Interview of Paul Gray, Omdia, Research Director
by Ben Schwarz
In mid-August, I published my op-ed on the relative speed to market of 8K compared to previous video standards. I was honored that Paul Gray, my friend, and the leading analyst in all things 8K at Omdia, read it and gave me some feedback (Omdia is a treasure trove on 8K as you can see here).
Of course, he shot some holes in my methodology, which I’ll go into below, but above all, he made me realize that there was a gaping hole in my logic. Although 8K may indeed be just another resolution, making assumptions about its market acceptance, based on how fast HD penetrated the market over a decade ago, omits the fact that the technology can enable disruptive new experiences.
My logic would have held for comparing an existing car model with a new one that goes 20% faster and consumes 20% less energy. Not for comparing a horse and cart to a Tesla Model X.
Before we investigate how 8K is not just more of the same but potentially something entirely different, let’s get those holes in my logic out of the way.
Paul contends that digital products are fundamentally different in that all the intellectual property is contained within a chip and software. Especially in our new world of open source, the barriers to entry are low for companies wanting to build devices. All the arcane knowledge required to make working analog hardware is no longer necessary. Paul explained to me that this is a crucial enabler for ever more rapid adoption curves. He noted that “DVD players are perhaps the most obvious example, going from the top end to mass-market in 3 years, and on to hollowed-out in 5 years (a player cost less than a DVD disc in 2007!).”
So his first contention is that the curve sped up as products went digital.
Paul then extended his reasoning, noting that the move from glass-and-metal to solid-state also kicked every market to faster cost reduction, accelerating change and adoption. He cited the shift from valves to transistors in the 1960s, CRT to LCD in the 2000s, or lamps to LEDs in the 2010s. “These industries accelerated to a semiconductor pace of evolution, both in performance but also cost reduction.”
The sting in the tail is that these trends accelerate the path to ‘good-enough’, after which consumers either cannot perceive the difference or won’t pay for it. The market then has to make an orthogonal shift away from simply offering better performance.
Paul’s example here is for audio where the CD was “so good” that successively improved formats all failed. The market went nowhere until Apple disruptively showed how to put your entire music collection into your pocket. Note that the key innovation for Apple’s audio market success was solving software and delivery, not in creating any audio technology – MP3 players had been around a while before the launch of the iPod.
Paul continued, “I guess that ‘good enough’ in video is somewhere between clean HD and UHD. The iPod moment has played out slightly differently with streaming replacing a personal library, largely bypassing audio’s piracy problem. If my music parallel holds, then without an orthogonal shift, the TV road to ever-higher resolutions will peter out eventually. »
Just like the iPod changed how music was consumed, 8K can do the same for video. Even an analyst as recognized as Paul doesn’t have the crystal ball to tell us what that orthogonal shift will be, but he does have a clear vision of what it could be. He sees how the next generation of video technology might usher in novel use cases that simply couldn’t have worked before.
In these trying times of lockdowns and restrictions, most of us have been reminded how vital it is for society to have live events. Attending them is an essential part of what sticks us together, nourishes our minds and souls.
Remote live performance has been a niche activity, for example, with cinemas transmitting live opera performances to a select few (although there were some exceptions, like in 2018 when the London Royal Opera House’s remote audience already exceeded in-person).
Music videos have traditionally been a value-added service on top of the actual product: the music. To prove that point, just notice how all videos of live music use a fixed sound mix, despite all sorts of camera movements. That is changing, and the image part of live music production is becoming a more central part of the artistic intent for live events.
Gray believes that “8K projection of live material to a HUGE screen in a performance space creates the sense of presence. It’s not TV, nor an in-person venue experience, but something new. The costs of a high quality 8K setup can be met, AND it offers something unique. Imagine live concerts from a room behind a bar, costing (say) the same as a cinema ticket. Access to the talent is the way that music fights back – the live experience can develop a new channel. »