Making a case for 4K
Retail is an obvious instance of where ultimate display quality is required to do just to high quality product images and video. In this piece, AV News looks at some of the technology options and the implications of moving to 4K.
4K, or the closely allied UHD, is very much a buzzword in the channel and among end-users at the moment, finding its way onto customer wish lists – whether they need it or not. Customers will put forward all sorts of reasons why they might need 4K, but, according to Tobias Augustin, Product Manager at NEC Display Solutions Europe, the acid test has to be the demand for the ultimate in quality content:“
As with any digital signage project, content is king, which undoubtedly is where 4k provides a natural benefit, however unlike traditional HD content you do need to think about how the content will be distributed due to the limitations in cable length, or how much bandwidth will be required due to the file size of the content.”
Augustin has found that still images and slide shows in 4K rarely pose a problem, since creation and distribution of the files is straightforward. The main challenge is moving images and the selection of player hardware to support 4K at 60 Hz refresh rate. He has found that few agencies are prepared to create true 4K video content with 60Hz because the requirements for rendering PCs and storage devices are quite high, requiring high-end hardware and software.
Network distribution also requires gigabit-grade equipment since compression of movie files could lead to poor quality. Onboard and entry-level graphics cards can pose problems, with most unlikely to support full 4K with 60Hz refresh rate. Good cabling is also essential for good quality playback.
Customers are not always fully aware of these additional requirements, fixing only on the relative cost of 4K and Full HD resolution options. Whether or not a specific application merits the additional investment in 4K is largely dependent on the content owner’s expectations. Augustin believes that: “4K will enter the premium brand signage very quickly where cost up for equipment is not so much of a problem.
“For sure, budget-oriented mainstream signage will not accept a major price hike for both content creation and playout hardware. While it is difficult to say what the “4K premium price tag” will be precisely, any additional cost and efforts for content creation should also be taken into account. Just adding more pixels by upscaling the video files will not solve the problem.”
Customers aware and prepared to accept these additional costs often express concerns about future-proofing, but Augustin feels that making a case for widespread adoption of 4K is difficult at this very early stage of adoption is difficult – but it is not far off:
“Whilst we are very much in the early stage we are seeing that a number of clients that are well established users of digital signage are now looking at bringing in 4K content, especially when using video wall technology such as NEC’s latest XUN series which now supports 4K. We will definitely see more consideration from clients when they are looking at their 3-5 year strategy.
In times of high resolution mobile phones and tablets, customers are already used to pixel-free ergonomic viewing. Customers expect to get the same quality from their professional signage equipment. Therefore we expect 4K to be accepted as the de-facto standard as soon as pricing meets the sweet spot. Full HD had been around for quite some time, and first trends clearly show that 4K will come very quickly.”
Return on Investment
Similar issues arise in the calculation of the ROI – there is just not enough experience with the deployment of 4K to make any informed judgments:
“The ROI depends on the market segment. This is impossible to measure at the moment due to its infancy; however I do believe 4K will be the preferred solution for car dealerships, due to the quality and detail it can display. As soon a 4K display can support the buying process due to its ergonomic advantages over Full HD (natural product presentation by large format size and pixel free viewing), 4K signage will drastically improve attracting potential customers.”
“Since most 4K large format displays will be 65inch or above, the displays can both attract customers due to their size whilst still offering small pixel pitches to be able to reproduce the finest product details. Besides the fact that 4K products offer a higher pixel density, NEC 4K/UHD displays will also offer better image quality. S-IPS panel technology provides for stable colour reproduction independent of the viewing angle and offers natural colours due to a higher colour bit depth compared to standard LCD panels. In addition to the panel characteristics, NEC will also implement sophisticated colour management routines into the display models to assure consistent and reliable visual performance.
“We expect 4K to be accepted as the de-facto standard as soon as pricing meets the sweet spot.”
“Just adding more pixels by upscaling the video files will not solve the problem.”
4K display options
A wider choice of 4K displays is starting to ship following introductions at the major trade shows earlier in the year. AV News reports on some of the options.
Just as a flatscreen display vendor would not dream of entering 2014 with an interactive offering, so it is with 4K for 2015. The most recent showcase, as we write, for new large format 4K displays was InfoComm 2014 (although further announcements are imminent at IFA 2014 – see the Vestel box below).
Samsung used InfoComm to introduce a whole new range of 4K options: “Samsung has a legacy of leadership in display technology and digital signage, and we are now leading the exciting transition to UHD for customers looking to deliver more visually engaging, memorable visual experiences,” said Tod Pike, senior vice president at Samsung’s enterprise business division. “As 4K content becomes more prevalent and cost-effective to produce, offerings like our new QMD Series enable early adopters to wow their audiences and ensure they are future-proofed as the UHD becomes the new standard.”
Samsung says that the QMD Series is designed for use in settings where digital content plays a critical role in capturing attention or delivering highly detailed visual information. These include retail signage, conference room presentations and videoconferencing, movie production, CAD/CAM design and command/control centres.
A Picture by Picture function allows users to display up to four content feeds at once, each supporting full-HD 1080 resolution. The QMD Series also supports full 60Hz content playback utilising up to two DisplayPort 1.2 ports. The QMD Series displays come in 55- and 85-inch models.
Also introduced at InfoComm 2014, LG’s new 98LS95A 98-inch Ultra HD commercial-grade display is said to offer higher-brightness, energy-efficient as well as higher resolution. Clark Brown, digital signage vice president for LG Electronics USA said:
“As 4K and LED technologies continue to evolve, customers are increasingly adopting the enhanced technology solutions to take advantage of the better quality and energy savings. With LG, it’s all possible. LG innovations like IPS panels and Ultra HD displays are helping our customers enter the new era of advanced digital signage.”
The display, with a bezel width of just 14.6 mm at its thinnest point, can be mounted in portrait or landscape mode for a wide range of commercial applications. Like LG’s new 84-inch class 84WS70MS Ultra HD LED these edge-lit LED displays offer an attractive alternative to traditional tiled video walls. For example, the 98-inch class model is equivalent to a 2×2 47-inch class array, while the 84-inch class matches the size and resolution of a four 42-inch class screens.
Looking further forward, LG showed its 105-inch class ‘5K’ Ultra HD display with a 21:9 aspect ratio. It combines the ultra-wide format and 5120 x 2160 resolution are said to open up new, creative possibilities for advanced digital signage applications.
Panasonic’s 4K offerings represent the company’s diverse markets in visual communication. For commercial AV, Panasonic showed an 84-inch professional 4K LED display. Scheduled for global availability this autumn, but, at the time of the product’s announcement at ISE 14, Panasonic said that ‘the needs for a display have diversified’. Alongside the 84 inch, Panasonic showed a new 98-inch 4K LCD display at this year’s NAB event – also destined for ProAV applications – and a 31-inch 4K LCD monitor for monitoring in broadcast applications.
Both the 84-inch TH-84LQ70 and the 98-inch TH-98LQ70 pro AV models offer LED backlights, and the 98-inch is a direct backlight that’s going to have a full jack package to support 4K/60, including HDMI 2.0., DisplayPort 1.2, and four HD-SDI connector inputs. The 84-inch will be edge-lit. The 98 inch option is destined for higher ambient light environments with its 500 nits of brightness.
At the NAB launch, Art Rankin, Senior Director of Professional AV Technologies at Panasonic US said: “We are receiving a growing demand of inquiries from our customers for high resolution workflow and display solutions, ranging from broadcast and industrial production to retail signage and event staging.” For these potentially damaging environments, the LQ70 Series displays are equipped with a protective glass and also feature a ruggedised aluminium frame.
The 4K displays can be installed both vertically and horizontally, and, for the installer’s convenience, the LQ70 Series are designed with the same screw holes as Panasonic’s existing large-format plasma displays. The displays are also built with SLOT3.0 architecture which provides for easy interface changes to match various applications. The 98” TH-98LQ70 and 84” TH-84LQ70 displays should start to ship this month.
As we said above, the advent of the 4K standard represents the latest in a long line of paradigm shifts that have impacted throughout the industry. 4K is very much in its infancy, with the availability of display technologies currently outpacing the solutions available to the bulk of the content creation sector.
With each paradigm shift comes an opportunity for new vendors to stake a claim in the market. Look at the interactive flat panel display sector: the success of Ctouch, BenQ and Sahara, for example. Vendors are sensing that 4K could be a chance to disrupt the status quo – at least to the point where they can register respectable market shares.
A good example here would be ViewSonic – well established in the monitor business, but 4K represents a chance for the company to build its presence in large format flatpanel displays. By the time we get to ISE 2015, 4K displays options will be as numerous as IFPDs were last year – at which point the 4K ‘sweet spot’ won’t be far away.
The largest TV producer in Europe and the third largest in the world, Vestel has announced its intention to expand its range of consumer products, with an emphasis on smart products, and to introduce new ranges of B2B technologies. New consumer devices include a new range of ‘Dual View’ 3D Smart LED TVs. Designed to screen 2 different sources of 3D material at the same time, this model will make the clash of viewing schedules a thing of the past, permitting 2 viewers to simultaneously watch their own preferred TV content.
Vestel has also announced its Ultra High Definition LED TV and a range of extra large TV in 85”, 84” and 75” formats. Ultra Narrow Bezel Technology is the newest design segment offered by Vestel. Thanks to their metal frame design, these models can provide bezels approximately 6mm wide.
But it is the new professional products from Vestel that offer most interest. The new Vestel Deluxe Hotel TV, is described as a money-saving TV solution that is easy to maintain, providing hassle-free installation via USB cloning. Requiring virtual management, this model saves hoteliers the trouble of entering each hotel room, even offering the add-on options of anti-theft features for both the TV and the remote control. Equipped with Smart functionality, the Deluxe Hotel TV can connect to the internet as well as mobile devices, such as phones and tablets.
The latest Vestel interactive flat panel display has been designed to enhance the education process, helping instructors to create an engaging and responsive learning environment for their students. Offering LED touch screen technology, end users can write on the board with a pen or even their fingers. Documents, presentations, videos and websites can also be navigated and scrolled through, simply by touching the screen.
Compact and space-saving, the LED screen comes equipped with built-in PC functionality, eliminating the need for several parts and cables as well as the extra space required for the PC. Available in 65” and 80” formats, the model offers Full HD resolution as well as a 178° viewing angle to ensure an optimum viewer experience from any seat in the classroom. This integrated PC module is compatible with Intel OPS, which can be plugged into the back of the screen.
Also new from Vestel is the Android Signage Monitor, which, as the name suggests, integrates an Android operating system into its digital signage monitor. Offering a wireless connection, this special product supports LAN, Wi-Fi and 3G, allowing operators and system integrators access to multiple Android signage applications. The model also provides unrivalled viewing standards for all media, coming equipped with an integrated 3D graphics engine and LED technology. Available in 32”, 40”, 50” and 65” screen versions, the Vestel Android Signage Monitor provides 8GB NAND flash and an HDD option for the system memory as well as the possibility of an additional SD card to increase its memory capacity.
Another new digital signage monitor from Vestel, available in 40”, 50” and 65” screen sizes, the new display is powered by the Intel core i3 processor. It comes equipped with a back-lit LED screen to enhance the picture quality as well as to increase the depth and range of the colour gradients on offer. The new model can display full HD signage content and is designed to offer smoother playback thanks to its high refresh rate.
Designed for management from a remote PC, the client can connect to the signage from anywhere in the world, having the power to check and/or change the displays on the company network. A versatile product solution, the user can manage single as well as groups of displays, and can change the content and its schedule on multiple or separate displays via the Vestel Digital Signage Web Management Tool. This software also allows end users to choose the interface, enabling them to decide upon which media to play in which partition of the screen.
This digital signage solution ensures that end consumers can view MPEG2 and MPEG4 video formats, broadcast media on the internet, display images, weather conditions, subtitles (thickr) and the clock. Offering a flexible design solution, the Vestel OPS Digital signage displays can be upgraded easily on a PC via the OPS module structure. Using less energy than CCFL panels, the LED displays are extremely cost-effective to operate. Easy to unpack and install, Vestel digital signage can be fitted as a wall mounted or standalone product.
Vestel has also unveiled its latest signage TV, which provides a user-friendly PC editor program. Equipped with GUI, the PC editor offers easy-to-follow step by step instructions, enabling end users to create and preview their own custom-made advertising content. Requiring no additional software or hardware, the content can be immediately played on the TV. As well as displaying advertising, the TV screen can be divided, so that it also plays live TV in PIP mode. Available in a variety of sizes, this stylish TV signage solution is ideal for sports bars, hotels, restaurants, cafes and many other businesses, where a combination of live TV and signage is required.
Vestel will be rolling out an aggressive expansion strategy in the UK and other Western European countries in the run-up to ISE 2015.