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When high-definition (HD) video hit the conferencing market, enterprises were eager to drop standard definition in favor of the clearer, sharper images of HD. Now video conferencing providers are going one step further with 4K video, which has four times the resolution of 1080p.
But the question is whether enterprises are as eager to adopt 4K as they were for 720p and 1080p HD. According to Andrew Davis, senior partner at Wainhouse Research, the answer is no -- at least not for a few years.
"Bottom line is this won't be mainstream technology for three to six years, maybe even longer," he said.
Davis said bandwidth is the greatest limitation. While the majority of video conferencing systems support 1080p, most users opt for 720p, because they don't want to use too much bandwidth or don't have enough, he said.
"You have a hard time justifying anything that would have to double the bandwidth when you're already talking about 2 or 4 megabits for a typical HD room and 6 to 10 megabits for telepresence rooms per screen," Nemertes Research analyst Irwin Lazar said.
The emerging video codec standard H.265 may ease the burden on the networks as it promises 30% to 40% bandwidth improvement, which will encourage users to explore the latest technology, Davis said.
The cost of equipment and the cost to deploy 4K-ready systems is another factor keeping enterprises from adopting 4K video.
"Enterprises are expecting to spend less on room systems than more. For somebody to offer a high-end premium 4K solution, it's going to be a tough sell unless they can show some significant way it can save money. I don't think it can at this point," Lazar said.
While 4K display prices are dropping, it's not enough to encourage enterprises to go out and replace their current equipment.
Vendors making the move to 4K video
A lack of user interest hasn't stopped vendors from pitching 4K video to customers.
"It's something that you'll see vendors roll out over the next year to say 'Hey we're doing this,' " Lazar said.
Vidyo has 4K capabilities built into its software, so all Vidyo room-based conferencing customers have the ability to use 4K video, said Joan Vandermate, vice president of marketing at Vidyo. But there's no guarantee customers will use the capabilities and Vidyo has no way to track usage.
"The question is whether customers have an appetite to go out and buy new screens," Vandermate said. "I think the answer to that is probably no. I don't see people rushing out en masse to jettison their 1080p screens in favor of 4K."
However, she said enterprises building out new conferencing rooms should give some thought to buying a 4K screen over a 1080p screen, especially if users plan on high definition content sharing, such as CAD/CAM designs, x-rays and other detailed images.
Polycom opted to include three 84-inch 4K displays in developing its RealPresence Immersive Studio room system in anticipation of video conferencing technology advancing away from 1080p, said John Antanaitis, vice president of marketing at Polycom.
Antanaitis gave the example of an organization dividing a 4K screen during its quarterly business review. One quadrant could have the organization's revenue stream, a snapshot of the coming quarter in another quadrant and marketing campaigns in a third quadrant, he said.
"That's a scenario where having a 4K monitor enables you and allows you to do something that you never could have done on a 1080p monitor -- by the time you broke down that into four smaller monitors, you'd be back to almost an SD quality experience," Antanaitis said.
For now, 4K video conferencing will remain a niche market for users.
"I think likely what happens is in the next round of updates and upgrades of hardware for the next two to four years, you'll start to see 4K built into those codecs and start to see 4K capable screens," Lazar said. "Once that happens, you'll start to see applications built. But I expect it'll be niche applications at least for the next couple of years."
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