Mike Fidler, UHDA president

Are you confused about what a 4K Ultra HDTV is or should be?

A lot of consumers are, and that’s despite the fact that more than 78 million 4K Ultra HDTVs already have shipped globally, with forecasts rising to 100 million this year, according to market reach firm IHS,

The multi-industry Ultra HD Alliance has made educating consumers, retailers and even members of participating industries a primary mission as it sets out to help set the bar for premium 4K Ultra HDTV experiences. It is also trying to get everyone to start speaking the same language about what that is exactly.

To prevent discontent, the Alliance is reaching out to pro-actively find pain points in the Ultra HD experience. In late July the Alliance formed a new Interoperability Working Group, headed up by Sony’s Don Eklund. The group is identifying how different manufacturers’ products work with each other through trial-and-error plug fests. This will help ensure that when consumers connect products together in the real world, they will all work together and provide the best experience possible.

At the same time, the UHDA is working to evangelize the Ultra HD experience through educational efforts, including a brochure published in October and through messaging on its website, www.experienceUHD.com. Along with this, the Alliance is producing five educational videos to communicate what it’s all about.

If that’s not enough, the UHDA is expanding its membership beyond the core manufacturers and studios that have participated to date. Most recently, the UHDA announced it added five new members including some from the PC and IT industries: ASUS, Chroma ATE, Google, Synaptics and Arcadian Technologies.

But before going further, the UHDA is trying to get better use for and support behind its previously established definition criteria for devices it can certify as delivering an “Ultra HD Premium experience.”

We recently met with Mike Fidler, new Ultra HD Alliance president and long-time consumer electronics industry marketing veteran with companies including Pioneer and Sony, to find out what the organization is doing to advance the state of the Ultra HD industry by getting all of the players to start singing out of the same hymnal, so to speak.

Read our interview Fidler after the jump:

Q: How successful was 4K Ultra HDTV in 2017?

A: What IHS is saying now is between 78-80 million Ultra HD TV units have shipped world wide. In 2018 they are projecting that to rise to 100 million. The different part of what their projections include is a look at 4K/HDR. They have included a performance criteria rating HDR TVs as those displays capable of 500 nits (at the base level) and above through Energy Star.

They are not releasing which sets meet that level to consumers, however. Our Ultra HD Premium program is the only one I know of that sets a minimum brightness threshold of 1,000 nits for LED-LCD TVs and 540 nits for OLED TVs, among other criteria, for premium 4K Ultra HD classification.

We intentionally tried to set it up as driving a premium experience. We also had to deal with the fact that there were two different technology bases — LED-LCD and OLED — and they are different in how they perform and present high dynamic range (HDR).

Q: How did the Ultra HD Alliance arrive at that criteria?

A: The criteria for Ultra HD Premium certification was developed using consumer focus groups. They actually tested on viewers the differentials between various settings, so that, for example, `if the brightness went from from 800 to 900 nits, was it noticeable?, 900 to 1,000 nits, was it noticeable? 1,000 to 1,100?, 1,200? No?’

So 1,000 was what they came up with for LED-LCD. For OLED it was 540 nits. Could it have been higher? Sure. But 1,000 and 540 nits was something they felt was representative of what consumers typically could see relative to the physical improvement in picture quality.

Q: Will that change over time?

A: Yes. We might need to possibly look at adjusting it and coming up with a below-premium level. But first we need to look at getting the Premium program more widely used and adopted. We have to set that bar right now, and that’s been a challenge.

Q: Do you have plans to establish criteria for lower levels of performance, to help establish what makes a good, better of best television?

A: For us, the mission is communicating what the Premium experience is, not only for devices, but for content and mastering as well. We try to set expectations through the whole value chain. That’s the starting point. It is our Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, so to speak, and I think that’s important. We set HDR10, which is a mandatory HDR profile for Ultra HD Blu-ray, as the threshold so that if you buy a 4K Ultra HD Premium product you know at a minimum it is going to be able to present at least HDR10 in a consistent way. Everything else comes on top of that.

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The process for certification is structured to gauge real compliance. For testing we use an independent lab and their performance evaluations, test patterns, etc. are extremely tight. We do not allow self certifications.

Q: Is that on the horizon?

A: Maybe. But not right now. The way it works now, the lab and the member manufacturer that wants to certify a product make an agreement. We don’t know until after that manufacturer gets the results back and decides to let us know. There could be `certified’ products, or `to be certified’ products, in the pipeline now that we won’t know about. We don’t know if a product has passed certification until once the manufacturer decides the pass/fail process is done and let’s us know.

We also want to make sure that we define what the feature set should be for UHD. Can we do it in a easy, consistent way with a singular voice? Can we also translate it to what the benefit is as well as what the feature is? I’m not going to go out there and have a salesman talk 1,000 nits to a customer.

Q: Would you like to see greater participation in this program from the rest of the industry?

A: Yes. Right now one of my big responsibilities is to make sure everyone gets what we are doing, and understands how it is being used in the market and to get the UHD Premium message going, particularly in this country. You will actually see [the certification logo] in wider use in Europe than it is in United States today.

I am working across the industry on this, and working with other organizations including the CTA, the Digital Entertainment Group (DEG), the Blu-ray Disc Association, SMPTE, HDMI, the UHD Forum, everyone, to make sure we have an open dialog on arriving at some sort of consistent communication to the consumer. We are also talking with retailers because we have those touch points in common.

You will see a lot of commonality between what each of these organizations is putting out there. In the past, I worked with the launches of CD, Laserdisc, DVD, and Blu-ray and one of the things that was learned is that in order to get a new format established you have to make sure you have some continuity of message, and doing it from within an industry group is about the only way to do that successfully.

You aren’t going to get it from individual manufacturers. Each one of them, and rightfully so, has their own individual message to communicate about their product, their strategy, their marketing pitch.

Right now if you look at the manufacturers, they each have their own proprietary names and labels for 4K HDR. Our job is to put all of it into one common language everyone can understand for a frame of reference.

Q: What was the Ultra HD Alliance’s opinion of the VESA performance criteria program for HDR in PC monitors and laptop displays?

A: I don’t think it has any real impact on us, to be honest. We also saw that Eurofins, which performs testing, came out with a set of criteria including broadcast compatibility specifications, and that defined everything including encoding, what the stream was etc. Right now we are engaged with setting expectations for what the premium level of Ultra HD should be.


By Greg Tarr


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