Sound & Vision: France is making progress with 4K but what about the UK?

OPINION: One of the things that most annoys me about the current state of play surrounding 4K is that it’s not nearly as prominent as it should be.

It’s been nearly ten years since the first 4K TVs rolled off the assembly line into people’s homes, and content is abundant in 4K. Shame it doesn’t necessarily feel all that easy to get.

It’s increasingly being hoarded behind more expensive price tiers, used as a carrot by the likes of Disney, Netflix, and Max streaming services, or Sky and TNT Sports to tempt people into paying more. It’s getting old to pay for something that should be the standard.

You look at 8K’s struggles and it’s principally down to there not being a lot of native 8K content to watch on these TVs. It’s not particularly enticing to be sold on an 8K TV with the line that it’ll make 4K content look better than it does on a 4K TV, especially when people are being asked to pay a further premium for 4K.

So it’s with interest that news popped up that France is looking to lead the way in bringing 4K to consumers according to reports from the UltraHDForum and FlatpanelsHD. It’s bizarre to me that it’s taken so long for this to happen. 4K TVs make up the bulk of sales, HD TVs are generally restricted to sizes smaller than 43-inches, while 8K hasn’t taken off. 4K should be the standard, but most of the broadcasts we watch are still in HD.

France anticipates that 4K TVs will have 64% penetration by the time the 2024 Summer Olympics start, with that sporting centrepiece set to be shown in 4K. That will lead to the switch off for HD signal to begin in 2029, where it’s predicted that uptake of 4K TVs will be 95% of the population.

So where is the UK amidst all this? Not well developed would be the answer. Yes, Sky has plenty of 4K content on its platform, but you’ll have to pay extra for it. The BBC appears to be stuck in a never-ending trial with 4K content, which has restricted how much content it can show on iPlayer in 4K, some of which is down to regulatory issues. It’s as if the BBC has one hand tied behind its back while the likes of Netflix and Disney+ have free reign.

A waste of the technology

Streaming is the way forward to present 4K content as to do so through linear broadcasts is trickier. Each channel takes up a certain amount of bandwidth due to the amount of data within the signal. 4K would take up more than HD, and there’s an overall bandwidth to consider – 4K takes up the bandwidth of around two (or 1.5) HD channels, so to broadcast in 4K, the number of channels would need to be reduced.

BT Sports are merging with Eurosport

Nevertheless, who would prefer more channels of Dave and Alibi compared to watching the BBC in 4K? And moving to a 4K – or even 8K workflow as I saw when BT Sports (now TNT Sports) conducted the first 8K trial could make a big difference in how we watch programming, especially live sports.

It’s annoying to me that we’re all buying 4K sets and settling for upscaled HD images. That seems a waste of the technology we have at our disposal, but at least France is showing a path for other countries to take. Let’s hope they start walking on that path sooner rather than later.