4K and 8K is coming down the line

AV over IP is here to stay, yet the take up on transmitting 4K (or 8K) video over a network has been slow. Are things changing? Paul Milligan finds out.

We seem to have been talking about AV over IP forever. There is no doubt a monumental shift has been underway in the last decade that has seen more AV products change from standalone devices to networked ones. This development has run alongside the move from HD to 4K resolution. Like HD, the drive for 4K has come from the consumer market in order to sell more TVs. And like HD, the AV industry will completely shift from HD to 4K simply because it will reach a point where there is only 4K technology left to buy on the shelves. But before that happens, and we are not far off that point, there has been some disquiet about the slow adoption of 4K video being transmitted in AV projects via IP. Projects are either using HD sources, often cited as being ‘good enough’ for client requirements, or wall-to-wall cabling has been installed, citing speed and reliability concerns.

Is that really how it is out in the field?  We spoke to an integrator from the world of visitor attractions (Sarner International) and a consultant working primarily in corporate and higher education projects (Cordless Consultants) to see what the reality was, and whether it differs depending on your client base.

We began by asking what resolution the projects they were currently designing and installing were actually using and to explain the reasons behind that. “We are principally using 4K because there's very little reason not to,” says Mike Halliday, multimedia director, Cordless. “You can send it in very good quality now over a 1GB network, it's still compressed but to most people and for most use cases that compression is visually lossless so it doesn't really matter. 4K is the default, we don't try and send anything HD because there's just no cost reason for it, because anything that can do it is typically a 4K-capable product anyway, and we wouldn't want to build in that level of restriction into a design when we're buying hardware, as you'll put yourself into a corner very quickly.”

Things are slightly different in the world of visitor attractions. “It’s predominately 2K,” say Ross Magri, managing director, Sarner. “We are touching 4K, 8K is still unheard of, usually because of the source material, in a lot of our work we’re using library footage, and if you work in 8K then you need to shoot in 8K and the source material needs to be in 8K.” Cost is a factor for Sarner because of the integrator’s continued use of projection within theme parks/visitor attractions etc. “Every time we've looked at using 4K there’s a cost penalty, and there's also limited choice of hardware. If we're running video over IP, frequently the 4K option is only slightly more expensive than the 2K option, but that's not the case with projectors.” The extra costs don’t stop there he adds as upping the resolution also increases storage space and processing required too.

This discussion isn’t really about what clients are demanding, because they don’t come to integrators/consultants asking for AV over IP, that just doesn’t happen, it’s more a case of asking if they can have 4K video. “Our question is always what’s the content? What's the source? How's it going to look?” says Halliday. “If anything requires any kind of bespoke video extension our default approach now is typically to start from the perspective of AV over IP, and then ask why wouldn't you do it?” A growing trend in corporate or education installs is for flexible space and technology to match, this is where having AV over IP to move video around a building really comes to the fore.

The same can’t be said for visitor attractions however; “On a corporate job it's important to have technology to allow you to dynamically configure a setup very rapidly,” says Magri. “In a lot of leisure projects, once they are designed and that design is agreed by the client there are very little changes. So then it begs the question, why would you run video over IP if you've got point to point video? There's never going to be a situation that the client turns up and says actually I want this video to appear here and appear there or I want that video to be shown on the other four projectors, it just doesn't happen.”

Is moving to 4K over IP simply a common sense move to make yourself futureproof, after all it’s clearly going that way isn’t it? “In terms of futureproofing we say this is what you should do, this is going to last you for a while. That's one of the other advantages of basing projects around an AV over IP distribution system in that we expect the cabling via whatever compression may be down the line to support 8K, as opposed to using a bespoke solution that may not be able to accommodate it,” says Halliday. The money could be better spent elsewhere argues Magri, where it could have a tangible benefit. “Whether it's 4K or 6K, most people will find it difficult to see the difference, they'll see more of a difference if their money is spent on the content or the production then spending it on getting 2K more pixels.”

If you solely went by marketing material by manufacturers, you would be led to believe we live in a world of zero latency, unfortunately that’s not reality. Has this become a barrier to 4K AV over IP adoption? “If you've got multiple projectors and you want to frame lock everything, even just less than one frame out of sync becomes very noticeable to visitors. If you're running independent screens and you are locking video and audio together, and the same with face locking, then latency becomes very important,” says Magri. “Why would you add extra hardware, which increases the risk of technical issues when it’s not necessary. It doesn't benefit installers or the client.”

It depends on the use case says Halliday. “For most presentations and meeting rooms AV over IP is fine, the cut-off point is when people are moving a mouse on their laptop, they don't want to have a noticeable delay on the screen because then it becomes a bit disjointed. As soon as you want to do anything more mission critical ie anything involving a touchscreen, AV over IP isn't going to work, because you've got two-way latency, and any millisecond of extra latency is going to make it feel less responsive, even if the display itself is great.”

Until the industry can address Magri’s concerns below about maintenance and reliability and make an undeniable case for 4K (and even 8K) over IP, then it seems the slow adoption of video over IP will continue for some time; “If you want to run video it’s easier if you only have a video player and the projector and a cable in-between. Either the player has failed, the projector has failed, or the cabling have failed, it’s just three items. If you use video over IP and you start getting intermittent problems, then that becomes a lot more difficult because it could be a number of reasons where that fault occurs. Why would you spend more money for video over IP technology when no one is benefitting? It costs more money, the quality is not any better, tell me a reason why I would go IP?”


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