Korean Broadcasting eyes 8K for 2018 Winter Games; NHK all in for 8K Games in 2020

The CEATEC show in Tokyo is this country’s biggest consumer electronics event so, not surprisingly, it is providing some news as during a panel addressing the rise of 4K and 8K technology, Korean and Japanese broadcasters KBS and NHK gave attendees a rare behind-the-scenes look at preparations for 8K productions at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang and the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Major sports events have always driven the advance of live-production technology, and this trend looks to continue with next year’s planned 4K productions at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and the FIFA World Cup Final in Brazil and with more 4K expected in 2015 and beyond. The question then becomes if and when 8K, which offers 16 times the number of pixels of today’s Full HD 1080p TVs, become the format of choice for major sports events, such as the Olympics and World Cup.

Although KBS (Korean Broadcasting System) is pondering tests of 8K at the Pyeongchang Winter Games in 2018, NHK remains confident that it will have, according to an executive, “full-fledged 8K commercial broadcasting” by the beginning of 2020 — making the Tokyo Games a coming-out party of sorts for the next next-generation format.

Meanwhile, Japanese direct-broadcast-satellite provider Sky Perfect JSAT, which was also represented on the panel, has already conducted several 4K production/transmission tests (including on J League soccer matches) and plans to begin 4K satellite delivery to the home as early as next year.

KBS on Board for 4K, Wait-and-See for 8K at Pyeongchang
KBS began exploring terrestrial 4K broadcasting three years ago and has conducted two major 4K trials over the past 12 months. Beginning in September 2012, a four-month trial of terrestrial 4K/30p broadcasting used the DVB-T2 transmission standard. A second trial began last May — this time, 4K/60p — and is set to conclude this month. A third trial is set for next year with full government support, and KBS plans to broadcast the 2013 Asian Games in Incheon live in 4K.

“Korea is striving to achieve terrestrial broadcasting for 4K,” reported KBS technology executive Yim Zungkon. “There will be cable and satellite efforts in the first half of 2014. As for the terrestrial broadcasting stations, by the end of 2015, we want to achieve 4K broadcasting. We have a sense of urgency about this, so, as we head to 2015, the terrestrial broadcasting stations in Korea are making efforts for 4K broadcasting.”

Although KBS is full steam ahead with 4K-broadcasting tests, whether it will produce the Pyeongchang Olympics in 4K or make the move to 8K remains undecided.

“In 2018 in Pyeongchang, the Winter Olympic games are scheduled, and we don’t know what the format will be, but 4K and 8K preparations are being carried out,” said Zungkon. “We are targeting Winter Olympics in 2018 as possible for 8K. As far as government and terrestrial KBS is concerned, in 2018, we would like to at least do test broadcasting of 8K for the Winter Olympics.”

NHK Sees Tokyo Games as 8K Launch Pad
While KBS is playing wait-and-see with 8K, NHK is all in. A long-time believer, NHK had already marked down 2020 as the launch date for “full-fledged” Super Hi-Vision service (which also includes 22.2 multichannel surround sound) into Japanese homes. Last month’s announcement that Tokyo will host the 2020 Games only helped to buoy NHK’s 8K plans. With initial tests already under way and a 2016 target date for the first 8K transmissions to homes, the 2020 Games will serve as a catalyst for NHK’s 8K push.

“The evolution of broadcasting has always occurred together with the sports events: color TV, satellite broadcasting, high definition,” said Dr. Toru Kuroda, deputy head, NHK Science & Technology Research Laboratories. “So targeting certain Olympic Games and using that opportunity to move technology forward is what we are doing. 8K operations will be launching, according to our road map, in 2020, and we will use the Olympics as a [launch pad].”

NHK has long been the leader in development of 8K technology, but the broadcaster acknowledges that, even with full government support, it can’t go it alone. As a result, NHK has made a concerted effort in recent years to bring in key partners on 8K tests and productions — most notably, working with the BBC and OBS to deliver the London Olympics in 8K to a handful of theaters around the globe in 2012.

“We are trying to involve more partners. NHK together with BBC broadcasted the Olympic 2012 London Games in public viewings, and much of the audience enjoyed the 8K viewing here in Tokyo. Then, at NAB2014 in the US, we presented the last launching of the space shuttle in 8K. So we are trying to increase the partners we work with on 8K and will continue that.”

Kuroda went on to say that NHK will work with the necessary partners to conduct 8K-production/transmission tests from the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Sky Perfect JSAT
While KBS and NHK eye the launch of their next-generation services over the next few years, Japanese satellite provider Sky Perfect JSAT is already raring to go, with its 4K service set to launch next year.

“We are in charge of 4K test bed, content production, and satellite-environment provisions,” said Masao Nito, executive director, SKY Perfect JSAT. “By using the test results, next year in 2014, we should be prepared [to deliver 4K content] to those interested in viewing 4K, and our satellites will be utilized to provide the 4K experience. If viewers are excited about something new and they are willing to pay for the service, then we can [provide that] service.”

The 4K signal will be delivered out of Sky Perfect’s Tokyo Media Center using NTT’s new HEVC-encoding software. The encoded signal will be multiplexed and delivered over JSAT’s 124-degree and 128-degree communications satellites.

Although Nito opined that sports will be the most compelling 4K content early on, given the Ultra HD image and wide viewing angle, Sky Perfect JSAT sees more applications than just full-frame Ultra HD images in its 4K delivery service.

“Screen splits can also be possible,” said Nito. “Even if you split the screen, you can still have two very bright and clear images. For a concert or Japanese chess — with the board in the middle and the players on both sides — that kind of multiscreen split can be enabled using a 4K broadcasting system. So [with] not only 4K but also smart TV and mobile handsets, linkage of this different equipment can make the television experience very different than what you see today.”

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