4K TV sounds great, but it has this one big problem: 4K video content is honking huge. An answer may be at hand. The ITU has just given first-stage approval to a new, much more efficient video codec: High Efficiency Video Coding’ (HEVC).
How much better is HEVC? According to the ITU, HEVC video "need only half the bit rate of its predecessor: ITU-T H.264/MPEG-4 Part 10 ‘Advanced Video Coding’ (AVC)." That, in turn, means that 4K TV broadcasting becomes possible over bandwidth as slow as 20 to 30Mbps. It also means that HDTV over the Internet may be watchable at DSL speeds of 4 to 6 MBPS.
The core problem with Internet video has always been that we don't have enough bandwidth. While it would be great if we could all have a Gigabit Internet connection to our front door, that's really not going to happen for most of us until the next decade.
So, the solution to this for Internet TV is to use lossy video compression codecs such as H.264, VC-1 or MP4. With these codecs, typical 720p HDTV Internet TV bandwidth requirements are Apple TV with 4Mbps; Hulu Plus at 2.5Mbps; and Netflix at 5Mbps. HEVC will not only make 4K possible, it will also make 1080p, which no one really offers now over the net, doable.
The approval of HEVC may also lead to, dare I say it, the arrival of "real" Apple TV. Apple expert David Morganstern observes that Apple already supports HEVC on 2012 and newer iPads.
That said, Dan Rayburn, Principal Analyst of the Digital Media group at Frost & Sullivan, warns that while HEVC is "poised to disrupt the video ecosystem," at the same time "a critical mass of adoption will not begin to occur until at least 2016." Darn it!
Still, I'm willing to bet that we'll see 1080p HDTV and 4K TV thanks to HEVC in more homes than we'll see Gigabit Ethernet by 2016.