Comcast: We’ll Be Ready for Ultra HD When Content Comes

WASHINGTON — There’s a dearth of 4K/Ultra HD content available and 4K TVs are still out of the financial reach of many consumers, but Comcast demonstrated here that it won’t be caught fl at-footed when and if the market for the eye-popping format takes off .

“If the 4K market develops, we’re ready for it,” said Mark Francisco, fellow of premises technologies for Comcast Cable, which was running two live demos of Ultra HD here at its booth that involved development equipment running on Comcast’s production network. While one demo showed 4K video, which packs in four times the resolution of a HD video shot in 1080p, running on Comcast’s DOCSIS 3.0 network, the other rode upon the MSO’s legacy QAM video infrastructure.

In the IP-based demo, Comcast piped in an Ultra HD stream encoded in H.264/MPEG-4 running at 50 Megabits per second on a DOCSIS 3.0 modem that was provisioned for the MSO’s 105 Mbps (downstream) speed tier. That was paired with a PC outfitted with Intel’s fourth-generation Haswell processor.

The QAM demo shined the light on H.265/High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC), an emerging compression technology that is 50% more efficient than H.264. HEVC is also positioned to help cable operators deliver the same number of Ultra HD services inside a 6MHz-wide QAM channel as they do today with HDTV via MPEG-2. Comcast can typically pack two to three HD MPEG-2 digital QAM streams inside a 6MHz channel, which consumes about 40 Mbps of data, and could essentially duplicate that if it were to run 4K video streams encoded in HEVC, Francisco said.

But today’s QAM set-tops don’t have HEVC chips and are not capable of supporting Ultra HD video. For the QAM demo, Comcast ran the 4K video to a Broadcom set-top reference design with HEVC capabilities on board.

For both demos, the 4K video was run on a Samsung Ultra HDTV and showed segments of Universal’s Oblivion and Syfy’s Defiance.

The technology demos “show we’re capable of doing this now,” Francisco said.

CableLabs also had live 4K demos running that the show, and executives noted here Wednesday morning that the R&D consortium has opened up an Ultra HD lab and purchased a Red Epic camera to shoot “rightsfree” content for its testing purposes.

During the general session last Tuesday (June 11), Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts demonstrated a 3.382 Gbps connection to a PC downloading a 4.2-Gigabyte 4K video fi le (shot by former Charter Communications chairman and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen) in 3.93 seconds. In 2011, Roberts demonstrated a 1 Gbps connection.