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Connected Homes July 2016 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: Michael Gold

Delivery Channels for UHD Video

Why is this topic significant?

New delivery channels for ultra-high-definition video content are among the factors that enable development of new markets for compatible TVs.

Description

Surveys indicate that some 5 million US households contained one or more UHD-TV sets by the end of 2015, with most of those units purchased since 2014. Users can access UHD video titles in many ways, including online streaming, downloads, multichannel pay-TV services, packaged media, hard drives that contain preloaded movies, and high-end custom home-theater services. Hardware platforms for delivering UHD content include smart TVs, Ultra HD Blu-ray players, media adapters, and home-theater PCs. But overall, the universe of available UHD video content is relatively small, with each delivery method offering only a limited selection. New distribution channels might improve availability.

A new all-UHD streaming service, Love Nature, is available in 32 nations. In the United States, the service uses the Smithsonian Earth brand and charges some $4 per month. Another new and economical channel for UHD, UltraFlix, advertises "the world's largest library of streaming 4K content," including "more than 1,000 hours" of movies, documentaries, concerts, and TV series. The library includes dozens of made-for-Imax movies. The service may be the least expensive way to access premium UHD programming, with some rentals costing as little as $1.

Efforts to standardize over-the-air UHD broadcasts are underway, with approvals of key standards likely to emerge over the next two years. Limited UHD video is available via cable, satellite, and telco video services. For the 2016 Summer Olympics, the Olympic Broadcast Service and Japan's NHK are originating some UHD programming that will appear on some multichannel pay-TV services after a 24-hour delay. Live UHD content is only rarely available. During April 2016, DirecTV (part of AT&T) broadcast part of the 2016 Masters Tournament golf event in UHD format, transmitting to subscribers via compatible set-top boxes, and to nonsubscribers via compatible apps on certain UHD smart TV sets.

Implications

Movies and sports might be the best upcoming offerings for UHD-video audiences, but games could become more significant for UHD market development. UHD-compatible game consoles will begin to appear in 2016. A UHD display's improved picture detail will likely appeal mainly to people who have excellent vision and who view screens from relatively small distances, including many young game enthusiasts. (Ophthalmologists say parents are mistaken to think their eagle-eyed offspring are damaging their eyes by huddling close to a screen, often while gaming.) Increasingly, console and PC gamers download games rather than streaming or using packaged media. Such users may have similar willingness to download UHD video.

Impacts/Disruptions

In theory, audiences' rapid embrace of UHD video will catalyze rapid changes in electronics retailing, production practices, streaming services, and broadband infrastructure. In practice, the challenges of delivering abundant UHD video mean that market development will resemble a marathon, not a sprint. During the mid-1990s, very many professionals and video enthusiasts believed that HDTV markets would begin to develop in 2000 or so. But high-definition content availability was spotty until 2009, when US broadcasters finally faced a legal requirement to transmit digital signals. Stakeholders required more than a decade to integrate every link of the delivery chain, from cameras to TV sets. They could require a similar or longer timetable to complete the task of making UHD content widely available.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: Medium

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: 5 Years to 10 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Electronics manufacturing, electronics retailing, film and TV production, multichannel pay-TV services, streaming services, semiconductors

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas:

Needs for Increased Upload Bandwidth

By David Strachan-Olson
Strachan-Olson is a research analyst with Strategic Business Insights.

Why is this topic significant?

Traditionally, residential customers used broadband to access content stored on servers, so networks favored the downstream movement of data. New applications for social media, cloud services, and connected-home technologies could be limited by small upload bandwidth.

Description

Consumers now use a number of applications and services that require significant upstream data-carrying capacity for optimal performance. Video services such as YouTube and Twitch and social-media platforms including Facebook and Twitter (via Periscope) now allow users to stream live video from a computer or mobile device. Social media and messaging applications are increasingly encouraging users to share and communicate through photos and videos instead of text.

Many connected home systems also require significant upload bandwidth. Videoconferencing platforms allow users to telecommute or communicate with friends and family in an immersive format. Many set-top boxes with digital video recorders (DVRs) allow owners to stream recorded content while they are away from home. Connected security and baby-monitoring cameras often store data on cloud servers and allow owners to remotely access live video feeds.

Cloud backup services protect data from unexpected device failure and are widely available. Cloud applications for storing photos and videos are common, and the adoption of 4K and 360-degree video cameras could greatly increase file sizes. Finally, many Internet of Things devices constantly upload data to the cloud, and a home with many devices could upload a sizeable amount of data continuously.

Implications

With so many new systems that both send and receive data, upload bandwidth may become a potential limitation for the connected home. Most residential broadband service is asymmetric, with upload data rates commonly one-tenth those of download data rates. Traditionally, this network configuration worked because end users mainly sent requests to web servers and in return received large quantities of data. Many new connected home applications now upload far more data than they download.

Without changes to existing networks, many users will have unsatisfactory experiences with these new applications. Although some applications can adapt to limited upstream data rates by increasing the upload time, live video streaming from security cameras, DVRs, and mobile devices requires a constant allocation of bandwidth to provide high-quality video. A single user might not saturate a home's upload bandwidth, but households with multiple users could see dramatic degradations of performance. Upload saturation can also negatively impact download performance by causing delays in acknowledgement packets sent from devices to servers.

Impacts/Disruptions

These new applications and services accompany shifts in end users' roles. Users increasingly generate and upload data instead of mainly accessing data stored on servers. Cultural changes brought about by social-media applications are driving increased traffic as users are encouraged to share their life through text, photos, and videos. Nicola Mendelsohn, a vice president at Facebook, predicts that in five years the majority of content shared on the site will be in video format.

Lackluster performance of upload-intensive applications may drive customers to demand changes to existing networks. Rather than solely focusing on improving download bandwidth, providers might want to focus on increasing upload bandwidth as well. Although some broadband providers may be able to adjust their existing networks, other may need to undergo major infrastructure upgrades to handle the increase in upstream traffic.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: High

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: 5 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Broadband services, cloud services, communication, Internet of Things

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas: