4k is becoming more common in streaming services. But the step to 8k is far. “Demand is too small and so is the supply of materials,” one of the companies told Ny Teknik.
After a prolonged start, the 4k format, also known as ultra-hd, is making its way into the folk home at an even faster pace. Television manufacturers have invested heavily in technology for many years, but nowadays more so-called play services are also presenting films, TV series and sports broadcasts in the format.
Ny Teknik has taken a closer look at the main Swedish and international streaming services (svod, on-demand video streaming or transactional video on demand, rental video online) available in Sweden.
The 4k range is growing among the giants
For many years, Netflix alone was getting content in 4k resolution, but today the situation is different. Of the twelve services that Ny Teknik has gone through, a total of six have content in the format: Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV Plus, Disney Plus, the aforementioned Netflix, Google-owned Youtube and Viaplay Sweden.
All of these services also support technologies like HDR, high dynamic range, and Dolby Atmos, which significantly improve the picture and sound experience.
Netflix has the largest selection, which has had 4k support since 2014. The service currently has hundreds of movies, documentaries and TV series in ultra-HD resolution – including popular The Crown, Stranger Things a Chef’s Table. But to be able to watch 4k video on Netflix, you need the most expensive subscription of the service, which today costs SEK 159 a month.
Among the well-established services, HBO Nordic is worth noting. The service, known for major series such as Game of Thrones a Westworld, namely without 4k and HDR support. The highest image quality offered is still full-hd, i.e. 1080p resolution.
Ny Teknik has contacted HBO Nordic for comment on the company’s 4k plans for the future, but has not received a response.
Viaplay: 4k tested since 2014
With our streaming services in Sweden, the 4k support shines with its absence with one exception: Viaplay, which today broadcasts major sporting events, such as the Champions League, the Premier League and Formula 1, in a higher quality- HD.
– We started testing UHD broadcasts from the Discovery TV channel in 2014. At that time, the technology was very immature at every level, all the way from how we encoded the main files, to how viewers played it , etc., says Niklas Hammarbäck, product manager for streaming at Viaplay.
What about 4K footage of movies and TV series as well?
– Everything is in place, and we can process all types of UHD material today. We have also made some titles available in UHD format to be able to do some A / B testing without telling users.
Niklas Hammarbäck continues:
– The big challenge is not about the technical part but the fact that we have to buy all the content again, this time in a UHD decision. At the moment we may have a title in full hd but to get it in UHD we have to invest in a new copy of the studio. We already know what we want, and a lot of the content is in place.
4k Barrier: Lack of industry standard
Another major barrier to 4k support for video on demand services is that the TV industry and film companies producing the content are still lagging behind in development.
– There is still no industry-wide standard for 4k quality source material, but we have chosen the IMF format (Interoperable Master Format, developed by American film industry technical organization SMPTE, red note) for hd and UHD. In the United States, IFM has been in power for a couple of years now, but is increasingly in other parts of the world too, says Niklas Hammarbäck.
He is supported by Per Björkman, distribution manager at SVT.
– A wishful thinking on our part is that standards should be agreed to a greater extent by the industry. The TV companies do not then have to convert the material. Netflix has full control over the entire production chain for media players, but that’s another issue for broadcast companies.
SVT can then get 4k video
In SVT Play, HDTV (720p) is the highest resolution offered today. But the public service company is currently working on updating parts of the program that offer full HD resolution (1080p). Smaller efforts of 4k have been made, but ultra-hd broadcasts are still years ahead of SVT Play.
– It took us ten years to take the step over to HD TV. 4k and in the long run 8k means a lot of data gets dragged around. Increasing bandwidth is a big cost to us. But hopefully we can offer a continuous range of 4k material in about three years, says Per Björkman on SVT.
Experiments with 4k broadcasts are also underway behind several scenes in several other Swedish streaming services, Ny Teknik’s review shows.
C More / TV4
– We do not currently offer 4k, but that does not rule out that it could come in the near future, said Ludvig Ternstedt, press officer.
Dplay (Channel 5, Discovery Channel, Eurosport, and more)
– We’re not offering 4k today, but we’re looking at the technology. We also discuss 8k, especially in relation to live sports, which is also the case with 4k in the first place. But that development is not taking place in Sweden but is happening centrally at Discovery, said Jessica Linnman, director of communications at Discovery Networks Sweden.
– We have done some tests, but we have not yet introduced 4k format movies to our customers. We definitely plan to offer 4k movies in the long run, says Ted Björling, technology and product manager.
8k video is available – in a limited range
So what about 8k, the next generation format? Currently, only Google-owned Youtube offers streaming 8k content, albeit in a limited range. None of the international streaming companies have yet offered any official plans for the future for 8k broadcasts.
For Swedish services, 8k is a long way off for understandable reasons.
– 8k tests are not currently in our roadmap. Also, I don’t think the difference between 4k and 8k will be as crucial as between hd and ultra-hd. But if I know ourselves, it’s enough that we have access to some 8k material to start testing just because we’re curious, says Niklas Hammarbäck at Viaplay.
– We haven’t started looking at 8k. Demand is too small and so is the supply of materials. But in a couple of years’ time, we’ll definitely take a closer look at the technology, especially when standards have been set, and we’re seeing a critical mass of customers with 8k units and with sufficient bandwidth at home, says Ted Björling at SF Anytime .