The age of ultra high-definition (UHD) broadcasting has begun in South Korea, with major local broadcasters beginning UHD broadcasts on May 31. With the launch, Korea has become the first country in the world to offer UHD services for terrestrial TV. We will take a closer look at the significance of the launch and its potential impact with Professor Park Hee-jun of Yonsei University’s School of Information and Industrial Engineering. First of all, let’s find out what UHD broadcasting is, and how it is different from existing high-definition broadcasts.

Terrestrial UHD broadcasting is a new service that is being introduced 16 years after digital broadcasting was first introduced in 2001. The biggest difference is resolution as UHD broadcasts provide four times the resolution of current high-definition broadcasts. While HD can express 17 million different colors, UHD can express up to 1 billion different colors, so there’s a big difference. Also, the sound quality is different as well. Current HD transmissions use 5.1 surround sound. However, UHD can support 10.2 surround sound, which provides fuller, three-dimensional audio. Also, viewers can benefit from various IP-based and emergency warning services by connecting their TV to the internet.

UHD broadcasts have up to four times the resolution of current HD broadcasts and provide three-dimensional sound using the 10.2 surround sound format. UHD broadcasts are so realistic they can almost make the viewer believe that they are in the scene themselves. As UHD TVs can connect to the internet, new services are available such as searching for specific scenes from your favorite TV series, or streaming shows from your phone directly to your TV. Moreover, if a viewer was watching the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, they could watch their chosen event without being restricted by the TV programming schedule. If there is a natural disaster or emergency, the TV would turn on automatically to alert viewers. As UHD broadcasting offers more than just improvements in screen resolution or sound quality, it is expected to significantly alter Korea’s broadcasting landscape.

Korea is the first country in the world to begin terrestrial broadcasts in UHD. This allows Korea to demonstrate its technological prowess in the telecommunications industry and also gain early entry into the global UHD broadcasting market. With the phased expansion of terrestrial UHD broadcasting, Korea’s UHD broadcasting content, equipment, and management know-how has the possibility of becoming the global standard. So, we are expecting to see the ripple effects for many UHD broadcasting-related industries. The government and Korea’s three major broadcasters launched UHD broadcasting in the Seoul Metropolitan area, Incheon, and Gyeonggi-do Province in the first phase. In December, the second phase will begin as UHD broadcasts will be made available in other major metropolitan areas, including Busan and Gangwon-do Province, where the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics will be held. In the last phase, the entire nation will gain access to UHD broadcasts between 2020 and 2021.

UHD TV is an innovative broadcasting service that allows your home TV to provide two-way services, like a mobile phone or PC, by combining broadcasting and telecommunications technologies. UHD broadcasting is opening up a new era where TV is becoming a medium for “experiencing” rather than “watching”. It provides endless opportunities not just for broadcasters but for portal sites, IPTV companies, electronics manufacturers, telecommunications organizations, and more. As Korea is the first country to launch such services, the country has seized the opportunity to spearhead the global market. Korea also has the technology to be the leader in the UHD broadcasting age.

Korean companies and research institutes have led the efforts in commercializing UHD broadcasting. UHD broadcasting-related technologies can be divided into image compression technology and image transmission technology. Korean researchers and corporations are leaders in both fields. Looking at UHD broadcasting-related patent applicants in the past 10 years, Korean organizations take up 88% of the total. So, we can safely assume that Korean technology is dominant in this field. Out of the domestic applicants, 80% of them are from corporations and research institutions. As you can see, domestic companies and research institutions played a major role in Korea becoming the first country to launch terrestrial UHD broadcasting.

Korea’s major broadcasters, manufacturers, and research institutions used domestic technology to commercialize terrestrial UHD broadcasting for the first time in the world. This technology is now gaining global attention. Brazil is preparing to launch UHD broadcasts and has asked KBS for support, while Europe’s satellite operator Eutelsat has expressed an interest in buying UHD content. However, there are some issues facing the
UHD broadcasting industry.

UHD broadcasting began in the Seoul Metropolitan area, but it still has a long way to go. In order to enjoy UHD content to the fullest, you have to have direct terrestrial transmissions. However, Korea’s rate for direct terrestrial transmissions is very low. According to the Korea Information Society Development Institute’s report on broadcast communications trends for 2016, only 5% of the surveyed households used just terrestrial TV without a subscription to cable, satellite, IPTV, or other paid services. Also, even if households access direct terrestrial transmissions, they must own a UHD TV. However, only 2.5% of households own such a TV. Currently, the law states that UHD content must be produced by the broadcaster’s own funds. In other words, broadcasters may have difficulty producing high-quality and popular content due to budget constraints.

Although the era of UHD broadcasting has begun, it will take time for it to be fully embraced. There are not enough households with UHD TVs or those that access direct terrestrial transmissions. Increasing UHD content is another challenge. Out of all the programs created by major local broadcasters, UHD content only accounts for 5 percent. Broadcasters are working hard to produce content in various genres, but are facing limitations due to budget constraints. For UHD broadcasting to really take root, policy support seems to be the key.

UHD TV will become mainstream in the future. However, there are some challenges it faces before full commercialization. Various UHD TV content must be created first, and the government must develop diverse policies to support related industries. The price of UHD TVs is expensive and only high-income households can afford them. Until the market matures, the government will have to provide subsidies or other kinds of support and promotion policies for related industries to allow a greater number of people to enjoy ultra high-resolution content through UHD TVs.

Korea opened up a new chapter in broadcasting history by becoming the first country in the world to launch terrestrial UHD broadcasting. If the service is supported by specific policies, corporations, and active audience participation, UHD broadcasting will become the dominant TV service sooner rather than later.