The 8K future arrives in December

At the beginning of December 2018, the world’s first regular broadcasts in 8K begin, the climax of a 23-year development programme for Japanese broadcaster NHK. The question is whether it is truly the start of something that will eventually sweep the industry or will remain niche. Let’s not forget that it is NHK boffins who led development and implementation of High Definition.

NHK 8K broadcasts start in December
NHK 8K broadcasts start in December

While 8K began life as an exotic science project and was given renewed impetus by the Japanese government following Tokyo’s award of the 2020 Olympics, the Ultra HD standard is being cherry picked for application by creatives and broadcasters and promoted by vendors worldwide.

The exceptionally high-resolution raw material is being used with some regularity by cinematographers making top end Netflix and Amazon drama, with Lost in Space (shot 7K on a Red Helium 8K chipped camera) one example. Even downscaled for a HD or 4K delivery the additional super-sampled data provides headroom in post to zoom into the shot or add VFX.

Las Vegas’ consumer electronics show in January promises yet more 8K consumer displays, including a remarkable wallpaper thin and rollable 8K OLED from LG despite the fact that outside of Japan there is literally no content to watch at the full fat 8K 120p HDR which is what NHK plan to air.

Meanwhile Turkey’s satellite operator Türksat recently test broadcast 8K pictures of Istanbul’s “historical and natural beauties” to showcase the prowess of the country’s broadcast and tech business.

Astronauts and cosmonauts are even wielding an 8K camera onboard the International Space Station with footage downscaled for NASA’s video channel.

Kit manufacturers have developed an ecosystem of products that can support Super Hi-Vision in time for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. This includes a series of 8K capable systems cameras from Sony and a camcorder from Sharp.

IntoPix, the Belgium compression experts, have worked with NHK to devise a version of the TICO codec which makes it possible to transport 8K 4:2:2 60p 10-bits on a single 12G-SDI cable.

Even compressing 8K video by a factor of 4 to 1 is going to require some serious storage management. 4K UHD has taken a while to take-off in part because of the premium cost in both time and equipment in handling the larger data volumes.

NHK has amassed the world’s largest library of 8K content including games from FIFA Russia 2018 and landscapes of Yellowstone national park but knows full well its limited programming cycle from December isn’t about to kick-start an 8K viewing revolution. Like elsewhere, most Japanese are HD viewing only.

The content budgets of Netflix, Amazon or Apple may be in the billions but even they won’t be subsidising internet bandwidth capacity to get 8K content into homes.

So, 8K is a slow burn but has its application today and come the hi-tech shop window of Tokyo

2020, the insatiable business imperative to get us to upgrade and, crucially, the arrival of the 5G communications network and 8K will become a fixture sooner than you think.

After all, the Tokyo Games is less than 1000 days away.

Posted by Adrian Pennington, technology journalist. November 13, 2018.

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