Upscaling Towards a 4K Future


Earlier in the year (July), Santa Clara based Marseille (fabless semiconductor company) announced the first consumer products to include its 4K upscaling Ultra Visual Detail (UVD) video processor (the VTV-1222, part of the VTV-122X family) – these processors are also the first to meet Technicolor’s standard for 4K and receive its “Technicolor 4K Image Certification.”  Toshiba’s BDX-6400 (Blu-ray/streaming player) is first to market with Marseille’s technology and is currently available in the US and will launch soon in Europe.  Like other 4K products, e.g. most Ultra HD TVs and Sony’s 4K Ultra HD Media Player (FMP-X1), pricing is at a premium, although compared to Sony’s $699 streaming player (that only supports Sony 4K TVs), Toshiba’s $299-$349 Blu-ray player is comparatively a bargain.  Silicon Image is also targeting 4K upscaling as a way to address the dearth of native 4K content with its VRS ClearView technology; considering its work in CE interconnectivity, Silicon Image should have a solid leg up in the industry.

Based on early reviews, early adopters who use 4K upscaling won’t be disappointed.  Even as costs come down, however, the question remains: when will consumers view Ultra HD as a significant value add?  In some ways it is a chicken and egg conundrum (and upscaling helps in this regard), but we also have to wonder if consumers are ready for a new format.  Blu-ray has gained momentum, but what might happen to the market if consumers are yet again urged to upgrade their players for the latest and greatest (3D didn’t work) – not to mention the added technological complexities: e.g. native versus upscaled 4K, HDMI 1.4/2.0, deep color, frame-rates, data consumption, etc.  The latter might prove particularly interesting, as Netflix recently suggested 15 Mbps might be the ideal streaming bitrate for 4K content. 

The CEA recently suggested 4K TV shipments into the US won’t eclipse 1 million units until 2015, which suggests larger volumes might not come until 2016-2017 or beyond.  Until then upscaling and 4K streaming will serve the early adopters but it will be some time before 4K is more mainstream.