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Part 3 of this series addressed the overall issues of naming conventions defined by the various organizations (DCI, ITU, EBU and CEA) regarding 4K and Ultra-HDTV. Part 4 covered the specifics of DCI and ITU naming conventions and standards.

This part 5 covers the specifics of EBU’s (European Broadcasting Union) and CEA’s (Consumer Electronics Association) naming conventions and standards, wrap the subject, and provide an historic perspective of similar naming conventions decisions taken by the CEA in the past.

Ultra-HDTV as defined by the EBU (European Broadcasting Union):

EBU defines Ultra-HDTV with two levels, the 3840x2160 resolution as 4K level (UHD-1 lower layer), and the 7680x4320 resolution as 8K level (UHD-2 upper layer).

The lower layer UHD-1 (in EBU terms) coincides with the now broadly called Ultra-HD by the CEA (Consumer Electronics Association, more below). The upper layer UHD-2 (in EBU terms) is called Super Hi-Vision by NHK, the Japanese broadcaster.

Per ITU document the following statement illustrates the naming confusion (page 2):

"For the specific case of UHDTV Level 1, there are several flavours with small differences, leading to some confusion over nomenclature. For example, we have the actual ITU UHDTV Level 1, with 3840x2160 pixels; the Digital Cinema 4k format, with 4096x2160 pixels; and then several undefined terms such as ‘Quad HD’, often used for marketing purposes. The industry needs to agree on common terminology to avoid confusion and ensure interoperability."

Ultra HD defined by the CEA (October 2012):

The specification was apparently created to clearly identify newer 3840x2160 sets that were introduced as 4K when they were actually not in terms of horizontal pixel count (3840 rather than 4096) and of aspect ratio (16:9 rather than 17:9 of the 4K DCI standard).

The CEA announcement provided no details or minimum specifications for bit depth or frame rates for the U-HD display or signal acceptance (other than its resolution).

Likewise, no comments were provided regarding manufacturer agreements to upgrade U-HD sets when the HDMI 1.4 specification is revised to handle 4K 60fps by the end of 2012, as expected. The Sony 4K consumer projector offers that agreement, beyond the 4K 24/30fps of the current HDMI version 1.4.

Display resolution was defined as to have a minimum of 3840x2160, similar to the UHD-1 lower layer of the U-HDTV standard. The U-HD display must at least have 16:9 aspect ratio, and accept 3840x2160 resolution from at least one input, in addition to be capable of upscaling lower resolution signals to its native 3840x2160.

Although the CEA apparently intended to agree to a common terminology for the new sets it selected a nomenclature (U-HD) that could be misinterpreted, and even sounds as a renaming/duplication of the broader U-HDTV standard defined by the EBU, ITU, and SMPTE, which goes beyond the 3840x2160 format and also includes the 7680x4320 format (named as 8K and Super Hi-Vision by Japanese broadcasting).

The CEA did not comment if an adjustment would be pursued for the established U-HDTV formats with ITU, EBU and SMPTE standards, or for discontinuing the use of 4K and 8K in those specifications.

Final Thoughts

In my opinion the term 4K should have never been used outside the Digital Cinema compliant products such as the recently introduced Sony 4K projector or the CinemaQuattro 4K DLP 3-Chip Home Cinema Projector, but once the 4K term has been broadly used by the video electronics industry, by the standard organizations, and by the press the matter requires much more than the CEA to reconcile the confusion.

Add to the confusion the different bit rates, color spaces, frame rates, audio channels, and aspect ratios, and it becomes obvious that the video electronics should abandon the reference to 4K, in the same manner the TV industry never used the digital cinema term “2K” for 1080p HD products even when both have the same 1080 vertical resolution. 

Whether there was a need to avoid possible law suits for misrepresentation of product capabilities that are not actually 4K, or for a need to select a consumer-friendly name for 2160p TV, better than just calling it “4K”, I agree with the need to avoid the use of the 4K name in U-HDTV panels, but the choice of the U-HD name considering that there is already an existing term “UHD-1 lower layer” within the U-HDTV standard only brings more confusion to consumers and the industry. There should be an effort to reconcile the naming conventions among the various organizations not to just unilaterally create new ones.

An Historic Perspective of DTV Naming Conventions by the CEA

Early adopters of HDTVs may remember the DTV standard highlighted by the ATSC Table 3 of DTV formats approved in 1996 after decades of television engineering work to create the new digital television standard with two levels of DTV: HD (720p/1080i/1080p) and SD (480i/480p).

When the first 16:9 HDTVs started to appear in the market between 1998 and 2000 there were some manufacturers that implemented 1080i resolution but still using squarish 4:3 televisions.

Since a 1080i HDTV program had a rectangular 16:9 image those squarish televisions displayed it as a small rectangle between top/bottom black bars. The smaller image was displayed with only 810 video lines, the remaining 270 video lines where used for the black bars, and in theory the lower resolution should have disqualified the TV from using the HDTV naming convention.

As a response, to “help avoid consumer confusion”, the CEA created in late 2000 a new level named EDTV (Enhanced DTV) between HD and SD which I initially thought was to be reserved for those 4:3 aspect ratio TVs to clearly identify them for consumers that may still prefer a 4:3 TV to view plenty of legacy NTSC content in the correct aspect ratio and do not mind viewing HD in a lower resolution.

However, the ED level was actually used to promote the 480p format from its original SD level and the CEA promoted the squarish 810i DTVS to the HD level, allowing them to be advertised as HDTVs together with 720p and 1080i/p true HDTVs. This action facilitated the sale of those inferior quality DTVs at a time consumers had difficulty understanding just what HDTV was.

In other words, although the CEA said that the decisions were made to reduce consumer confusion the renaming actually disenfranchised unsuspected consumers.

It appears a similar situation has been created again with the use of the 4K term and the renaming of Ultra-HD television. This reminds me of automobile dealers renaming “used cars” for “pre-owned vehicles” to make buyers feel they were getting a better product.

Welcome to the 4K world, or it would be just “U-HD” for you?

Stay tuned for “Living with 4K” Part 6 – Sony’s last word.

Posted by Rodolfo La Maestra, December 24, 2012 7:34 AM

More in Category: 4K (Ultra HD)

About Rodolfo La Maestra

Rodolfo La Maestra is the Senior Technical Director of UHDTV Magazine and HDTV Magazine and participated in the HDTV vision since the late 1980's. In the late 1990's, he began tracking and reviewing HDTV consumer equipment, and authored the annual HDTV Technology Review report, tutorials, and educative articles for HDTV Magazine, DVDetc and HDTVetc  magazines, Veritas et Visus Newsletter, Display Search, and served as technical consultant/editor for the "Reference Guide" and the "HDTV Glossary of Terms" for HDTVetc and HDTV Magazines.  In 2004, he began recording a weekly HDTV technology program for MD Cable television, which by 2006 reached the rating of second most viewed.

Rodolfo's background encompasses Electronic Engineering, Computer Science, and Audio and Video Electronics, with over 4,700 hours of professional training, a BS in Computer and Information Systems, and thirty+ professional and post-graduate certifications, some from MIT, American, and George Washington Universities.  Rodolfo was also Computer Science professor in five institutions between 1966-1973 in Argentina, regarding IBM, Burroughs, and Honeywell mainframe computers.  After 38 years of computer systems career, Rodolfo retired in 2003 as Chief of Systems Development from the Inter-American Development Bank directing sixty+ software-development computer professionals, supporting member countries in north/central/south America.

In parallel, from 1998 he helped the public with his other career of audio/video electronics, which started with hi-end audio in the early 60’s and merged with Home Theater video, multichannel audio
, HD, 3D and UHDTV. When HDTV started airing in November 1998, and later followed by 3DTV and 4K UHDTV, he realized that the technology as implemented would overwhelm consumers due to its complexity, and it certainly does even today, and launched his mission of educating and helping consumers understand the complexity, the challenge, and the beauty of the technology pursuing better sound and image, so the public learn to appreciate it not just as another television.