8K Ultra High Def TV Format Opens Options for TV Viewing

With UHDTV standards in place, broadcasters are getting ready to tackle new challenges.

The administrations of the International Telecommunication Union recently agreed on two levels of Ultra High Definition Television (UHDTV), making it officially a worldwide standard. This means more consumer options are on the horizon—and a lot more work needs to be done in the broadcast world should it choose to pursue this new TV system.

Adoption of a new standard means that UHDTV overcame a key hurdle, yet it's just one step in a lengthy and complex process when it comes to changing a television system—just consider the challenges of the transition from standard definition to HDTV.

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With the recent decision, technology manufacturers can now “go ahead and make equipment knowing the standards debate is over,” said the European Broadcasting Union’s technical deputy director David Wood, who chairs the ITU working group that drafted the UHDTV recommendation.

There are two “levels” of UHDTV, and while they are not resolution-specific, you could effectively think of level one as one that supports 4K, the resolution that digital cinema is currently moving towards; and level 2, which effectively supports 8K resolution, or 16 times more picture information than HD.

For level one, some 4K displays from leading set manufacturers have already been unveiled, as well as some 4K production technology including Sony’s F65 4K digital cinematography camera.

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The majority of attention on level two is coming from Japanese public broadcaster NHK, which is developing a level two-ready 8K UHDTV system called Super Hi-Vision.

NHK, BBC and Olympic Broadcast Services teamed up for a test and demonstration of Super Hi-Vision during the recent London Olympics. NHK hopes to start test broadcasts of Super Hi-Vision in Japan by 2020.

Broadcasting level one would be easier than level two because the required bit rate is much lower. Wood reported that Korea has plans in place to begin test broadcasts of level one next year. Still, he cautioned that change will not be overnight.

Consumers of course have a growing number of content delivery options, and Wood told The Hollywood Reporter that he views “availability of suitable displays [and] when will they create public demand” as a “critical factor” to when a potential transition might begin to occur.

He also noted that a tough decision would be whether broadcasters would look to start a transition with level one or move immediately to adopt level two. Wood told THR that many broadcasters view the move from HD to 8K as perhaps too great and thinks it is prudent to start with 4K. But NHK, he related, doesn’t see an advantage in shifting to 4K and then making a second jump to 8K.

The ramifications of the UHDTV decision will be addressed next month at the IBC (International Broadcasting Convention), Sept. 6-11 in Amsterdam. Also during IBC, NHK’s research arm will be presented the IBC’s highest recognition, the International Honor for Excellence.

UHDTV will also be discussed in Hollywood during the upcoming Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers annual conference. During the event, slated from October 22-25, NHK researchers are scheduled to present an update on their developing Super Hi-Vision system.