8K Movement Meets Resistance from Analysts and Broadcasters

The movement behind 8K has gained momentum and met growing resistance at the same time as it attempts to break out from its Japanese roots after being nurtured for over a decade almost single handedly by NHK.

Major shows such as IBC and NAB have featured impressive demonstrations from NHK since 2006 at a time when even HD was only just getting going and 4K was still just a blur on the distant horizon for other broadcasters. Yet as 4K crystallized alongside other display technologies such as HDR (High Dynamic Range) and WCG (Wide Color Gamut), interest in 8K increased as a foundation for more advanced immersive use cases around Extended Reality (ER) and zooming in within pictures. But 8K is closest to deployment at the production level because of its ability to capture more pixels for subsequent archiving, looking ahead to a time when 8K displays become more ubiquitous.

8K also scores in production by making more pixel information available to enhance the quality of subsequent downscaling to lower resolutions, including 4K and even full HD at 1080p (1080 x 1920 pixels). This is called oversampling because more pixels are produced than will be distributed or displayed at that time, the advantage being that the additional information can improve the quality at lower resolutions. This was demonstrated by Harmonic at the recent NAB 2019, showing how content looks better when distributed and displayed at 4K if it was shot in 8K. The same holds for HD, with content produced at 8K looking noticeably better than at 4K.

There is then a case for 8K in production, but there is much greater skepticism over its role in distribution and display. This is largely because it is only possible to detect any difference between content displayed on an 8K and 4K monitor if the screens are very large, as was pointed out by the weekly Faultline analysis service from Rethink Technology Research.

Even then the difference is only discernable close to the screen, when in practice people will view large 8K screens 85 inches or bigger from at least about 8 feet in order to obtain a sufficient aspect ratio. Furthermore, as Faultline also pointed out, focus groups have shown that standard full HD at 1080p combined with HDR yields a better viewing experience than 4K without HDR. It is HDR more than high resolutions above full HD that makes the greatest difference to the viewer experience.

This leaves the 8K Association struggling to make a strong case for broadcasters to invest in the associated technology now, even at the production level given that 4K is the main focus at present. The Association’s Executive Director, Chris Chinnock, who is also founder and president of the Insight Media consultancy group, admitted recently there are valid concerns and legitimate push back. He saw the Association’s mission being to listen to the naysayers and help develop solutions that address industry concerns.

These then are early days for this mission and the signals so far are that despite the ever more impressive 8K demos at shows like NAB, there is a lot of work to be done to persuade the industry that the time has come to push for 8K in distribution and display. At this stage two major TV makers, Sony and LG, have yet to join the Association because they have only just started producing 8K displays and regard participation in an industry lobbying and standards group premature.

Founding members of the 8K Association include Hisense, Panasonic, Samsung and TCL, as well as panel maker AU Optronics.

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