Extraordinary technological advances are taking place in digital video imaging. Both professional and consumer image-capture systems are now widely available in 4K, raising audience expectations for more immersive experiences. Other critical dimensions of imaging beyond resolution are now vying with the ongoing elevations in image sharpness. Higher dynamic ranges, wider color gamuts and higher picture capture rates have all gained global attention by virtue of the impressive enhancements they each impart to imagery.
4K has almost become a byword and 8K resolution is looming, but close examination reveals somewhat uncoordinated movements in 4K image capture adoption and very little movement towards 8K.
SPORTS AND ‘OVER THE TOP’ SERVICES ARE DRIVING 4K ADOPTION
4K TV shipment value grew by 6% in 2018. The global market is expected to reach more than 380 billion by 2025. HD TV shipments have plummeted as global TV manufacturers drive 4K TV sets into the world’s disparate markets.
However, paradoxically, most viewers are watching HD program material upscaled to 4K on all of these displays. Broadcasters and cable operators in the Americas and Europe have largely shunned investing in 4K delivery services, largely on the basis that they see little return on investment in the very significant new broadcast infrastructure costs required. Yet, most feel it is only a matter of time before competitive dynamics usher in the inevitable arrival of 4K. It is for this reason that manufacturers are presently selling multiformat cameras that are able to switch between HD and 4K resolution capture, supporting an easy transition. Increasingly, professionals are choosing 4K lenses because they can originate higher HD image quality today, while being future-proofed for downstream 4K services.
This adoption is especially pronounced in the case of high-profile outside broadcasts—particularly sports coverage. The anticipated renewal of major sports broadcast rights over the next three years is likely to spur new investments in lenses and cameras.
In addition to sports broadcasters, the quickly growing new world of “Over The Top” (OTT) services has seen major players quickly adopting 4K content creation and distribution.
While many broadcasters study transition scenarios, sports and OTT are spurring brisk growth in the adoption of 4K lenses, cameras and reference displays.
HIGH-END IMAGING ON THE BIG SCREEN
Quite different from broadcast television, digital 4K and higher resolution origination continues to grow in moviemaking, with more and more movies across genres being shot using this technology each year. In recent years 5K, 6K and 8K have appeared in digital cinematography and are stimulating exciting advances in lenses and cameras that will continue in the years ahead.
The large screens in digital cinemas directly benefit from the substantial increase in resolution. Beyond that, mastering high-end entertainment materials in 4K extends the shelf life of those masters, while downsampled versions from the 4K master produce higher HD sharpness for today’s home distribution and enhanced 2K for the majority of digital cinemas.
THERE IS A MODEST BUT GROWING ROLE FOR 8K BROADCAST TELEVISION
At this early stage, from my observation, no U.S. broadcaster, cable or satellite operator has shown much interest in offering 8K delivery services. However, the 8K imaging system is finding an important niche application in U.S. sports broadcasting, supporting the extraction of 1080p segments from wide-angle 8K images, which has opened important new degrees of image clarity in replays.
Elsewhere in the world, however, 8K is gaining even higher visibility. A major sporting event in Japan next year will be broadcast in 8K UHD. Hundreds of thousands of 8K TV units have been sold in Japan, Korea and China in 2019, and by 2023 the Asian market is predicted to see 130% growth.
In anticipation of this increased adoption, Canon has been working intensively over the past decade on 8K optical developments. We recently announced the first two 8K UHD broadcast television lenses to be released based on the 8K UHD 1.25-inch image format: One is an 8K box field lens with a groundbreaking 51x zoom range and a 10.7mm wide-angle portable 8K lens with a 7x zoom range. Canon’s research and development in Super 35mm 8K optics have also significantly contributed to the high optical performance of the 4K Cinema EOS lenses.
THE FUTURE IS NOW
The evolution of video-capture technology is happening, with some early adopters seeing advantages in creating truly immersive viewing experiences. With 4K and 8K video capture lenses becoming more prevalent and driving the high image quality that consumers increasingly expect, the future is bright for today’s HDTV image quality, while familiarity with 4K production steadily grows.
Larry Thorpe is Senior Fellow at Canon U.S.A, a Lifetime Achievement Emmy Award winner, holder of 10 patents in the field of broadcast development, and publisher more than sixty papers on camera technology and the topic of HDTV imaging.