Inter BEE Wrap: Japan Intent On Leading 4K/8K Movement

A plan to start 4K broadcasting next year and test 8K by the 2016 Olympics made Ultra HD gear the talk of Japan’s International Broadcast Equipment Exhibition.

TOKYO – While there have been varying perspectives on the potential of ‘Ultra HD” TV, Japan is intent on leading a global move to 4K/8K and having an 8K TV system in place before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Toshiyuki Minami -- deputy director-general of the information and communications bureau of Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications -- urged Japan’s broadcast community to cooperate so that it can get there “as early as possible,” during the 49th International Broadcast Equipment Exhibition (Inter BEE), which I attended last week at Makuhair Messe in Tokyo.

To get there ahead of other nations moving toward Ultra HD, notably South Korea, Japan hopes to have some 4K broadcasting in place for next year’s FIFA World Cup, and also intends to move up its start of 8K broadcasting, which earlier had been targeted at 2020.

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“NHK said they wanted to start test broadcasting for 8K in 2020, but that is an important year with the Tokyo Olympics so we insisted that they needed to make that earlier. Plans are to be experimenting at next year’s FIFA World Cup, and to have started test 8K broadcasting by the 2016 Rio Olympics,” Minami said.

Many of the world's broadcasters that have been exploring Ultra HD have been looking at the 4K flavor of the format — which is four times the resolution of today’s HD — but Japanese public broadcaster NHK has developed and hopes to implement an 8K  “Super Hi Vision” system, which is a whopped 16 times more resolution than HD.

Consumer electronics manufacturers have already started to deliver 4K products, and some 8K TVs are already in prototype form. Minami projected that 4K TV units in Japan could grow 10-fold or even 20-fold over the next five years.

Meanwhile, Japan’s government has already committed 1 billion yen (roughly $1 million) to help drive its Ultra HD broadcast plans, and Minami reported that negotiations are underway to up that amount.

The Ministry has also created a Next Generation Television & Broadcasting Promotion Forum, and during his address, Minami urged attendees to join and participate.

Current plans in Japan call for high-resolution broadcasting to begin via satellite services, and efforts are in place to determine what technical standards are needed. During his address, Minami noted that Japan needs to work with standards groups around the world, to help to create international standards. “We want to be ready for experimental broadcasting during the World Cup, and we want to make a standard public by then,” he said.

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He urged all broadcasters –including local stations – to get on board. “When we talk about 4K/8K broadcasting, some stations fear they will be left out in the future. But I recommend local stations learn the skills of how to handle 4K/8K broadcasting.”

Also focused on starting high resolution program production, Minami told the audience:  “I suggest as long as you are ready to produce 4K programs you should, without waiting for 4K broadcasting, because if you use it for a 2K network we can still see the difference in quality.

“There’s content that can only be expressed in 4K. … We should think about what can only be expressed in 8K,” Minami said, adding that he was “impressed” by some experimental 8K dramatic content that he recently viewed.  “It was like sitting in a theater—there was a feeling of being immersed. I have a feeling that is something exciting and new coming up. … In production you have new painting tools and there can be new expression.”

Japan is also aiming to increase the export of locally-produced content, with a target of tripling overseas sales revenue within three years. “If we are not successful in deploying broadcast content to overseas markets, we can not be successful in other areas,” he said. “Korea is gaining more popularity and increasing it volume of export of content …  to improve the presence of Japan, we need a good strategy for how to approach each individual country.”

He cited the formation of the Broadcast Program Export Association of Japan, and asserted that Japan “needs to set up a framework, maybe a sort of [model] to store content or to create joint productions with foreign partners.”

During his address, the executive also addressed opportunities afforded by the second screen, noting that mobile devices are driving an overall increase in viewing hours. “Still, commercial broadcasting is decreasing, though it isn’t a dramatic shift yet,” he added.

Minami urged broadcasters to get involved in second screen content, including by working with third-party developers. “Broadcasters may be hesitant, [but] by bringing in third parties, the content market can expand,” he said.

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In addition to entertainment, Minami outlined additional possibilities afforded by 4K/8K resolution along with Smart TV and second screen capabilities, including in areas such as education, medicine and disaster prevention.

While 3D in the home had also received attention in recent years, Minami called this option a “side track … I think 4K and 8K is natural, more logical.

“If we can be the world pioneer in making an encoder chip, we can implement and experiment with [Ultra HD] broadcasting for next year’s World Cup.”

Inter BEE exhibitors flooded the show floor with developing 4K and 8K technology.

Canon unveiled its new 4K 30-inch reference monitor and also showed its Cinema EOS 4K camera; Sony showed its full 4K lineup including cameras, displays and related gear; Panasonic showed 4K-supported technology including its 20-inch tablet; and Astro Design previewed an 8K camera. Postproduction technology vendors including AJA, Assimilate, Blackmagic Design, FilmLight, and SGO also made Ultra HD support a key message on their exhibition stands.

Looking ahead, Minami said: “Every time we had an Olympic Games, a new technology was introduced. … After 8K perhaps we will want to advance to 16K but that might be more difficult for the human eye to perceive. So I think 8K should be the goal.”

Twitter: @CGinLA