Ultra HD TV: the next stage

Following on from HD (high definition), which offered viewers a sharper and more well-defined image, new technologies are now promising to push the visual experience even further. However, to allow viewers to benefit from these images, the entire production and broadcasting chain needs to be adapted to the new high-quality image standards. And it is in this area that Orange is devoting its endeavors.

A revolution for TV screens: keep up!

UHD, HDR, HFR, etc. - It’s not easy to find your way through the jungle of acronyms! In fact, several technologies are being developed simultaneously to improve the quality of the image beyond the HD format:

  • An “Ultra High Definition” TV (or UHD TV) now refers to a screen that displays more pixels than a high definition TV. It is also called “Ultra HD”  and it corresponds to a quadrupling of the number points (or “pixels”) compared with HD, i.e. 3840 points versus 1920 points for HD.

  • HDR (High Dynamic Range) technology increases the “dynamics” of the possible values of the pixels, to improve the contrast of images and display even more details. When watching a football match, have you ever had problems following the ball when it moves from the sunny side of the pitch to the side in the shade? HDR can solve this problem by optimizing the simultaneous display of details and contrasts, both in sunny and shaded areas.

  • HFR (High Frame Rate) technology increases the number of frames per second. Today, TV programs are captured, transmitted and displayed at an average rate of 50 frames per second. HFR doubles, and even quadruples, this frequency to deliver greater fluidity for rapid motions. People filming football matches can now follow a moving object using a fairly tight camera angle without producing a blurred image!

Will TV screens move even faster than music?

Although UHD-TV sets have been marketed since 2014, it is worth remembering that not all aspects of UHD-TV have been fully standardized yet, as it is not just the screen that allows viewers to enjoy Ultra High Definition.
Ultra HD, the full standard will be finalized during the course of 2016”, explained Maryline Clare-Charrier, the Head of collaborative 4EVER (for Enhanced Video ExpeRience*) and 4EVER-2 projects, carried out by Orange Labs with nine French partners. “To truly benefit from Ultra High Definition images, the entire production and broadcasting chain requires UHD-TV: i.e. the camera used, the encoding which compresses the flow of images before it is broadcast, as well as the decoder and screen. Regarding the broadcast, it's the fiber network that offers the best features to transmit high quality UHD flow.”.
In fact, none of the television channels in France are yet available in Ultra HD. However, regular tests have been carried out at major sporting and cultural events. In addition, Blu-Ray players, “remastered” cinema content or content recently produced in UHD, as well as some VOD services or recent video games are now available in “Ultra HD”, with some even beginning to integrate HDR.

Orange Labs are some of the few laboratories in the world able to conduct tests on the perception of the visual quality obtained with the new technologies, in compliance with specific protocols. These tests are conducted with the participation of many consumer-testers recruited specifically for this purpose!

Maryline Clare-Charrier, Head of French collaborative “4EVER-2” projects carried out by Orange Labs

Expert opinion of Ultra High Definition

Does Ultra High Definition promise an “ultra better” quality? This is the question tackled by the Orange research blog.

Standardization and testing: Orange is committed

HDR, HFR, etc. To allow viewers to truly benefit from the improvement, the entire audiovisual chain must be in tune with these new formats.
For example: film-makers must use appropriate equipment and integrate these new opportunities to serve their artistic intent. “Until now”, Maryline Clare-Charrier explained, “a film-maker could choose to leave details in the shadow; however, with HDR, details that should remain discrete will become visible! In Ultra HD, you must avoid making rapid camera movements, which produce a blurred image!”.
In television, the challenge lies in the area of live broadcasts: the increase in the amount of data to process (more pixels, more dynamic, more frames per second) complicates the processing which must be carried out in real time during live broadcasts.

Orange is concerned for several reasons:

  • As a producer of audiovisual content via Orange Studio, the Group assesses the improvements offered by the new formats as well as their level of development. Orange is involved in the definition of standards, especially through the 4EVER project and its follow-up project 4EVER-2.
  • As an operator, the Group must optimize the transportation of the signal. A Ultra HD image currently represents four times more data to be processed! And it is now essential to modernize the encoding and increase network flows.

For geeks

The transition to HD has seen the emergence of the MPEG-4 format. The arrival of the UHD-TV should result in the requirement for HEVC encoding, which halves the volume broadcast.

Orange is interested in extremely upstream technologies, before their standardization,” Maryline Clare-Charrier emphasized. For instance, our teams at Orange Labs begun to work on the definition of HEVC as early as 2003, and then contributed to its standardization until the publication of the standard in January 2013. As early as June 2013, testing has been carried out in real situations such as by 4EVER with France TV & FFT at the Roland Garros tennis event, in order to broadcast matches during the tournament for the first time in the world using an end-to-end HEVC channel“.

And tomorrow?

In the coming years, TV screens will certainly take new display technologies on board; however, television consumption trends are also changing:

  • the sound will become “spatialized” to promote a real immersion,
  • a “multi-view” will be offered to meet everyone’s expectations. The key is a, more personalized use, which connected TV now allows,
  • augmented reality, which allows additional information to be displayed in the image, will enrich the viewing experience and create a new relationship with images.

There are now a range of new features that will turn our small screen into a much bigger one!

* For an enhanced video experience