When 4K Isn’t Enough

Tom Butts

The rush to 4K/UHDTV has elicited the usual responses from various corners of the media and entertainment industry. Much like the move to HD, consumer electronics manufacturers are moving forward in the anticipation (or perhaps speculation) that the television industry will respond in kind with the content. At the 2014 CES there was no shortage of announcements of these kinds of efforts from Netflix to Amazon; broadcasters as well successfully demonstrated over-the- air transmissions of 4K content in the Samsung booth. Despite grumblings from industry pundits (like myself) that most of the viewing public won’t be able to discern the difference on average size screens and that 4K will consume too much bandwidth, vendors push forward regardless.

But what if even 4K is not enough? How about 8K?

Japan, which never seems to sit still when advancing new imaging technologies, has decided that 4K is not enough and is pushing 8K as the broadcast standard of the future. Japan’s public broadcaster NHK dubs its version of 8K “Super Hi-Vision,” which provides about 16 times the resolution of conventional 1080-line HD. It also generates a proportionally greater amount of data; for example, an uncompressed 8K 60-field image produces a data rate of about 24 Gbps. And it’s hardly new: The format has been demonstrated for years at various trade shows.

NHK, which has been leading these efforts, announced the successful transmission of 8K last month when SHV signals were transmitted via a single standard UHF terrestrial broadcast channel over a distance of 27 km. According to NHK, the data was fitted into a “standard” six MHz broadcast channel via “image compression technologies” and was transmitted using “ultra-multilevel” orthogonal frequency division multiplexing and multiple-input multiple-output dual-polarization technologies.

This was followed up by another successful test of 8K transmission, this time at an event in Tokyo earlier this month in which a team of both public and private technology organizations conducted the world’s first successful test of transmission, storage and distribution of uncompressed 8K video over a 100 Gbps Ethernet connection.

The Olympics, which has traditionally been a test bed for new imaging technologies is the driving force behind Japan’s push to 8K. NHK reportedly is showing SHV footage of the Sochi Winter Olympics to Japanese audiences; and government officials have made well known their intentions to launch full-scale 8K broadcasting in time for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

At last year’s interBEE in Tokyo, a government official drove that point home, announcing that the country—which has so far spent about $10 million in its 4K/8K efforts, had moved testing for 4K forward to this year, with full-scale viewing by 2016, and that a timeline has been established to develop the appropriate standards and infrastructure to make 8K transmissions happen by 2020.

Sharp and Samsung demonstrated 8K displays at CES last month, and vendors from Hitachi to Grass Valley at recent trade shows have demonstrated cameras and editing capabilities for the format so we can expect more news at the upcoming NAB Show.

But will 8K ever be feasible for the home? Who knows; but we’ve been through these debates enough to understand it doesn’t really matter. The past several Consumer Electronics Shows have proven that.

Tom Butts

Tom has covered the broadcast technology market for the past 25 years, including three years handling member communications for the National Association of Broadcasters followed by a year as editor of Video Technology News and DTV Business executive newsletters for Phillips Publishing. In 1999 he launched digitalbroadcasting.com for internet B2B portal Verticalnet. He is also a charter member of the CTA's Academy of Digital TV Pioneers. Since 2001, he has been editor-in-chief of TV Tech (www.tvtech.com), the leading source of news and information on broadcast and related media technology and is a frequent contributor and moderator to the brand’s Tech Leadership events.