Home Theater of the Future: Ultra HD Gets Real at CES

By now you’ve likely heard that the buzz around 4KTV, or Ultra HD, has reached a deafening roar during the first day of this year’s International Consumer Electronics Show.

Hundreds of thousands of show-goers are flocking to exhibitors’ booths today to watch television — not for the programming, but rather for the picture quality. Ultra HD TV (or Ultra High Definition) is the insider’s lingo for an upcoming display technology the Consumer Electronics Association has defined as delivering a display resolution of at least 8 megapixels — ranging from 3840 x 2160 pixels to more than 4,000 x 3,000.a girl watching an Ultra HD TV

The picture is a bit more complex because there’s still no single Ultra HD standard and there are myriad types of content, none of it widely released.

Still, early adoption is expected to kick off this year, and Broadcom and other embedded tech companies are getting ready with their supporting casts of products for Ultra HD TV makers, including brand-spanking-new codecs, broadband chipsets and accessories.

Samsung made headlines in Vegas yesterday when it unveiled to a cadre of tech reporters a floating, 85-inch Ultra HD TV, dubbed the S9 UHD. The beast of a display threatened to outshine others made by LG Electronics, Sony, Vizio and Toshiba, also on the show floor here at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Although Ultra HD is nabbing headlines, Broadcom’s working behind the scenes with cable and satellite operators to make sure that every pixel of all that glorious 4k TV content — when it finally rolls out to consumers – can actually be enjoyed in their homes.

Broadcom today announced the BCM7445, a video decoder system-on-a-chip that’s set to reside in consumers’ primary media gateway to support the delivery of Ultra HD content into the multi-screen connected home.

With monster display sizes also comes monster-sized video data content, which threatens to gobble up massive amounts of bandwidth. Broadcom’s newest chip helps overcome bandwidth limitations by supporting a new video compression standard, known as the High-Efficiency Video Codec. HEVC is set to bring consumers what they want — high-quality broadcast content, streaming video and online applications to TVs, tablets, laptops and smartphones — without choppiness, buffering or interruptions.

Adoption Still Far Off

Still, the Ultra HD TV remains a ways out from the mainstream. There’s still no single Ultra HD standard and there are myriad types of content, none of it widely released.

We won’t enjoy this resolution everywhere until 2015, analysts say, but that hasn’t stopped these jumbo-trons from hitting the highest echelons of the display market late last year.

CES 2013 LogoFor now, like every other TV technology that steals the spotlight at CES, Ultra HD technology is just a hint of what will someday be in living rooms everywhere — once prices go down.

But unlike previous technologies, the adoption of Ultra HD won’t be slowed by the rollout of content worthy of the screen. Non-Ultra HD content — notably Blu-Ray and 3D video — is expected to look crisper and clearer on the new technology than even 1080p, thanks to the up-scaling that occurs within an Ultra HD set’s processor or a connected set-top box.

There’s already a push to broadcast content for Ultra HD. The BBC experimented with broadcasting Ultra HD footage of the 2012 Summer Olympic games to enormous screens throughout the United Kingdom. National broadcasters in Korea are expected to begin Ultra HD broadcast tests this year.

The bigger breakthroughs, however, are occurring on the feature film side. Filmmakers have already begun to release Ultra HD resolution films. And, thanks to more robust Internet connections in homes, it’s expected that most Ultra HD content on television screens will arrive via downloads, streaming devices and on-demand service providers. The software and hardware to support that model are almost ready.

Here’s the catch: The naked eye likely won’t be able to differentiate between 1080p and Ultra HD on a 40- or 50-inch screen. The difference becomes clearer — pardon the pun — with screens that measure 60 inches or more. And while some might say that a 60-inch screen is something they’ll never have, it’s important to remember that, not so long ago, a 25-inch console TV was considered a piece of living room furniture.

With 60-, 70- and 80-inch screens — and bigger — in our futures, we find ourselves making New Year’s resolutions (!) for a bigger living room.

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About the Author

Rachel Rosmarin is the chief trade show correspondent for Broadcom. Her technology reporting experience goes back a decade to the dawn of Wi-Fi, smartphones and the Mp3. She has an in-depth knowledge… More