The Consumer Electronics Show, (CES) is not just an event where bragging rights for first-to-market players can earn their technology stripes, but it is also an early public viewing venue for what will eventually become common household technology. That’s how many products are displayed but the reality can often be far from this because in some cases the technology delivery mechanisms are far behind the innovations.
When is enough, too much? Ultra High Definition (UHD) TV, also known as 4K and 8K video introduced this year at CES is supposed to be the next big step in high resolution television but the product also raises many questions about the likelihood of it hitting the market anytime soon. Moving from standard definition (SD) to high definition (HD) was a noticeable evolutionary progression, but what does a 4K or 8K display, having a much higher pixel count, mean to the average Joe or Joanne?
Currently, folks that have a 1080p resolution HD TV are enjoying the best, readily available viewing medium that takes full advantage of a Blue-Ray disc player’s capability. At 1920 X 1080 pixels per frame, that amounts to anywhere between 25 to 50 Gigabytes of storage per movie. You might be surprised to know that even the Blue-Ray Disc encoding is at a reduced, or compressed resolution, lower than the original production studios 2K resolution pre-encoded format.
Consider the difference in a digital camera’s storage space requirement for a RAW or uncompressed photo format vs. a JPEG compressed file. The same picture in the RAW format that requires 25MB of storage space, will require only 5MB in JPEG. The picture quality is less in the JPEG version because the data recording the pixel information is 5 times less. In like manner, the encoding processes compresses the video information. At the present time, there is no to-home non-fiber based Internet speed available for even a 2K streaming video from a service like Netflix. So Netflix and others have to stream a compressed version of the original movie.
Even with the “lossy” video encoding, you are still looking at a connection that requires around 10 Mb/sec. Now add this telling stat to your knowledge coffer: In an article written by David Talbot for MIT Technology Review dated 9-20-2013 titled “Not So Fast: A Google Fiber One-Gigabit Mystery, “Google spokesman Jenna Wandres says Netflix servers can only process streaming video at five megabits per second for high definition content.” This is the reason there is a delay between the time you select a Netflix movie and when it starts playing. Your video has to buffer in 5 minute chunks. You are always buffering in the background while your video is playing.
I have recently upgraded to a 30Mb/sec high-speed connection with Comcast, but when I tested my own download transfer rate, I was only actually receiving 12Mb/sec. or less. This explains why I continually experience buffering interludes interrupting my Netflix streaming videos playing on my “Smart TV.” Remember, I am still only receiving video quality at less than 2K resolution. Even at best-case 12 Mb/sec, I am dealing with video artifacts, traffic jam delays due to simultaneous server access by other viewers, and latency as a result of my home’s distance from the streaming source.
Clearly I have a problem that needs a solution. If I am going to be able to take advantage of a higher data-intensive video stream, I will either have to increase my download internet connection speed or become the happy recipient of a better video compression scheme that does not sacrifice picture quality. So, how much compression would be needed to allow my 12 Mb/sec to function with UHD TV quality? For that matter, could a standard Blue-Ray disc handle all the video data of a 4K or 8K movie?
Hold onto your hats. At 4K, each frame at 24 frames per second would require 45MB of video data. So, a 2.5 hour film at 4K resolution would require about 10,000 GB, or 10 Terabytes, (10TB.) Last month, I purchased a 3TB back-up hard disk for my laptop. It cost about $159. I would need three of these to back up one 2.5 hour, 4K movie. At 8K, also introduced at CES, there is 4 times the amount of video data required over 4K’s requirement. Now you need a 40TB storage device for one single movie. By the way, some movies are produced at 48 frames per second and so you would have to double that 40TB of storage to 80TB for one movie. Extrapolate that storage out to my recent purchase of the 3TB hard disc at $159 and using the 8K@48 frames per second requirement, I would be spending 80TB/3TB times $159 or $4240 to store one 8K movie in my home. There is only one word for this. “OUTRAGEOUS!”
A 4-layer Blue-Ray disc has a capacity of about 128GB. How many Blue-Ray Discs would be required to store and play my uncompressed 80TB file and how often would I have to jump up to swap out another disc? 80 trillion bytes divided by 128 billion bytes equals 625, 4-layer Blue-Ray discs. To see how many times we have to swap discs to continue the movie, we need to take the number of minutes in 2.5 hours and divide that by 625. So 150 minutes of movie would require a disc swap every 15 seconds. After 625 disc changes requiring that many trips to the player, the 4K and 8K home TV concept would be better marketed as exercise equipment.