What is an 8K Crystal Ball?

Firstly, all our congratulations to our London and United Kingdom AV colleagues for an amazing showing as the 2012 Olympic host!! It’s beautiful to watch and you’ve done such an incredible job bringing the spirit and values of what the Olympics stand for to everyone across the world! With the kick-off of Bradley Wiggins winning your first ever Tour de France earlier this week, this truly is your year and you’ve risen to the occasion with brilliance and style!

I’ve always been a fan of the broadcasting sector of our industry and especially large sporting events. I LOVE sports, and these kinds of occasions always see some kind of new and exciting AV technology debuted or experimented that equals the thrill of the games itself. An AV dream come true. These are some of the few places, outside of trade shows, where you get giddy with anticipation about being wowed by something completely bleeding-edge. The 2012 Olympics did not disappoint.

Before you read on, listen to Monday’s Daily rAVe where Gary Kayye and Tim Albright discuss what kinds of AV technology you’ll see at the Olympics, where they come from, and whether we’ll be seeing any of it in our living rooms anytime soon. Then, I’d like to share with you my personal 2012 Olympic Gold Medal in AV technology, what makes it so breathtaking, and why I agree with Gary and Tim 100 percent.

Japanese public broadcaster NHK has partnered with the BBC and the Olympic Broadcast Service (OBS) to bring an out-of-this-world broadcasting format to the 2012 London Olympics for its first mass test run. It will be displayed on several large screens throughout the world, and if you are lucky enough to be in one of these places, get there!!! The truly historic nature of this event is that this is very same broadcaster who in 1948 was also in London when the very first Olympics were broadcast to televisions around the world. It’s fitting they are now back in 2012 demonstrating what they hope will be the future of television broadcasting.

Called 8K, or Super Hi-Vision, it is the ultimate in Ultra High-Definition (UHDTV2) television broadcasting. It’s being billed as the first true “immersive” technology and gives viewers the experience of looking through a window, and the closest you could possibly be to actually attending an event. This technology is so data-rich, it’s said you can walk almost completely up to the screen without seeing anypixelation.

Some basic resolution statistics:

  • HDTV — 1920 x 1080p
  • 4K — 3840 x 2160p
  • 8K — 7680 x 4320p

So, this is a HUGE leap forward in the resolution and number of pixels. Try 33 million pixels in a single frame of 8K compared to what we are all just getting used to today with HDTV, a measly 2 million pixels. That makes this new technology 16 times more detailed than regular HDTV pictures. Oh, and it offers 22.2 channels of surround sound. This is all being supported by the effort of the SMPTE 2036 specification.

The three 8K cameras recording at the Olympics right now have the capability of capturing 120 frames per second versus your standard HD cameras that capture up to 60 frames per second. Speaking of these cameras, NHK partnered with Hitachi and in May 2012 launched the compact camera head that uses a single-chip color imaging sensor technology (CMOS) similar in size and dimensions as most commercially available high-definition cameras. Using a Bayer color filter array, NHK uses a proprietary “up converting” technology where they grab the green color component pixels and then estimate for the remaining red and blue. This is because green uses more pixels than any other color of the spectrum. And, these camera heads are compatible with most major broadcast lenses. Next up, they are working to develop a camera control unit (CCU) to perform the signal processing and improve picture quality.

To further explain why Gary says we won’t likely see these technologies in our living rooms anytime soon, NHK estimates it’s around 10 – 15 years away from making this technology commercially viable. Why, because a raw 8K video feed requires 48Gbps and the 22.4 channels of sound add another 50Mbps to the stream, totaling about 500Mbps. With an entire HDTV signal clocking in at 10Mbps, it’s fiscally impossible to think there the a transmission infrastructure or the investment capital to make 8K available on the market anytime in the near future. That would require an ENORMOUS amount of storage and it’s WAY too much data for any satellite or cable provider provider to even consider transmitting. They are just barely getting a handle on having reliable HDTV programming available.

And, with so many studios and film production houses just starting to scratch the surface of 4K (The Dark Knight Rises and Girl With a Dragon Tattoo being recent movies), people are already too financially invested to look any further down the road. There needs to be significant advances in compression and broadband transmission; you need someone to invest in equipment to capture content in 8K, and of course, you need a manufacturer who can make a display that’s compatible. It is important to note that Sharp did show off a concept 85-inch 8K display at this year’s 2012 CES show, and Panasonic has launched a 145-inch plasma to be viewed during the Olympics.

The new H.265 encoding standard expected in 2013 certainly gives us some hope– at least some of the data rate issues will be mitigated. Or, will it be Google’s VP8 that wins that battle? Or, is this just the harbinger for a new wave of patent lawsuits we, as consumers, can expect to have to wait out…

My fellow rAVe Blog Squad member and Woman in AV, Cat Jones, is on the hunt in London to get to one of the rare venues broadcasting some of the 2012 London Olympics events in 8K. My fingers are crossed she gets to see it and report for us what the experience is like. If you’re in London or some of the other international locations, you’d be silly not to find a way to get there if you can.

Knowing 8K is out there and 4K is just in its infancy, why would we not abandon 4K efforts right now?