Tokyo 2020 Olympics to usher in 8K Ultra HD broadcasting

posted on Sunday, 8th September 2013 by Steve May

4K  8K  Broadcast 

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8K Super Hi-Vision broadcasting has taken a significant step closer to reality with the news that Tokyo has won the 2020 Olympics. Japanese state broadcaster NHK has made rapid progress in the development of an 8K acquisition system, but will now accelerate its broadcast trials in order to ensure that the Tokyo 2020 games become the first 8K Olympics in history. The announcement is also certain to galvanise panel makers.

Prior to the announcement of Japan's winning bid, NHK's Executive DG of Engineering Keiichi Kubota, told Inside CI that should Japan win its Tokyo's bid to host the games, NHK would bring forward plans to begin widescale broadcast trials in 2016. "The motto for the Olympics is faster, higher and stronger," said Kubota. "Athletes strive to be better than the best. The same could be said for the people that work at NHK. We will start with satellite broadcasting first, and then we move to terrestrial.  Because we will use satellite, the whole of Japan will be covered."

Super Hi-Vision, also known as 8K Ultra HD, comprises an image comprising 33 million pixels, 16x the resolution of Full HD. Today's breaking 4K technology features an 8 million pixel image. NHK, in conjunction with the BBC, conducted live trials of 8K acquisition at the London Olympics in 2012.

NHK 8K research history
NHK's research into 8K dates back to the mid-nineties. NHK's R&D lab in Tokyo screened its first Super Hi-Vision clip in 2001, the technology made its first public outing one year later. "Since then we've made crucial advances," said Kubota. "We have also had to develop new transmission technology, so that the compressed signal can be squeezed into terrestrial and satellite channels." 8K will use HEVC encoding, the same as that being developed for 4K, he adds. "It's much more efficient compared to H.264." 

Unlike other global broadcasters, NHK has always maintained that it would move directly to 8K, skipping 4K entirely:  "Some broadcasters might use 4K for their business, but NHK will not use 4K. We will use an 8K system, because if we start using 4K for broadcasting technology that means we have to invest a lot of money to make 4K production facilities. But with 8K technology on the horizon, that means another big investment. We cannot afford to do that. So we will go directly to 8K."

Kubota admits that only NHK has an 8K roadmap. Kubota adds that there are several 8K standards: "An ultra HD standard for international programme production for television another standard is LSDI (Large Screen Digital Imagery), which includes an 8K standard."

2020 Olympic broadcast plans
Commercialisation of the technology has remained up in the air, until now. Kubota told Inside CI that one date previously being considered was 2025. "That's a special date, it's the centenary anniversary of the Japanese broadcasting service. That would be a very good year. But there's another option. Broadcast technology has always been developed in parallel with the Olympic Games. So if the Olympics were to come to Tokyo, then we would work very hard to start something new in time."

The Games have always been a catalyst for technology: the first live radio broadcast of the Olympic Games was in Paris 1924, while the first live outside broadcast of the Games was London 1948. Tokyo famously introduced its Shinkansen bullet train to coincide with the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. How appropriate then that Tokyo 2020 will also usher in the broadcast equivalent of the world's fastest train service.

Also read:
Super Hi-Vision: 2012 Olympics in Ultra Hi-def

Steve May

Steve is a veteran of the UK consumer electronics industry, having covered it for
various media outlets for more than 20 years.

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