Qualcomm, LG Show Off 4K Content at Mobile World Congress

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When consumer electronics manufacturers rolled out prototypes of Ultra 4K displays at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, they admitted that they were showing special 1080p content, not 4K content.

"I think you'll see the content start to develop," said Tim Baxter, president of Samsung Electronics' U.S. division, in an interview with Mashable during CES. "It's not going to be an overnight proposition. When HDTVs first hit the market, there was no content available."

A little under two months later, at last week's 2013 Mobile World Congress (MWC) show in Barcelona, it appears that the Ultra 4K content problem may be well underway to being solved.

Qualcomm, as part of its Snapdragon 8000 display, had both a home theater mockup—complete with 7.1 surround sound, as well as playback of 4K content on the same 84" screen that Samsung had showcased at CES—and an Ultra 4K recording showcase, complete with Spanish dancers.

In the Snapdragon 8000 Theatre, the content shown was 2K and 4K content from Life of Pi, the movie that won director Ang Lee an Oscar at this year's Academy Awards. What was most impressive, and a step up from content shown at a similar Snapdragon 8000 Theater at the January 2013 CES show, was the fact that 4K content was playing back from an 8000-equipped tablet. The January demonstrations had been limited to 2K content, even though Qualcomm said at the time the device was capable of recording and playing back 4K content.

Just outside the MWC Snapdragon showcase theatre, another demonstration was going on, where a similar 8000-equipped tablet was recording 2K content. Using a modified connector and a tripod-mounted camera, the tablet recorded 2K content and displayed it, with about a one-second delay for processing time. In addition, content of the dancers, shot earlier in the day and then mounted on internal memory, was playing back at 4K via an external display. These dual recordings allowed viewers to see dancers in both 4K and 2K.

Other companies were also showing off 4K delivery, including short-range streaming. Normally it would be hard to cover all aspects of the show, but  MWC this year was, for the first time in its decade-long history in Barcelona, under one roof, so we dropped by LG's booth to looked at what the company is billing as the "world's first wireless Ultra HD transmission technology".

For those who remember the buzz a few years ago about wireless HD transmission, using technologies like Ultrawide Band (UWB), the biggest limitation in those devices was the requirement to have special transmission chipsets. About the same time, however, the multiple-in-multiple-out (MIMO) concept came into play for 802.11x clients and access points, allowing WiFI-equipped devices to receive multiple streams of data via multiple antennas.

LG wouldn't specify the details around its 4K transmission, other than to confirm it is not UWB-based and relies more on multiple Wi-FI signals to send content from the small-screen device to a larger display. Like Samsung, with its SwipeIT technology, the prototype LG showcased at MWC only works with an LG display. This is in stark contrast to Apple, Inc., with its AirPlay technology, which can be sent to any larger display, provided an Apple TV set-top box is connected to that display.

The next obvious step is 2K or 4K displays in consumers' living rooms. Yet, just as the content issue plagued early HDTV displays, we've still got a bit of time before we have 4K content to play on these devices. 4K streaming might help drive adoption, which we'll explore this more in my "Streams of Thought" column in the next issue of Streaming Media magazine.

Mobile World Congress 2013 paves the way for advances to be shown at the upcoming National Association of Broadcasters show in Las Vegas in early April. With more than 72,000 visitors attending this year's MWC, from all over the world, the idea of Ultra 4K displays and 2K or 4K streaming has well seeded.

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