer Seitz, HBS production manager, asks. He himself replies: "I doubt it, except in sports." Sports content is and will be key to the development of this technology. The soccer world past was already issued with that resolution –although it could not be seen like this in Spain– Like the 2017 Champions League final and many other sporting events such as the Berlin marathon are tested. Mediapro issues this year two games of each day of LaLiga in that quality with dynamic range after inaugurating four seasons ago its first broadcast in a Classic. For now only 30 countries buy it. “Soccer can do everything, but in other sports you have to analyze the issue further. You don't have to do things just because technically they are possible, you have to have a clear objective and know if there is a market for it, ”Seitz insists.
The situation is complicated in mobile phones. Although there are already about thirty models that allow recording and playback in 4K, for Mohammed Hamza, an analyst at S&P Global, there are several problems: high terminal prices, high data consumption, short battery life and, above all, the Need for a lot of storage. A minute of video in this resolution takes between 400 and 500 megabytes. "Now check the videos you have on your mobile and calculate what they would occupy if they were recorded like this," says Hamza, who believes that the format "is not yet practical for the average consumer, such as 5G."
With the wide margin of improvement that 4K has ahead, for many experts the 8K has only come because of the need for manufacturers to sell and sell. "The effort to increase the number of pixels is commercially very good, but technically not necessary," says Emili Planas of Mediapro, who believes that brands should focus, for example, on improving the color quality and contrast of 4K before betting on 8K. Also because the consumer is confused. On the one hand, because you can believe that 4K is obsolete when it has not finished landing. On the other, "because he does not quite understand what each technology brings," explains Paul Gray, an analyst at IHS Markit. “The big question is how to motivate the consumer,” adds his partner María Rúa. She does not have a magic ball to answer, but it is clear that "manufacturers and content creators have to talk more, it will be good for everyone." Dialogue. Even for audiovisual technology.
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