NAB: Japan's NHK Exploring Use of Ultra HD 8K for Virtual Reality

NHK is planning public demonstrations of 8K — 16 times the resolution of HD — in Los Angeles and New York.

Japan's government and NHK are bullish about giving Japan a broadcast system that supports ultra-sharp 8K — 16 times the resolution of HD — in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. And now, Japan's public broadcaster is not ruling out virtual reality as a possible future use of the format.

"Virtual reality is possible [with 8K] in the future on smaller screens such as Oculus Rift displays," Narichika Hamaguchi, a senior manager at NHK's research lab, told The Hollywood Reporter.

For broadcasting, NHK finds that the bigger the screen, the better for visual perception. So at NAB, it was demoing its 8K images on TVs larger than 70 inches as well as in a theater presentation. But it was also showing a smaller 13-inch OLED screen that was research work from SEL, signaling an effort to bring the format to smaller screens for additional uses, potentially for VR.

Meanwhile, NHK is planning public demonstrations of 8K broadcasting in Los Angeles and New York. They will be held this summer, when NHK tests its broadcasting system during the FIFA Women's World Cup, which is being held June 6 through July 5 in Canada.

It's also planning trials at the 2016 Rio Olympics and aims to start offering limited 8K services in Japan during 2018, when the FIFA World Cup will be held in Russia and the Olympics will launch in South Korea.

From a content standpoint, NHK is currently focused on live broadcasting — particularly sports — and has already tested the system at big global events, including the 2012 London Olympics as well as last year's Sochi Olympics and FIFA World Cup. The ultra-sharp picture puts the viewer in the stadium with more detail that is currently possible, allowing them to see more of the drama from the players and spectators and not just in close-ups.

While there's also been interest in 8K coming out of South Korea, most of the world's broadcasters are examining 4K, another Ultra HD format that is four times the resolution of HD.

The 4K format is also part of the Hollywood conversation, however, many tech leaders believe that for a more noticeable change, images need high dynamic range.

At NAB there was a limited showing of 8K tools for production and post. Red, for instance, announced a new "Weapon" camera that will initially offer 6K but is expected to have an 8K sensor as an upgrade by the end of the year.

In postproduction, Quantel was demonstrating the latest version of its Pablo Rio, working in 8K. And while it wasn't showing 8K during NAB, SGO's Mistika is capable of handling 8K, and incidentally, SGO is planning to open a new office in South Korea.

Technically, working in 8K would have challenges because of the sheer amount of data that would be required. But right now, producing narrative content in 8K isn't even high on the NHK agenda, though for artistic reasons. "We need a reason to use 8K in drama, and we have to [experience] a difference," Hamaguchi said.

At January's CES Show, set makers such as LG, Panasonic, Samsung and Sharp previewed prototype 8K TVS.