SVGE Analysis: Industry gears up for 8K future

Only a few years back 4K – let alone Ultra HD – seemed not only a giant technological leap, but one lacking a business model. With the 4K equipment chain largely solved and with pay TV operator VOD and live services rolling out, the renewed attention on 8K as a near-future broadcast format should not be dismissed.

The recent bonanza of tech developments targeting resolutions 16 times that of HD are not just timed to showcase Japan’s host of the Tokyo games in 2020.

The BBC has a long-standing interest in Super Hi-Vision, co-developing a hybrid log gamma approach to bring High Dynamic Range to Japanese public broadcaster NHK’s 8K system. When it made a joint test of Super Hi-Vision in 2012, BBC executives expressed a preference for the format over 3D because of its qualitatively more immersive qualities.

Similarly, speaking to this reporter in Lausanne a year ago, Olympic Broadcast Services (OBS) CEO Yiannis Exharcos called 8K “much more of a game-changer than 4K”.

“You can really see a huge difference in experience whereas the gap between HD and 4K is far less,” he said.

Consequently, while OBS will deliver a universal HD 1080i feed from Rio, it will work with NHK to deliver 130 hours of live 8K Olympic transmissions while downconverting a version to 4K for international distribution.

The drive to meet the Japanese government’s aim of 8K domestic broadcast by 2020 – and regular transmissions by 2018 – has been in the R&D budgets of the country’s kit vendors since 2013 when Tokyo’s successful bid was announced. It has been a project at NHK research lab STRL (Science & Technology Research Laboratories) for much longer.

New camera products

It’s no surprise, then, that commercial product is now emerging. To fit into its NHK commissioned 8K OB vehicle, which debuted last year, Ikegami has a new 8K camera, the SHK-810, which contains a 33 million pixel Super 35mm CMOS sensor with PL lens mount. What is notable is that it is compact enough to be operated in the same manner as current HD broadcast cameras.

Hitachi’s latest 8K camera, the SK-UHD0860, also sports a Super 35mm CMOS sensor with 7680 x 4320 pixel resolution, PL-mount lens and 4K viewfinder. The model can output 8K, 4K/UHD or HD at the same time and, via 8K RAW recorder, provides store-and-forward, real-time recording and playback. Hitachi claim this functionality provides a remote acquisition workflow not available with any other 8K system. Both of these cameras are available for use today.

Canon is also keen to push 8K and has been working with NHK to develop suitable lenses. Indeed, its NAB exhibit sidelined 4K for presentions of an 8K Ride Experience showcasing 8K imaging projected onto large screens, a series of 8K lenses – some of which will be used in Rio – and a prototype of an 8K camera built into a EOS design.

“This is technology we’ve have been working on for 10 years,” Larry Thorpe, Canon senior fellow, told SVG Europe. “Imaging seems to be moving toward 5K, 6K. We’ll be there when people are ready for something like 8K.”

Signage and stadium opportunities

Significantly, Canon is also targeting non-broadcast applications such as giant screen outdoor digital signage and stadium displays with its 8K range. Those markets are also the focus for Layard and Planar’s 9.5 x 5.5 metre LED video wall with 1.2mm pixel pitch, exhibited at NAB.

Professional 8K reference displays are coming. NHK has a 13.3 inch OLED with a pixel density of 664 pixels per inch – get as close as you like and you can’t see the dots at that density. Panasonic has a 55-inch 8K screen in development; Canon showed prototypes at NAB, too.

Away from NHK’s ambition, the ability to capture at increasingly high resolutions is a bonus for VFX-intensive or virtual reality productions which can use the additional information while maintaining image quality.

Sony’s F65 launched in 2012 containing an 8K chip to oversample the image for 4K output and while the company’s marketing won’t be sidetracked into revealing 8K product it is understood that investment is being pumped into an array of 8K production gear, including a new, smaller form-factor 8K F65 CineAlta. It is behind a second 8K OB van outfitted for NHK.

RED is developing an 8K sensor for its Weapon Cinema camera, which is first being used on the feature Guardians of the Galaxy 2, recording data to Codex S-Series Vaults close to the set then transferred to post on Codex Transfer Drives.

No-one expects sensor advances to stop at 8K. The human eye might physiologically not be able to resolve any more resolution beyond 8K but the overhead of information gathered through the lens can be used for emerging forms of volumetric, or holographic, imaging.

Even an 8K panoramic live stream though could be used to zoom and extract 4K or other images, as is done with 4K systems cameras today.

Ramping up resolution

Certainly, on the VR capture side the goal is the more resolution the better. It will likely be VR which pushes 8K as a production format into the mainstream. Facebook’s VR rig, the Surround 360, captures footage from 17 lenses that the social network said would play back in 3D 8K resolution per eye.

Even that gets knocked into the shade by Lytro’s Lightfield Cinema Camera, which has an astounding 755Megapixel sensor with the resulting data used to compute parameters like 3D, frame rate, depth of field, and even simulate lenses in post. The camera is built like a tank and is being seen for the time being as a tool for specialist VFX and VR sequences. Plug-ins from Nucoda can get the data into conventional edit suites for proxy workflows.

When in post, the Quantel Rio 8K was the first post solution to show a glass-to-glass 8K workflow in conjunction with Panavision, Light Iron, RED and BoE. “Productions that want to shoot with an 8K wide canvas can do so without compromise in the Digital Intermediate with Quantel Rio,” says Danny Peters, SAM’s director of creative services. “Last year Sony, PCL and NHK established 8K 60P productions with the editing, grading and finishing accomplished on a Quantel Rio system.”

The Mistika Ultima finishing system from SGO is also due an 8K upgrade soon. Adobe is introducing 8K support into Premiere Pro CC to enable editors to switch between native and proxy formats. Once again this is principally intended for virtual reality.

Codec evolution

While NHK is working on a variety of ways to contribute and transmit 8K video, including HEVC (Japanese telco NTT has developed a real-time 8K H.265 encoder), optical science and math wizards continue to devise new and better codecs. Among them is London-based outfit V-Nova, whose Perseus codec was recently rated broadcast quality for delivering 8K streams (in a test overseen by analysts Informitv).

German virtualised playout vendor Cinegy also has 8K and beyond on its mind. “Most people don’t even have 4K televisions yet, but given the slew of 8K sets at CES earlier this year, 8K matters and the production buzz around it will just get louder,” CEO Jan Weigner said.

Cinegy’s compression technology is capable of handling multiple video streams in 8K and even 16K. “With Daniel2 you can acquire, produce and broadcast in 8K today using off-the-shelf equipment. In fact, you can produce in 16K if you want.”

The move to format-agnostic IT infrastructure makes leaps in resolution technicially easier for the industry to accommodate. That’s the thinking behind UK outside broadcast supplier Arena’s build of three new trucks, which shouldn’t need to rip and replace its core components should anyone want 8K live in Europe in the next few years.

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