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8K Association Formed to Spark Tech Ecosystem

Jeff Baumgartner
1/17/2019
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Even as Ultra HD/4K starts to carve out a sizable slice of the video and TV market, work is already well underway for the anticipated, next big jump in video resolution: 8K.

A group that will try to lead the charge into the pixel-packed world of this emerging video format is the 8K Association (8KA), a trade group that was introduced at last week's CES in Las Vegas. The founding companies include AU Optronics, a major panel supplier, along with a handful of TV makers that hope to profit on the eventual migration to 8K – Hisense, Panasonic Corp. (NYSE: PC), Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (Korea: SEC) and TCL Electronics. They all have seats on the 8KA board and have an equal vote.

That group has signed a memorandum of understanding for the new non-profit organization, which has set goals in several areas tied to 8K, including the promotion of 8K TVs and content, educating consumers and pros about the 8K ecosystem, procuring 8K content for its members, and working on some initial tech requirements for 8K input signals and minimum specs for image quality.

The 8K Association kicked off at CES 2019 backed by a handful of founding members.
The 8K Association kicked off at CES 2019 backed by a handful of founding members.

In addition to promotion and education around 8K, the new group will also look at standards and best practices, and attempt to work with other organizations on the project, including the UHD Alliance, the CTA, Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) .

"We hope and plan to have good and cordial relationships with all those guys," Chris Chinnock, the 8K Association's executive director, said. "We want to co-exist."

The 8K Association is entering the picture at the very nascent stages of the technology/platform – there's very little 8K content to speak of (NHK in Japan launched an 8K channel last month and has big 8K-focused plans for the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo), and sales of 8K-capable TVs are just getting out of the starting blocks. With respect to displays, just 200,000 8K TV units are expected to ship this year, risingto 1.5 million by 2022, according to the latest projections from the Consumer Technology Association (CTA). As a point of comparison, CTA expects some 22 million 4K TVs to ship in the US this year. (See 8K TVs to Creep Into US Market in 2019.)

"It's early days [for 8K], but we wanted to get out ahead of the curve," Chinnock said, while also acknowledging that there is sure to be some pushback and naysaying about the new 8K-focused initiative at this juncture. "But we would rather take control of the narrative rather than the narrative leading the industry."

He said the general reaction to the 8K Association at CES was positive, with about two dozen companies, including MVPDs, OTT video companies, encoder vendors and camera makers, seeking more information about the group. "Exactly the folks we want to attract," Chinnock said.

With respect to content, the 8KA hopes to avoid some of the stumbles that 4K encountered in the early going, as TV makers initially offered content in that format using proprietary, one-off, closed media systems to deliver a small number of TV shows and movies in 4K.

"We will identify 8K content that's out there and license it for our member companies if we can," Chinnock said.

8KA will also take a close look at new, more efficient codecs that can lower the bit-rate requirements for 8K video, which delivers a resolution of 7680 x 4320 (about 33.2 million pixels), four times that of 4K. Notably, Netflix currently recommends sustained speeds of 25 Mbit/s for the streaming of content from its 4K library.

Potential codec candidates that can help to reduce the stress on the network include AV1, a royalty-free that was introduced at last year's NAB show, and VVC (Versatile Video Codec), a successor-in-development to HEVC. (See Could the AV1 Codec Crush HEVC? )

Paolo Pescatore, an independent tech, media and telco analyst who attended CES 2019, believes that 8K will eventually become the "default standard" on TVs. "8K will happen and it seems to be moving a lot more quickly than 4K did," he said.

But he agrees that more work around a full ecosystem must be developed for the 8K market to truly take flight. "[It] feels like the industry hasn't learnt from previous mistakes with 3D and 4K," he said. "It's not all about the hardware. Content is as equally important as the hardware."

— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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