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8K Video, Just a Mirage or Is it Really There?

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Coming back from CES 2019, I was astounded to see so many demos and announcements surrounding 8K from all major TV manufacturers and from the 8K association.

This left me wondering: Is 8K video real or just a mirage? Let’s examine the difference between 4K and 8K, and the overall outlook.

Defining 8K

What is 8K? The definition of 8K and 4K are often blurred, so I’m going to try to bring some clarity to the situation.

There are several major differences between 4K video and 8K video. One of the key differences is the number of pixels. 4K resolution has been specified as 3820 x 2160, and 8K is 7640 x 4320.

The frame rate is another contrast, with 8K requiring up to 120 fps, and 4K only 60 fps. Since the resolution of 8K video is much more than 4K video, the required amount of bandwidth to deliver 8K is also higher.

From a standards perspective, 4K has been specified by ITU as ITU-R UHD-1 and can be deployed by following Phase 2 as outlined by the DVB or Phase B by the Ultra HD Forum. Meanwhile, 8K has been defined by ITU as the UHD-2 specification.

4K services have successfully been deployed, including VOD and live. The Ultra HD Forum maintains a list of UHD-1 services that have been deployed.

As of today, only NHK has developed a complete ARIB specification for 8K distribution. 8K has been deployed by NHK in Japan on a satellite distribution system, as described in this NAB Pilot article.

The outlook of 8K video

The industry wants to know: When will 8K reach the same level of deployment status as 4K? So far, the appeal of 8K isn’t strong. There’s no content available. First, the HEVC codec is not adapted as it leads to high bitrates (100M/s). Second, the TV display options are not optimized.  They are either have a high price point or lack a “wow” factor in the current viewing conditions.  At the end of the day, are there any compelling factors for 8K?

Neither the Ultra HD Forum or the UHD Alliance have taken a public position on 8K, but you can expect to hear some commentary at the 2019 NAB Show.

There’s also 8K action going on at DVB. DVB has launched a study mission on “Beyond 4K,” and Harmonic will actively participate. The recommendations are expected to be made available to DVB members around the time of the IBC Show, so stay tuned.

At Harmonic, we love 8K video, but don’t think the industry is quite ready to transmit content to an 8K device. Through our experiences shooting NASA content in 8K, we’ve found that the resolution on a 4K screen is higher and colors are more vivid due to the sampling rate. For sports applications, we can capture content in 8K with a pan and scan done not only at the production side but also using tiling technologies at the 4K decode side. For content providers who want to send 8K over IP, there may be something in store for NAB using Harmonic’s technologies on a consumer 8K TV.

If you are not convinced of those new applications, stop by and see demonstrations for yourself at our booth SU810 at the 2019 NAB Show, April 6-11 in Las Vegas. Or, schedule a meeting with one of our experts during the show.

Photo by Alexander Rotker on Unsplash
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