The best way to describe the change in how 4K content in Canada is coming is, slowly and now all at once.
While the next generation TVs have been on sale for the past few years, the biggest knocks have been that the sets are expensive and content is lacking content to take advantage of the sharper picture. This week, two of Canada's largest broadcasters take their real first steps to change that.
TSN will be broadcasting the Boston Celtics taking on the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday night, while Rogers will be airing Saturday night's Hockey Night in Canada tilt between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens. Both games mark the first live broadcasts produced for each of the companies, and clearly signal the time is now ripe to attempt to push Canadian consumers to upgrade.
4K Television sets get their name because they have a horizontal resolution of 4,000 pixels, which is roughly 4 times as much as a HD set. Available since 2010, the sets have been coming down in price, but adoption has been slow. In most cases, at the low end, similar sized TV cost about $800 to $1000 more than a HD set. However, there are many higher end, extremely large screen products that can go up to $25,000 or more.
"This is really kind of the prototype, out of the gate, beta test for us. It's going to be a learning experience for us and we'll go from there," said Rick Brace, president, Rogers Media. "Over the Christmas season, we're hearing 40 per cent of sets sold were 4K.”
Rogers announced in October the company was betting big on 4K, promising to show over a 500 hours of 4K content, including over 100 sporting events — 81 Blue Jays home games and at least 20 NHL games. The company has invested a fair bit, building two mobile production trucks and a new master control room for the signals. It is clearly a bet on the future, as right now, the company admits that only a few hundred people have the boxes available to watch 4K.
"People are buying the TV sets, so we know they are going to want to watch the content," says Dirk Woessner, president, consumer business unit, Rogers.
TSN has also been planning on getting into 4K for the past year, and its slate of 22 games include several Raptors games and many regional hockey games, with more to be announced later.
"SD to HD was a massive jump, and 4K is a bit more of an incremental improvement,” says Mark Milliere, TSN's senior vice-president of production. “It's definitely better, but you really appreciate it on larger screens.”
For Rogers customers to watch the 4K content, they will need a new 4K set top box from the company, which requires a technician to come to your house. The box costs $12.95 to rent a month. The company's 4K content will air on channel 999, and they are also picking up TSN's slate of games. Bell customers require the company's Fibe service and the games will be available on channel 1399.
Beyond Canada's sports rivals taking the leap, other players are moving to the next thing. Netflix has been shooting some of its series in 4K, including House of Cards, and many players in home video space are embracing the format, like Warner Bros. announcing it will release 35 4K Blu-ray movies by the end of 2016 at this year's CES.
There are still some issues to be worked out, particularly when it comes to the standards with these new technologies. The UHD (Ultra High Definition) Alliance, a group of the biggest TV and electronics manufacturers in the world recently announced the "Ultra HD Premium" badge, which certifies sets on a number of factors, including Netflix/Amazon support, colour, resolution, peak luminance, black levels and wide colour gamut.
As well, High Dynamic Range or HDR which provides brighter and better colours was introduced two years ago, for the most premium Sony and Samsung sets, but now is available from most manufacturers. That said, there are competing technical standards that still need to be sorted out, so Rogers hopes that it will be able to support it sometime throughout the Jay's season.