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Live coverage of Monday’s U.S. win against Australia at the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada was broadcast live in 8K — an ultra-sharp Ultra HD format that is 16 times the resolution of HD — to the Zanuck Theater on the Fox lot, as well as sites in New York and Japan. Japanese public broadcaster NHK, which is leading these early demonstrations, also plans to shoot several MLB Yankee games in the fall, as well as next year’s Super Bowl, with its 8K “Super Hi-Vision” format.
Japan’s government and NHK are leading an effort to bring Super Hi-Vision — which combines 8K with a 22.2 surround system system and a high frame rate of 60 frames per second — to Japan. Plans are to start some satellite broadcasting next June with the Rio Olympics, which will be shot and broadcast to Japan in the format. The intent is to have Super Hi-Vision ready in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The Women’s World Cup coverage — which is an effort of NHK, FIFA TV and U.S. rights holder Fox Sports — will be the last broadcast demonstration of an international event before the Rio Olympics. Events such as MLB and the Super Bowl will be recorded in the format (not broadcast) to experiment with 8K production, NHK’s 8K technical development director Kohei Nakae told The Hollywood Reporter.
When satellite broadcasting begins in Japan in 2016, plans are to start with roughly seven hours of content per day, and so NHK is also ramping up to shoot documentaries, dramas, concerts and other programming. “Next year, we’ll have to have transmission and programing lists and enough programming for several hours a day. It’s a big challenge,” Nakae said.
NHK has been experimenting with 8K production and broadcasting at various FIFA events, which included last year’s World Cup in Brazil, working with FIFA TV and Brazil’s TV Globo. Nakae related that NHK has an agreement in place with FIFA to offer 8K broadcasting of the 2018 World Cup, which is scheduled to be held in Russia. (The awarding of that host location is part of investigations related to the recent FIFA scandal that has seen 14 people charged by U.S. prosecutors for alleged bribes and kickbacks of more than $150 million.)
The current Women’s World Cup broadcast demonstrations are being shot with 8K broadcast cameras that were developed by Ikegami with NHK R&D, and the signal is being transmitted at 280Mbps using HEVC (H.265) compression, according to Nakae. The presentation at Fox (where I watched the match), was shown on a special screen with an 8K projector developed by JVC with NHK R&D. NHK also placed 24 speakers to create the 22.2 surround sound experience. The imagery is remarkably lifelike, and with the 22.2 channel surrounds, it was sometimes difficult to tell where the broadcast sound stopped and the cheers inside the auditorium began.
David Nathanson, head of business for Fox Sports, was on hand for the broadcast. “It’s as close to being at a game as I’ve seen,” he said of the experience.
In much of the world, including the U.S., 4K Ultra HDTVs (four times the resolution of HD) are rolling out, but the U.S. over-the-air broadcast standard doesn’t support this format — and that’s not likely to change, at least in the near future. So what does 8K mean to U.S. broadcasters? “We are always looking for ways to use technology to enhance our coverage,” Nathanson told THR. Fox Sports currently uses some 4K, that with its higher resolution allows Fox to re-frame or blow up a portion of that frame for slo-mo or replays; Nathanson cited this as a potential use for 8K. Does he think U.S. broadcasting will move to 4K, or even 8K? “Good question,” he responded.
Two more matches from the Women’s World Cup will be part of this broadcast demonstration: Japan vs. Cameroon, on June 12; and U.S. vs. Nigeria, on June 16.
Televisions that can accommodate 8K are already being developed by set makers including Panasonic and Sharp, and the first 8K TVs are expected to be available in Japan next year — though, initially, possibly priced around $20,000-$30,000, said Nakae. At this stage, it is believed that separate receivers will be needed to get the 8K signal to the home (and they might not be ready until 2017), though further out, receivers might be built into the displays, he added.
As to the imagery, Nakae reported that NHK is also looking to expand its Super Hi-Vision system to support high dynamic range; he estimates that this is about two years away, but said NHK may demonstrate early work later in the year.
Previous Super Hi-Vision test broadcasts were held at select events including the aforementioned 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, as well as the 2012 London Olympics in cooperation with the BBC.