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Worried About Bandwidth for 4K? Here Comes 8K!

Aditya Kishore
10/17/2017
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Japanese public broadcaster NHK will be launching a channel in 8K "Super Hi-Vision" in a little over a year's time, following two-and-half years of testing a satellite-delivered 8K TV channel. The broadcaster announced the December 2018 launch at the MIPCOM UHD event in Cannes yesterday.

NHK will also be growing its slate of 4K UHD content, with plans to offer 18 hours of 4K content daily on its existing 4K channel. The goals for its 8K channel are only slightly more modest at 12 hours and ten minutes per day delivered in 8K resolution. NHK is investing heavily in producing more content at these resolutions to be able to quickly develop a library of content and support these channels.

NHK's "Super Hi-Vision" format uses 8K resolution (7680 x 4320 pixels), or sixteen times the resolution of a 1080p full HD picture. The broadcaster has been offering mostly non-fiction 8K content on its test channel, including coverage of the Olympic games and music concerts of various kinds. More recently it showcased a nature and wildlife documentary, coverage of a ballet and cityscape footage. It's typical footage for test channels, to show the visual quality of a high-resolution format, and is not that different from the kind of content that was used to sell HDTV. But it's far from mainstream programming.

In fact, penetration of 8K TVs and reception equipment is so limited -- even in device-crazy Japan -- that NHK installed viewing stations in Japan during the Rio Olympics, so that people could sample the technology. Why then move forward with 8K broadcasts? NHK is a public broadcaster, with funding and a public service mandate. It also has a long history of pioneering new video technologies and has an active research and development division.


Want to know more about pay-TV subscriber trends? Check out our dedicated video services content channel here on Light Reading.


8K also faces two other challenges. Firstly, being able to appreciate even a 4K channel requires a TV screen of about 55-60 inches. Anything less, and the difference between 4K and HD is difficult to appreciate fully. To differentiate 8K from 4K, you would probably need a screen of about 85 inches, and you would need to sit about five to six feet away. In many North American homes that might work, but in Asian and European cities it will limit the addressable audience significantly.

Secondly, pay-TV providers are still struggling to handle the bandwidth requirements for 4K channels today. 4K requires bit rates of between 15 Mbit/s and 25 Mbit/s for high-quality, fast-motion content like live sports. 8K could push those requirements up to 80 Mbit/s or even 100 Mbit/s for each channel/stream. Most broadband and pay-TV networks are not able to support those kind of bit rates, particularly when you factor in multiple members in each home viewing multiple channels or streams simultaneously.

As such, 8K is likely to be more of an experiment for now, with some serious questions about its applicability as a traditional linear TV delivery format. But it can be used for other purposes: NHK highlighted its productive video uses, such as in healthcare. NHK demonstrated 8K's use in filming microscopic footage for medical research purposes. (See Defining Productive Video.)

Virtual reality (VR) is another area where 8K could be useful. The nature of VR requires the viewer to essentially zoom into a part of the picture, which means that resolution and visual quality suffers. To create a rich, immersive experience, visual quality is very important. 8K can help, since even zoomed in at 16X resolution, the viewer is still looking at a full HD-quality picture.

While I would expect more experimentation in this space, I doubt 8K will emerge as a viable TV format, even in the next few years. The cost-value equation doesn't make much sense, specially as the industry is still feeling its way with 4K.

However, 8K could have an impact in areas like VR and productive video, where the higher resolution makes a major difference in specialized use cases. We may also see more production and coverage in 8K, but distribution in down-converted 4K. This creates a slightly better experience for the viewer and allows broadcasters to build a library in 8K in case the format does take off somewhere down the line.

— Aditya Kishore, Practice Leader, Video Transformation, Telco Transformation

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ChiefEng45876
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ChiefEng45876,
User Rank: Light Beer
10/19/2017 | 12:34:35 PM
Re: No surprise
Higher resolution than 4k (or even FHD...) is essentially pointless for the vast majority of people, and even high dynamic range doesn't make such a big difference -- by far the biggest improvement to give closer-to-real-life video would be high frame rate, getting rid of all the judder and motion artefacts (without and with frame interpolation).

Doubling the frame rate would give a much bigger visual improvement than doubling the number of pixels, for the same increase in bandwidth. Anyone who has seen a true HFR demo (no interlacing, no interpolation, 100fps or above -- not 48fps which is what 24fps film producers call HFR) will realise just how much we've got used to juddery video.
242ak
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242ak,
User Rank: Moderator
10/18/2017 | 5:23:36 AM
Re: No surprise
Its a worrying trend for the CE industry, I think. The world is becoming more software-defined, not just telecom. Where does that leave you if you are a specialized device manufacturer? I think CE is getting absorbed into the IT world, and it's a transition well underway, that started years ago with iTunes. 
242ak
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242ak,
User Rank: Moderator
10/18/2017 | 5:18:23 AM
Re: No surprise
milliamp -- HDR is probably the visual technology improvement that I am most looking forward to, although the entire mix of HFR, WCG, 10-or-12 bit color -- all very exciting for a TV nerd. But I also agree that the viewing experience is changing, and we are increasingly looking at a mix of devices, and also viewing preferences. Yes, you might want to watch the Superbowl on the best screen, but there's going to be a lot of video you are happy viewing on smaller screens, and some that you might actually prefer to. 
242ak
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242ak,
User Rank: Moderator
10/18/2017 | 5:11:30 AM
Re: 8K moment
jbtombes -- That's right -- It was Beethoven. I didn't see it, but NHK talked about it. I think you're right about potential applications as well -- 8K is probably better for specialized use cases, and small theatre would be well suited. I think we are seeing shifts in the cinema business as well, so I'd expect to see a broader variety of theatres at different price points and with a broader variety of content, including events. I think at least in the short term (next few years) 8K is better for these kind of use cases than residential mass market TV.
milliamp
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milliamp,
User Rank: Light Beer
10/18/2017 | 1:17:13 AM
Re: No surprise
It's a bit like digital cameras being evaluated as more megapixels = better. We are hitting diminishing returns in sparial resolution with 4k and 8k. There are still gainst to be had from 8 to 10 bit sample depth, HFR (high frame rate), HDR, and Wide Color Gamut. Those things are less of a gimmic than 3D (which could still see some support). There will be hardware refreshes for OLED and improved displays with thinner and larger screens. There is a need to improve "smart" capabilities of the TV with software/hardware there, better codec support, upgrades to WiFI and connectivity etc. I use a 4k TV for HD content and by the time 4k gains popularity I'll probably be watching 4k streams on an 8k capable TV. There is also the growth in the number of viewing devices in the home to contend with which will likely have the greater impact to bandwidth than higher bitrate formats will. TV is transitioning from a family experience to a personal one. Hitting diminishing returns on resolution will allow focus on other things.
jbtombes
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jbtombes,
User Rank: Light Sabre
10/18/2017 | 1:04:33 AM
8K moment
I saw (and heard) the NHK Super-Hi Vision 8k demo at NAB - Conductor Seiji Ozawa conducting Mozart or maybe Beethoven. The resolution was so high that I started to walk over to read the label on one of the instruments. One possible application: small theatre? 
Duh!
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Duh!,
User Rank: Blogger
10/17/2017 | 11:00:59 AM
No surprise
The Law of Diminishing Returns applies to video resolution. The CE industry is going to have to find another way to keep product/technology lifecycles short.
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