Video and Audio Center Blog

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Don’t Sweat Video Streaming — The New 4K TVs Are OK

Today’s 4K TVs are amazing in what they can pack in such a small space while offering such a big picture. Just think — hidden inside each chassis is technology designed to take a 4K video image and present it on the display with astounding clarity. That sounds tough enough just when you consider how much resolution the video has (4X that of a HDTV), but what about when the 4K video is being streamed from outside the home and into the TV? What’s going to take care of that?

To answer that question requires a brief bit of history about how the video that's being streamed is handled. H.264 has been the standard codec (i.e., Coder-Decoder for audio/video data) for use in compressing a video which is then “shot” through the Internet, received by the TV and then decoded back to a picture. But this technology is now being supplanted by H.265 — which will provide for more efficient streaming as it is 2X as efficient as H.264. What this means in real-world terms is that streaming of HD content will be more stable and dependable, especially at lower bandwidths; HD and especially 4K content needing a lot of bandwidth and the Internet Service Providers not being able to offer it to all. So through H.265, those unable to gobble up huge amounts of bandwidth in their service plans won’t be left out as they would otherwise.

But as often happens, someone had another idea — in this case it was Google and their VP9 codec. Unlike the royalty licensing of H.265, VP9 is royalty free. Google is pushing this 4K UHD codec as a viable alternative that will ease bandwidth problems, especially when it comes to streaming 4K to devices in the home. VP9 will be able to reduce the bandwidth needed by 1/2 — that would make buffering less likely to happen right in the middle of watching something important (which, by Murphy’s law, is always where a stop-to-buffer event will occur). And since YouTube is owned by Google, no surprise to find its use to be heading there.

But regardless of the codec, it’s whether the device receiving the streaming 4K signal can decode it  — so the movie studios making 4K films for home viewing (i.e., Netflix, etc.) need to use the same codec to compress the video as the one being used at the other end to decompress it (that is, in the 4K TV). The H.265 codec is in the latest generation of 4K TVs, for example Sony’s XBR65X850B 65-Inch 4K Ultra HD TV and LG’s 79UB9800 79-Inch 4K Ultra HD TV. And there’s even this decoding built into the Sony 4K UHD Media Player to take the compressed video and turn it back into ultra high-resolution video.

This is important because it lets the 4K TVs receive the 4K data that has been compressed and display it without having to bump up the bandwidth needed to astronomical amounts (as an example, Netflix’s House of Cards can be streamed in 4K to a TV with internal decoding wit a broadband connection of about 15Mbps or better). Of course the more movie studios and companies involved in 4K cameras and productions that support the H.265 standard, the better for uniformity.

So buying a new 4K TV will ensure that 4K streaming video won’t require a separate set-top box, since the technology will be built into the set. But what’s really important is that being able to watch streaming 4K content will be no more involved than watching HD content — just a lot more dynamic, exciting and eye-popping.


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