Although it is still early to predict how quick the adoption of higher resolutions will be, the industry is rife with experiments that will lead to the adoption of 4K and 8K. Heres a look at what this entails Over the past year, the broadcast technology sector seemed consumed by predictions and projections relating to […]
Although it is still early to predict how quick the adoption of higher resolutions will be, the industry is rife with experiments that will lead to the adoption of 4K and 8K. Heres a look at what this entails
Over the past year, the broadcast technology sector seemed consumed by predictions and projections relating to virtually every aspect of Ultra HD/4K. We have witnessed the undoubted success of an increasing number of UHD solutions and technologies and it seems safe to say that higher resolutions and frame rates are poised to become the next logical step in the video arena of the future.
It may seem a little premature to start looking ahead to 8K broadcasting, however if we look at NAB, one of the major highlights has to be NHKs closed-circuit demonstration of the over-the-air transmission of 8K content in a single 6 MHz UHF TV channel. This is a significant move for the industry, given this was the first time 8K had been done outside of Japan.
NHK held its first trial broadcast during last summers London Olympics. It produced six channels in the new format, which were then given several public viewings. The trial was deemed a success and audience feedback likened the 8K experience to being at a live event in person.There are now plans to shoot some of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in 8K.
NHK has developed a new format, which at 16 times higher than the current HDTV standards, features resolutions of 7,680 pixels by 4,320 pixels.
Japans national television broadcaster revealed recently that it plans to begin transmissions in 2016 using the Super Hi-Vision format, having spent the last few years in the depths of development. However, just how realistic a prospect is it that viewers in any market, other than Japan, will be sitting down in front of a Super Hi-Vision production in their homes over the next decade?
Sport is ideal for higher resolution formats, as the fluidity of movement and immersive detail the new technology offers lends itself to these types of applications. Sports broadcasts are known for their dynamic production techniques and transmitting these in 4K or 8K would, no doubt, be a winning proposition for many sports fans. The forthcoming FIFA World Cup tournament would provide the perfect platform to start demonstrating the capabilities of 8K, but it seems to have come round far too early for anything other than the odd transmission trial.
In terms of actually being able to watch 8K content, NHK used a 145-inch prototype display co-developed with Panasonic to show off its Olympics footage, however, it is expected to be some time before 8K-ready models become commercially available. Manufacturers are currently focusing their efforts on launching 4K-enabled devices offering only a quarter of the resolution compared to the potential 8K models. Consumer electronics giants including Samsung, Sharp and Panasonic have announced they are working on screens, the first of which are expected to begin retail within two years.
While there does seem to be consumer appetite for higher resolutions, the price point will determine when 8K becomes a realistic buy for the mainstream. Having said that, if we look at the UHD/4K models, margins seem to be decreasing relatively quickly and it looks likely that the sets will carry only a modest price premium over similarly sized 1080p models within the next few years.
Some of the biggest global broadcast technology companies have been preparing for the 8K format for several years. The 8K wheels are slowly going in motion and gradually the size and pricing of this equipment will fall. Capturing footage in 8K is currently the least challenging part of the process, although there are only a handful of camera models that can shoot at this resolution. The biggest difficulty does not lie in production in 8K but in distribution.
One of the technical hurdles that needs to be overcome is that the uncompressed video in 8K runs at a substantial 24 gigabits per second, and editing that signal followed by compression and transmission to viewers will be a huge challenge. As with 4K, it will pose a significant problem for digital terrestrial broadcasters, as their limited spectrum makes the higher resolution formats tricky to implement. In some countries, even if they have 50 or 60 channels, a relatively small proportion are in high-definition. For terrestrial broadcasts, there is simply not enough spectrum, which means providers will struggle to keep up with the UHD formats.
Geographical areas like the Middle East, where the market is dominated by satellite and cable providers, are at an advantage as the major players could establish UHD channels relatively simply. Those using satellite distribution could acquire increased transponder space, which would make both 4K and 8K a more straightforward deployment than it would be for any competitors using terrestrial delivery methods.
The internet may become a more viable method to get much more data through to viewers homes. Consumers across the Middle East region already have access to high speed connections, and that speed and reach is continuously improving. 4K content can stream on a 15mbps connection, however the immense size of 8K uncompressed video will need considerably more.
The secret to delivery of higher resolutions lies in compression
In many ways, the infrastructure is already in place and providers need to continue to explore ways to compress content so mass market higher resolution formats will not put too much pressure on their networks. Codecs such as HEVC, and possibly even future versions of Googles VP9, are set to be key enablers to make ultra-high definition formats more practical. To place this in context, HEVCs compression rate could see 4K needing only between 10-20% more bandwidth than 1080p.
From the technology providers to the producers, and as weve seen from some broadcasters, investment in 8K is also underway on the programming side. Around 3000 hours of HD content will be captured during FIFA 2014. There are growing rumours that the final will be broadcast in 4K, and apparently, there are even discussions taking place around the technical possibilities for sending an 8K signal over IP back to Japan and then on to satellite.
The delivery of 8K content to viewers at home is still very much in the experimental stages but it may not be as far away as we may imagine. The distribution infrastructure has to improve and broadcasters and their technology suppliers may be wise to begin future-proofing their means of production and delivery. We may not be too many World Cups away from audiences being put right at the centre of the action.