What Could NHK's 8K Format Mean for Narrative Storytelling? (Analysis)

A new short, titled "Move," was shot with a prototype 8K "cube" camera that weighs just four and a half pounds.

Japanese public broadcaster NHK offered a series of notable demonstrations at last week's NAB Show of its developing "Super Hi Vision" format and broadcast system, which supports 8K resolution—16 times more resolution that HD—as well as a high frame rate of 120 frames per second and 22.2 channels of audio. Many who have seen these images have been dazzled by the uniquely realistic look.

This year's NAB exhibit included a prototype 8K "cube" camera (pictured above), a screening of a short lensed with the new camera and the first U.S. demonstration of wireless transmission of 8K images over a standard TV channel.

The short, titled Move, is significant because up until now, NHK has generally focused on showing content for broadcasting live events. For instance, at NAB, it showed Super Hi-Vision footage that was shot at the opening ceremony of the Sochi Olympics and last summer’s FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil.

But Move gave NAB attendees an opportunity to consider the potential of Super Hi-Vision for narrative storytelling. The fantasy begins when a businessman’s briefcase is snatched by four mysterious strangers wearing black. As the man tries to retrieve his belonging, he is transported to a beach, a pool of water, an office building and other settings.

These images seemed to have been impressing many of the imaging professionals who visited the exhibition. But one does have to wonder how a general audience will respond. This is, after all, a more realistic look involving high frame rates—and many in Hollywood remember that HFR detractors asserted that The Hobbit’s look in 48 frames per second was too hyper-real and video-like for their taste.

But others are quick to point out that any of these possibilities—including HFR or high resolution—are options in a growing creative palette available to filmmakers. And 8K offers its own distinct look, just as 48 frames per second, 4K or any other option has its own aesthetic. Filmmakers will select the tools—and how to use them—in the service of the story that they are trying to tell. Presumably we'll see much more experimentation in a variety of genres.

The early Super-Hi Vision camera prototypes from NHK were enormous and therefore impractical for many uses. But the prototype cube camera developed in collaboration with Astro Design — which was used to shoot Move—weighs just four and a half pounds, meaning that might open up 8K to a range of uses, possibly sooner than many might have thought.

Japan’s government wants to begin a commercial rollout of 8K satellite broadcasting in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, using Super Hi-Vision.

Scheduled tests include some production at the upcoming FIFA World Cup, where public viewing areas will be set up in Japan and host country Brazil, as well as some trial broadcasting during the 2016 Rio Olympics.

“No other technology can capture the excitement of the World Cup like 8K,” asserted a spokesperson for NHK's research and development unit during NAB. “You will feel like you are right there in the stands.”

E-mail: Carolyn.Giardina@THR.com
Twitter: @CGinLA