Are You Ready for 8K?

This year at IBC, you will be able to comfortably sit in an 8K living room and enjoy a video broadcast so clear that it will make you lose yourself in a truly immersive experience that practically seems 3-D. This 8K setup will be brought to you by NHK, the Japanese public broadcaster that is leading ultra-high definition (UHD) technology development. Its super-high-vision channel held the world’s first 8K TV satellite broadcast in 2016 at the Rio Olympics, and plans to provide full 8K coverage of the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 have already been announced.

The over 30 million pixels delivered by 8K UHD create a hyperrealistic representation that packs 16 times more pixels than currently mass-deployed full HD. It is not just a matter of pixels; the “wow” experience of 8K is built on other enriching technologies, such as high dynamic range (HDR) and high frame rate (HFR), which have even further impact on the image realism. On the way to deliver truly immersive 8K experiences that engage with the audience, media companies will need to optimize their infrastructure in order to prepare for the upcoming massive amount of video data that will need be processed and carried.

The first consideration when looking at 8K video distribution is the broader bandwidth required to deliver video signals to viewers. With growing over-the-top (OTT) video adopters, it was foreseen from the beginning of UHD, even for 4K resolution, that current codecs wouldn’t be efficient enough to successfully stream UHD video over bandwidth-constrained networks such as mobile. In order to keep bit rates under control, the Joint Collaborative Team on Video Coding (JCT-VC) developed the successor of the widely adopted H.264/AVC. The new high-efficiency video codec (HEVC), or H.265, has demonstrated its ability to deliver the same subjective quality with a bit rate reduction of 50 percent over its predecessor, and it is gaining adoption, with important players such as Netflix and Apple already supporting it.

This vital bandwidth reduction is a key 8K enabler. HEVC can compress a broadcast-quality 8Kp60 4:2:2 10-bit video at bitrates between 80 and 150 Mbps from its original uncompressed 40Gbps. However, HEVC’s advantages come at the expense of increased computational complexity. 8K HEVC encoding computational load can be up to 160 times that of full HD AVC, which outstrips the capacity of existing video processing solutions.

The first real-time HEVC encoder for 8K UHD TV was jointly developed by NHK and Mitsubishi Electric in 2013 and was able to encode a 60 fps 7680×4320 video at 85 Mbps following the HEVC Main 10 profile with 4:2:0 chroma subsampling. This impressive piece of engineering leveraged 17 encoding boards distributed across a chassis. In the following years, manufacturers started to work on improved video-processing algorithms and hardware in order to develop commercial products that can efficiently cope with 8K HEVC processing in real-life deployments. As a result, recently available system-on-chip (SoC) video-processing technology can provide the required performance to handle broadcast-quality UHD HEVC encoding in a single chip. 

The first 8K HEVC encoder developed by NHK and Mitsubishi Electric.

The first 8K HEVC encoder developed by NHK and Mitsubishi Electric.

In parallel over the past few years, the media industry has started a revolution to open the video infrastructure by leveraging IT technologies. This translates to implementing cloud architectures that rely on virtual and software-defined environments to benefit from the flexibility and economy of scale of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) servers based on general purpose processors (GPP). Even with the massive computing required by UHD and HEVC, 8K solutions can take advantage of open cloud architectures and software-defined video processing by integrating video acceleration. COTS access to high-performance hardware video processing solutions combines the best of the hardware and software worlds. By leveraging COTS PCI express accelerators, 8K HEVC encoding can be done in a single-processor 1U server where the control plane is flexibly managed by the GPP and the heavy-lifting video processing tasks are offloaded via an API to the acceleration card as if it was another software component.

8K 360° Virtual Reality & Live Cloud Streaming

Even though 8K resolution is the natural evolution for broadcasting, there is another driving force for 8K technology that is pushing even harder than TV. Hyperimmersive virtual reality (VR) has the potential to fully transform the viewer experience and can now be achieved thanks to ultra-high definition technology. The lifelike quality required for building immersive VR experiences finds a perfect partner in 8K. From broadcasting and social media to gaming and enterprise, many industries can benefit from 8K VR. This is especially relevant for live events such as sports, concerts and trade shows. Virtual tickets are new revenue generators that can become an important part of the live entertainment industry income.

Predictions look good. The Cisco Visual Networking Index for mobile forecasts that virtual reality traffic will increase at a 60 percent compound annual growth rate through to 2021. The number of VR headsets is expected to grow at the same rate to nearly 100 million by 2021, and more than half of these will be connected to smartphones, which will give them access to livestreamed content worldwide. While media companies don't want to miss opportunities on what might be the next big thing, they are cautious, as they are still on the learning curve of how to create and deliver content in a whole new way.

Complex-use cases such as 8K VR live event streaming can also benefit from the media industry’s move toward OTT and cloud video services. Hardware-accelerated solutions can be used to build compact live 8K VR HEVC encoders that streamline VR live event production while meeting its space, weight and power constrains. Enjoying a reduced bandwidth, the encoded streams can be sent to the cloud to be stitched and delivered as a service, which minimizes on-site deployment complexity and optimizes operations.

The performance and density provided by hardware acceleration enable efficient and scalable large-scale cloud deployments that can greatly contribute to the media industry’s objective of reducing CAPEX and OPEX, even when building next-generation live 8K solutions. 

Charo Sanchez, product marketing manager, Advantech

Charo Sanchez, product marketing manager, Advantech

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