We're only a couple of weeks into January and we've already kicked off our busy trade show season. As I was flying home from Las Vegas fresh off a very successful CES show, I was reflecting on my time perusing the show floor — most notably, that 4K was everywhere. For months I've been asserting that this will be the breakout year for 4K, but it's downright exciting to see that materialize in the form of trade show booths decked out with brilliant, beautiful 4K displays.
The arrival of 4K brings excitement and possibilities. But lurking behind all this buzz is the reality that there's a lot of confusion and misinformation surrounding 4K. Perhaps the most important point of confusion is that many believe you can enjoy 4K quality by simply purchasing a 4K-capable product. This simply isn't the case. You need to think of 4K as an ecosystem — a collection of individual parts that exist as a whole only when they work in harmony. This is especially true of 4K in the context of digital signage.
It's important to understand what exactly constitutes "native 4K" content. For video content to be true 4K, the source content must have a resolution of 3840x2160, with a frame rate of 60 fps. Anything less simply isn't 4K.
This 4K content makes quite a journey from capture to display, and it's essential that the content's properties remain preserved throughout that journey. The first step in this process is encoding. Many of us are familiar with H.264, the video compression standard for conventional HD content. 4K brings about a new standard called H.265, or "High Efficiency Video Coding," or HEVC. H.265 interprets this extremely data-rich 4K content and compresses it in much more efficient ways to deliver 10 bits/channel for extremely smooth, high-quality video resolution at a manageable bitrate. The diagram below illustrates the process I described above.
It's important to note that while 4K is leading the transition to H.265, this new codec also benefits 1080p content. Current comparisons show that H.265 is twice as efficient as H.264 when compressing 1080p content. H.265 is versatile and efficient, and I expect it to quickly become the standard for encoding digital signage content.
As a company, we are partnering closely with Elemental Technologies because they have proven to supply the encoding horsepower required to deliver a true 4K viewing experience. Elemental is the first to implement the HEVC specification with the capability of processing 4Kp60 H.265 content in real-time. The company's award-winning work in HEVC video processing helps create a high-quality viewing experience for 4K media players and displays.
"HEVC provides the potential to dramatically reduce delivery costs across all video profiles and deliver new levels of video quality to bring digital signage to life," Elemental VP of Marketing Keith Wymbs said. "It dramatically impacts the delivery of content display on 4K screens."
Once the encoded video content reaches the player, it needs to be capable of a couple things. First and foremost, it must be able to decode the content on its way to the display. It's critical that the video is reconstituted to its original form — 3840x2160 at 60 fps. Once the content is decoded, it's ready to be sent to the display. To be up to the task, the player must have an HDMI 2.0 output. Most players on the market today ship with an HDMI 1.4a output, which sends content at 3840x2160, but only at 30 fps. Cutting the frame rate in half results in a much choppier viewing experience.
And of course no 4K ecosystem would be complete without a 4K display. Early adopters have been quick to purchase and install these amazing displays. The displays require a significant investment, further underscoring the need to understand the 4K ecosystem to ensure an end-to-end 4K solution.
So with this advice under your belt, I officially welcome you to 201(4K).
BrightSign CEO Jeff Hastings joined BrightSign in August 2009 while it was still a division of Roku Inc. In late 2010 with digital signage activities growing so rapidly, BrightSign became a separate firm. The holder of eight U.S. patents, he also has a history of tech industry leadership, including as president of mp3 pioneer Rio.