8k – More than meets the eye?

11/09/13
With IBC on the horizon, it’s a safe bet that, like NAB, 4k and 8k (and probably 16k) will feature large – showing us all the wonderful, detail rich world waiting for us with Ultra-High Definition.

In fact, since NAB there’s been speculation in some quarters that because of the pace of development around image quality, we may even see a leap-frog of 4k and go straight into 8k broadcast. So, all good? Well, there are a few schools of thought on just how good this all actually is.

Firstly, there’s the physics. The general consensus (and it is general!) is that – assuming you’re the correct distance from the screen – beyond 8k we’re actually moving past what the human eye is able to appreciate, so any additional image enhancement really does become a game of diminishing returns. And let’s be honest, it’s not like your average consumer of TV today (among which I count myself!) sits there and bemoans the quality of existing HD broadcast, or even Blu-Ray for that matter. So, is the march to 8k really going to be that much of a big deal?

Well, aside from rampant consumer demand, there are other drivers for better image quality – including benefits in the detail available in the post production and edit process. But, as we all know and mostly admit, the reason we’ll buy an 8k set is because it’s the latest and greatest. Or if not, it’s because it’s the default spec that we got with the TV (that’s when of course we can a) buy one and b) it costs less than £25,000!)

But, having said all this, there is another interesting angle to 8k, 16k and beyond. Earlier this year Steve Plunkett, CTO at Red Bee Media, wrote a blog on the key advancements in TV in the last 50 years, citing the development of new video codecs as a key innovation in getting digital and HD TV in front of us. In the same spirit, 4k and 8k TV have a similar challenge to be resolved: the hungry bandwidth requirements needed to put all this high quality video over the air. Now, there are continual advancements in video compression to make this all viable – HEVC and the like – not to mention new approaches to broadcasting, using multiple antenna to send multiple streams of content which are then put back together on reception (a bit like how two eyes and the brain work together). But, we’re not there yet, and it’s not like there’s a wealth of cheap broadcast spectrum available in the mean-time…

So, in the broadcast backyard we’re running out of space. But, if we peek over the fence to our neighbours in the broadband and mobile world, they’ve got network capacity coming out of their ears. Their challenge is finding the apps and content to make people use it…

So with that in mind, as 8k capture and cost effective TV sets arrive, are we approaching a world where IP broadcast becomes the default transport mechanism, bringing along with it all the interesting interactive and analytical features offered by broadband and mobile world?

Well, maybe we’re not there yet, but given the increasingly challenging cost economics facing broadcasters, alongside the growing reliability of IP broadcasting, you can’t help but think that 8k will bring with it more changes than just what your eye can see.

Kris Hardiman, Head of Product Management.