4K video gets carded

In a bid to standardize portable storage and playback of 4K video, the SD Association today announced a new speed class designation for SD memory cards to identify products capable of recording 4K x 2K video. The new U3 designation will appear on SDXC and SDHC memory cards capable of constant minimum write speed of 30 Megabytes per second, fast enough to handle the torrent of data required to capture 4K video.

“This means 4K2K video, live broadcasts and content can be recorded on high-performance devices such as Digital Single Lens Reflex (D-SLR) cameras,  Digital Single Lens Mirrorless (D-SLM) cameras, camcorders and video cameras and then played back smoothly,” the group said in a press release. “Consumers will benefit from a single card that is capable of  meeting all of their video, photo, music, document and data storage needs.”

Content recorded on the new high-speed cards, which can store up to 128 GB, can be played back on any device that supports the new standard.

The early and aggressive moves to standardize around removable, portable media for 4K, before any 4K content to speak of is available, points to an adoption cycle — if there is one — that is likely to play out on digital and over-the-top platforms rather than on traditional video platforms.

Broadcasters, for instance, have so far shown little appetite for upgrading for 4K production or delivery. “We have no interest in doing 4K  telecasts or moving 4K signals to living rooms,” Fox Sports VP of field operations Jerry Steinberg told a SMPTE conference last month.  “We spent millions going to HD and never got an extra dime from advertisers. … It seems today [4K broadcasting] is a monumental task with not a lot of return.”

Cable MSOs would also be looking at an expensive upgrade to their plant to accommodate 4K at a time when video subscribers are cutting the cord and margins from the video side of the business are shrinking. Cable operators are likely to try to steer 4K delivery to their broadband platforms, where it could drive demand for higher speeds and boost margins.

In a speech to a CEA forum last month, Fox Home Entertainment worldwide president Mike Dunn called on the industry to agree on a new generation of Blu-ray Disc player that could handle 4K video using 100 GB discs. But the capacity to press 4-layer, 100 GB discs at anything like a commercial scale is likely to be a long time coming, even if there were an installed base of capable players.

The latest SD-related announcement, meanwhile, comes on the heels of an announcement by Toshiba in September that it will begin shipping microSD cards that support SeeQVault, the new Flash-based mobile DRM for downloadable content. While the cards likely could not support 4K, due to their lower constant minimum write speed, and SeeQVault has not yet been approved for 4K by content providers,  the infrastructure for a 4K consumer video ecosystem is starting to fall into place. And it doesn’t look anything like the infrastructure for HD or SD video.