Tuesday, September 10, 2013

What’s the Buzz on 4K?


Ultra HD  or 4K is the latest buzz word in improving TV technical quality in Broadcasting.  But, the real value lies in business applications.

I consider myself a good student of what consumers want in electronics. 

A.      A cell phone that works, including making phone calls

B.      A decent TV show to watch

C.      Things that don’t break 10 minutes after the warranty expires

D.      A convenient tablet to avoid any social contact in airports

So, how do I think consumers will value Ultra HD or 4K TV?  In a word, “….y..a..w..n”.

But, but, 4K TV promises 4 times the current HD resolution (sort of).  It offers an “immersive” experience.  Viewers can get right up to the screen and see detail that they have never seen before.   Yes, well 3D offered consumers a different experience than regular TV and was met with a collective negligence that has all but buried it in Broadcast.  Would 4K make any difference?  I don’t think so. 

One has to remember that TV is a “passive” medium, re Marshall McCluen.  Content is the key.  Technology, like Glory is fleeting.  Consumers are in impressed for a few minutes in the local Best Buy at seeing great resolution.  But, how long will that fascination last when they are watching pretty video fish swimming in an electronic aquarium - not very long.  TV viewers get immersed in content and soon forget the technology.  These days, I believe the vast majority of TV viewers multitask while the TV is on.  There is way too much non-passive stimulus around us to sit still.  So, who will participate in an “immersive” experience, 1 foot away from a giant 4K TV?

That is not to say that 4K is not valuable.  As John Watkinson famously pointed out, program capture should always be on the highest quality imaging device you can reasonably acquire.   After all, you cannot fix image quality problems in post.  So, 4K cameras for image capture  should be a priority goal.  It will make an impact on quality even when down converted to SD NTSC and sent over your local cable system.  4K has a place in production. 

However, the real value needs to be determined by early adopters that can visualize the value in business applications.  Let’s talk about some of the opportunities out there. 

Business Meetings.  By definition, business meetings are “immersive”.  The purpose is to share ideas and formulate strategies to enhance business performance.  4K video in a videoconferencing environment can offer immediacy with no travel, multiple locations and time zones, real-time sharing and collaboration with everyone on the same page.  Cheaper, better , faster with a “just like being there” feel.  For busy executives, keeping tabs on everything that is going on and according to strategic goals, this is huge.  No matter where they are, they are in touch – and not just with endless email threads.

Product Launch and Promotion.  Wowing prospective clients with good marketing and that initial, “I’ve never seen this before” technology creates a buzz about a product or service.  4K affords new levels of creativity and outlets to “get the word out”.  It can be targeted, more personal and have more impact.  True, you could do this before with 35mm film or a RED camera.  But, those productions can now be much less costly with new, inexpensive 4K devices and your marketing folks are free to explore many other outlet venues besides TV commercials.  Again, “immersive” is the key term.  Challenge the marketing folks to come up with solutions to “immerse” the target audience. 

Digital Signage.  There is a lot of digital signage out there.   I think everyone knows how dismal it normally performs.  The few successes are in theatre billboards and fast food menus, which means it is a cheaper alternative to static printed material.  Large screen, “immersive” 4K affords the opportunity for Digital Signage to come of age and become a real marketing tool.  Someone with a vision needs to grab hold and take to where it needs to be.

Training and Education.  Truly, this is an area where 4K should really shine.  Interactive, collaborative 4K experience can revolutionize training and education, or educating consumers.  Of course, this will require some creativity.  Think “immersive medium”.   There is the opportunity here for real connection with those who may not readily acclimate to the traditional lecture/classroom /regurgitate education that is typically available.  Think of the advantages, record ability and endless playback repeat, collaboration and immediate tutoring availability and finally review next week, next year or five years from now. 

Medical , Scientific  Sports.  Just to name a couple of applications where high resolution imaging is essential to diagnosis and study of phenomenon,  4K images with the ability to be transmitted globally in high frame rates will change the nature of how we deal with the world. 

Yes, 4K has multiple uses and will be of high value.  Probably not as much value though, for traditional Broadcast TV.
Dave Desmarais
President and Founder
Perinata Inc.

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