As a contributor member of the UHD Forum, Verimatrix sponsors me, an independent associate member, to chair the communications working group. The main task there is running our comms and tradeshow presence, but we also have some fascinating side projects. One is to try and get a realistic grasp of what’s actually out there in terms of commercial UHD deployments.
We are hearing that operators are still looking for original marketing material to help explain what UHD can really offer to their subscribers and for many, this can be a way to lessen the growing pressure from cord-cutting. Our friends at the UHD Alliance have put together some important customer facing educational material as well as a customer-facing logo program, and the Forum is developing other arguments for operators.
So, what can you tell subscribers about the benefits of UHD? Apart from a few geeks like myself, average consumers are no longer motivated by mere technical improvements for their own sake. People consume content because of the feelings it can generate. Viewers will always crave greater emotional impact.
Trigger that Emotional Response
Beyond just passing time or being mildly entertaining, video content—whether movies, sports or TV programs—has the capacity to elicit a deeper emotional response from the audience. Laughter, a tightening of the throat with moist eyes or sheer excitement are all typical emotional responses. The more connected you are to the content, the easier it is for responses to be triggered and the deeper they can be.
The most important contributor to response will usually be the content itself—the story and the viewer’s relationship to it. But the immersiveness of content also depends heavily on some key technical characteristics.
The infamous living room 3D TV had way too many issues to become successful, but it was still able to generate a truly immersive effect. In the same way, 360° video gives the viewer a much greater sense of being where the action is happening than with a regular TV experience.
However, without going so far as 3D or 360° video, just raising resolution from HD’s 1080p to 4K’s 2160p creates a much greater sense of immersion and presence. Higher resolution allows for more detail and thus a greater sense of realism. A 2014 study of 4K resolution found that “when using a large (65-inch) screen, viewing 4K scenic content affords greater psychological refreshment (…)”.
Another Samsung-sponsored study in 2015 showed that emotional response to UHD content is 38% more immersive than the same content shown in HD. For this study, electroencephalography (EEG), electrodermal activity (EDA) and heart rate were monitored while watching Netflix and football content in both HD and UHD. While watching football, the part of the brain responsible for visual processing was 62% more active with UHD than it was with the same content in HD.
When you add other aspects of UHD such as high frame rate (HFR), high dynamic range (HDR) and next gen audio (NGA) the sense of immersion only increases.
In an eBook for Unified Streaming and DTS (now Experi), I explained how NGA provides a true sense of immersion and described a DTS study that showed how for the same image quality, a 15% increase in bandwidth for the soundtrack (pushing it up from stereo to NGA) created a 66% increase in content likeability and immersion.
Even at HD resolution (as we have been demonstrating at IBC and NAB for the last year) looking at a TV screen with sports content in HFR and HDR creates an undeniable powerful response. I don’t have any scientific evidence yet, but that response clearly feels emotional.
More contrast and the use of many more colors from the wide color gamut (WCG) adds to the sense of realism, probably even more so than greater resolution does. The human eye is capable of capturing movement up to 1000 times a second, maybe even more. Current frame rates in TV and cinema vary from 24 to 60 FPS, so there is plenty of room for improvement in creating more realistic experiences. We’ll at last be able to appreciate the beating wings of a hovering humming bird or the fingers of or virtuoso pianist without having to resort to slow-motion to see anything but blur.
Greater likeness to the real world makes the viewing experience more believable, and in my view, this generates deeper emotional response. Critics of a Luddite persuasion, however, argue that providing greater realism does not serve artistic intent; that real cinema can only use 24 images per second. A film-maker recently made a parallel for me with antique furniture. No one would contest that the real deal is always preferable to an artificially aged equivalent piece. He told me that film makers chose the exact shot that will make it into a final cut based on all sorts of subjective parameters, often due to technical limitations or even errors. Digital technology has reached a point where we can faithfully reproduce any old film. If you however want to create an effect from a particular period, his contention is that you really need equipment that works in the same way as it did then. The jury is still out on this debate, and film technology from previous generations might remain part of artist’s toolset. New UHD technology nevertheless has the ability to express different and new things.
Better Preserving Artistic Intent
Movies and TV are about telling good stories that resonate emotionally with the audience. When creating content, the author, technical crew and director are portraying emotions in many ways from the dialogue and acting to the lighting, soundtrack and filming. When the image and sound suffer significant change—usually degradation, along the production workflow—this artistic intent gets diluted, transformed or even lost in the journey from the camera glass to the TV glass.
A key effort in developing our UHD technology and workflow guidelines at the Ultra HD Forum is to better preserve the artistic intent of the content creator(s) than we ever could with SD or HD.
Think of it like a painter living in a world with just 2 primary colors. If we bring her to ours, and she experiments with the third one, we have extended the language in which she can express her art. There’s nothing to stop her sticking with the 2 primaries she knows so well if that’s what she wants, but once she starts using to the new color, her work will be no less artistic.
That metaphor is supported by this notion made in a UHD-focused paper by Technicolor for a 2015 SMPTE conference that “[with UHD tools] the creative palette for content producers has been expanded to better express emotions and increase the immersive experience.”
In fact, most Hollywood studios support UHD as a better way of preserving artistic intent. And other supporters, like Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia, suggest that UHD technologies in the home might preserve artistic intent even better than movie theatres.
Never Forget the Overall User Experience
Nothing kills the potential emotional impact of a viewing experience more than when things don’t work seamlessly. Viewers will only be interested in getting access to UHD content if it’s no more hassle than accessing their current content. Content owners are hoping to use the arrival of UHD to reboot parts of the commercial model around video with, for example, higher prices and much stronger security.
The jury is still out on the former; Apple is going it alone and selling UHD content for the same price as its HD. However, for content security, we know UHD will only succeed if the new security specs, as defined in 2013 and updated in 2015 by MovieLabs, are implemented in a totally seamless way, so viewers can access content in the optimal state of mind.
The Explosion of Mobile Video
Some see the living room TV experience as being overtaken by video on mobile devices in the medium term. We intuitively fall into the same trap time and time again when seeing this kind of disruptive use-case emerge, assuming it will replace existing ones. If you’ve had the chance to watch a great piece of HDR content on say a Samsung S9+ or an iPhone X, you’ll indeed be struck by a different sense of immersion—it’s like looking out of a small window. The sense of being there is clearly improved; although nowhere near to the extent of a full UHD TV with an NGA sound system.
We believe improved video on mobile devices will enhance emotional response there. But watching a great clip on a mobile device in HDR will be a call to action to obtain the same content on the big screen.
Note from the author: I am not aware of any serious studies on the emotional impact of UHD vs. HD, particularly for its HFR and HDR components, so this is a call-to-action for anyone who knows of any available material or would like to help us at the Ultra HD Forum get the ball rolling on this, please contact me on email@example.com or through the Ultra HD Forum website.