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11 September 2014
4K video is the next generation of high-definition (HD) digital video, named as such because it employs 4,000 pixels for horizontal resolution. It claims to deliver four times the resolution of 1080 pixels, totalling 8.3 megapixels, and delivering higher-quality image definition and larger projection surface visibility.
Image quality, regardless of device, impacts the visual
experience for everything consumers do, whether
it’s watching a YouTube clip on their phones,
Breaking Bad on their iPads or the latest blockbuster
on their internet-enabled televisions. As operators, OTT
players and vendors alike all look to create better end-user
experiences, the latest upgrade in image quality cannot be
While ultra-HD video is still far away from becoming a de
facto standard, the technology is gathering momentum in
trials and at conferences worldwide. Intelsat, and equipment
providers Ericsson, Newtec and Sony, staged a live
demonstration of 4K video at the CommunicAsia 2014 event in
Singapore in June this year, proving that it can be done with
ADVA Optical Networking also trialled 4K video services at
TNC2014 in May this year, in partnership with HEAnet, i2CAT and
"We have built an SDN controller that is capable of
orchestrating end-to-end 4K video services over an advanced
ROADM network using OpenNaaS as a service orchestration
platform," says Christoph Glingener, CTO, ADVA Optical
Networking. "This is something that has never been done
What does it mean for operators?
"Flexibility is key for tomorrow’s networks; it is
a fundamental building block that could prove to be the
deciding factor between success and failure," says Glingener.
"This is especially true for service providers that need to
provision enormous amounts of streaming media – being
able to rapidly respond to fluctuating bandwidth demand is
Analysts agree and Alan Breznick, cable and video practice
leader at Light Reading, says that cable operators will need to
prepare and upgrade their networks before being able to manage
"It takes much more computational power to deliver 4K video
streams," says Breznick. "It will take 80 times more processing
power to deliver ultra-high-definition (UHD) quality video; or,
put another way, it will take 20 conventional video servers to
deliver a single UHD video stream."
However, Mark Wilson-Dunn, VP of global sales and marketing
director for BT Media & Broadcast, believes that many
networks today already have the capabilities to offer these UHD
BT was also involved in a trial of 4K video services earlier
this year and Wilson-Dunn says that the company did not have to
do anything to its network to support the 4K stream.
This is not to say that operators shouldn’t be
prepared, but the companies wanted to prove that operators
could support 4K services on their existing systems, without
investing in major upgrades. Ken Takagi, director of managed
services media at Intelsat, says the work to be done is largely
on the terrestrial side in terms of headend (a facility for
receiving television signals) and CPE (customer premise
"You have four times the pixels, twice the frame rate, and
that’s not including the audio requirements,"
Takagi says. "We need next-generation chipsets to come to
market, because 4K requires more processing power than
And US-based chip-maker Qualcomm has been developing
technologies to do just that. Keith Kressin, VP of product
management at the company, says that its goal is to create
chips with enhanced mobile connectivity, allowing consumers to
shoot, process, store, play and wirelessly transmit 4K
He also envisions 4K video transfers over mobile networks, and
Qualcomm’s chip has an integrated LTE modem with
transfer speeds of up to 300Mbps, that can aggregate data
transfers from three carriers.
Who is already supporting it?
In June this year, and in line with the FIFA World Cup, PCCW
Global claimed to make television history with a live broadcast
of 4K UHD in Hong Kong.
PCCW delivered an end-to-end managed media solution to
Television Broadcasts (TVB) to enable the delivery of live, UHD
quality World Cup coverage from Brazil to consumers in Hong
"PCCW Global’s wealth of experience and robust
network will ensure that viewers benefit from consistently
high-quality transmission, whilst TVB reaps the benefits of
utilising an end-to-end solution delivered by just one vendor,"
says Marc Halbfinger, CEO at PCCW Global ahead
of the event.
Content was carried over a submarine fibre route using highly
robust video encoding, decoding and gateway systems, with added
resilience delivered via satellite.
PCCW Global also managed encoding, decoding and switching
equipment involved in the international transmission, as well
as on-site engineers to maintain the solution at both the
Brazil and Hong Kong ends.
US vendor Cisco is also experimenting with 4K video services
and earlier this year, revealed enhancements to its Videoscape
AnyRes encoding solution, to support 4K/UHD content