26.08.15

4K signal distribution challenges

As Ultra HD trickles into the pro and consumer markets, it's creating a new set of challenges for AV pros. Tim Kridel explores where the pitfalls and opportunities lie.

If the K in 4K conjures up images of marathon distances, it’s fitting. It’s going to take a long time to reach the finish line of 4K completely displacing 1080p, and successfully implementing it will take lots of endurance.

On the plus side, 4K isn’t saddled with as many challenges as the analogue-to-digital migration ushered in, such as learning how to handle HDCP.

“As we move from 1080p to 4K, you don’t have to deal with all of those transitions,” says Danny Barr, ZeeVee vice president of new product business development. “You certainly have to deal with some new challenges, but we believe the adoption will be quicker and easier than going from analogue to digital.”

How quick? The answer depends on whom you ask.

“We’re not seeing a great deal of uptake in 4K in the pro domain as yet,” says Christian Thomas, WyreStorm communications manager. “It’s still early days for the technology, with standards only just (kind of) set out and still without the release of content or source devices.

“We have come across some signage applications that are calling for such tech. But they’re being dealt with through either long HDMI cables or with a simple point-to-point solution.”

Others are seeing more adoption by both vendors and end users, including consumers. The growing availability of 4K content and affordable TVs is noteworthy because consumer experiences often influence expectations for the workplace and venues such as sports bars.

“In pro AV, sources have already moved to 4K,” says Justin Kennington, Crestron DigitalMedia technology manager. “Displays carry a premium as small as 10% over 1080p. In the home, streaming services are taking more and more market share from traditional broadcast, and they don’t have the same ‘upgrade every six years’ mentality that a broadcast studio does. They are moving 4K already.”

But other AV pros and pundits argue that there are still some big gaps in 4K product lineups, particularly on the content-creation side.

“There are barely any cameras that can handle 4K in meeting rooms, [such as] USB or PTZ cameras,” says Saar Litman, Wainhouse Research senior analyst and consultant. “None of the major videoconferencing vendors are doing 4K right now, [but] most are working on it.”

Meanwhile, vendors are trotting out switching/distribution products, such as Creston’s new DM-RMC-4K-SCALER-C.

“[It’s] the first and only 4K/60 Hz scaler on the market,” says Justin Kennington, DigitalMedia technology manager. “You can intelligently convert frame rates for 24p and PAL sources, as well as convert 4K/30 Hz content to 1080p60 or 4K/60 Hz. DM-RMC-4K-SCALER-C is the only scaler on the market that can do this. [You also can] create video walls, even spreading a 4K source across 1080p displays while maintaining full resolution.”

Some end users are choosing to refresh their displays with 4K units now even though they don’t have much or any 4K content. This future-proofing strategy sometimes has its RoI based partly on the short-term benefit of a better viewing experience by upscaling HD content. But that benefit doesn’t always materialise.

“There are a lot of gotchas that need to be thought out before people jump on it,” says Bob Sharp, director of international sales at SVSi, recently acquired by AMX. “Most 4K displays we’ve tested don’t handle upscaling very well.”

Often that’s because the vendor can’t put in a better upscaler without blowing past its target price for that display.

“The idea of future proofing by slapping 4K displays up everywhere is perhaps not a good idea,” Sharp says.

Tim explores where 4K is in demand as well as signal transmission challenges and how users and installers can future proof installations to be 4K ready in the full article.

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