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May 7, 2024

8K Association Panel Highlights 8K Opportunities

The 8K Association coordinated a panel presentation at the NAB 2024 event. The panel session was ‘standing room only’ and support staff told us that it was the busiest session of the event.

8K Association Director of Operations, Juan Reyes introduced the panelists:

  • Abdul Rehman, CTO of IMAX Corp
  • Uday Mathur – CTO of RED Digital Cinema
  • Ravi Velhal, Technology Policy & Standards, Intel Research
  • Mauricio Alvarez-Mesa CEO of Spin Digital

Reyes started by asking each to describe their responsibilities.

Uday Mathur

Mathur explained that RED has been making 8K cameras for almost ten years and it has tried to push frame rates at each generation. It is now adding IP and networking facilities as well. Alvarez-Mesa said that Spin Digital is a developer of codecs for 8K and in recent years has focused on the live encoding of 8K using VVC and HEVC with frame rates up to 120Hz. Rehman said that IMAX is passionate about bringing differentiated premium experiences to its theaters and also beyond theaters. Velhal has 26 years at Intel and recently worked with other companies to deliver the Tokyo Olympics live in 8K. His job is to drive 8K and the future of immersive entertainment.

Abdul Rehman

Reyes asked about the challenges in creating 8K content for the different vertical markets.

Mathur said that RED entered the 8K space very early and getting content before 8K displays were available was a significant challenge.

“Now with the emergence of 8K screens and alternative displays like headsets, many of those challenges have faded away”, he commented.

Alvarez-Mesa also said that early on getting really good 8K content to test his codecs and show the benefits was a challenge. The technology has to respect the creator’s intent and 8K has to be in 10 bit, which was difficult earlier. It was important to clarify not just the number of pixels, but also other quality parameters.

Mauricio Alvarez-Mesa

Rehman explained that when you look at all new technologies you need to solve the ‘chicken and egg’ challenge. You need the whole ecosystem to be addressed to bring the right quality of experience. 8K has a canvas that can help story tellers to communicate with viewers in the best way possible. IMAX is passionate about working with the 8K Association to promote mastering of content in 8K. The creative intent has to be maintained right through the process from storytelling to playback. You need to understand the technology that will achieve that in line with human perception.

“All those elements coming together… that’s when you can make the magic happen”, he added.

Ravi Velhal

Velhal – “Support by three Laws is Needed”

Velhal backed up all these comments and emphasized that the ‘chicken and egg’ problems are common to all technology changes – it happened when TV went from monochrome to color. There are three laws that you need to look at, he said. The law of economics is that prices come down as volume goes up, that is the issue of scale. That applies for TVs, compute and distribution when it comes to 8K. The second is the law of physics and for 8K you need bigger sensors and processors to deal with the increased data. The third factor is the law of the land. So in Japan, 8K has been distributed by satellite whereas in the US it is likely to be by streaming.

Reyes then turned to the question of the state of the art with respect to 8K content capture.

Mathur said that he sees high frame rate as a key part of the differentiation of 8K. Right now, there are new higher frame rates to support new experiences including headset use. Cameras are now being designed to connect to infrastructure rather than simply capturing to media for post-production. 8K for live and ‘quasi-live’ events is a new focus for RED.

Rehman said that 24fps has been the standard for blockbuster content for many years. IMAX is working with studios to enable storytellers to tell their stories in the way that they want to. 48fps has been used by Avatar and other content and the IMAX goal is to follow the desires of content creators.

“We believe that creating content in 8K is really important, It should be done from a capture perspective” Rehman added, highlighting that certified cameras are available for 8K for the maximum fidelity. He also hopes for mastering processes to be updated.

8K in Encoding and Decoding

Reyes said that the Association is seeing 8K used further down the production pipeline. He then asked for comments on the encoding and decoding processes.

Alvarez-Mesa explained that offline encoding allows time for content analysis and processing, but in live encoding his firm has developed experience working with HEVC and now it can be done on a single server. Initially the final bitrate for the content was set after tests by NHK at 80Mbps in the pioneering days. Now, with the VVC codec, this has been reduced (on the 8K Association booth, bit rates of 20-30Mbps average were being demonstrated). He said that it is important to bring in some visual science to the process of encoding to allow the removal of data that can’t be seen by the viewer. Spin Digital calls this perceptual coding.

VVC Encoded content was shown on the 8K Association Booth

Velhal said that it’s the duty of technologists to preserve the artistic intent and his mantra is “more pixels, faster pixels, better pixels”. 8K60P is great for sports, so that’s a baseline, but when it comes to movies they are at 24fps and there is a lot you have to do to preserve the cinematic quality. Virtual production has become important, as has the use of global shutters in cameras. There is a whole pipeline from background to VFX to cameras that needs to be in place. Velhal said that at the Tokyo Olympics Intel created 216 hours of live content and 200 hours of recorded content in 8K with NHK creating 4.7 petabytes of data and 300 Terabytes of streaming using HEVC.

The use of VVC to bring bitrates down means that whereas at one time viewers would have needed 1Gbps of bandwidth to reliably watch 8K60P HDR content, now need just 250 Mbps. Companies are also laying the groundwork for 8K cinema.

Resolution is Just One Component

Rehman explained that for IMAX, resolution is just one of the components. IMAX controls the whole process from capture to display and so needs to bring all the parts of the ecosystem together. Capture, post-production and mastering all have to be at the same level. IMAX has the biggest screens or some of them and aims for the maximum fidelity. The firm’s film camera can create masters that can be scanned at 8K and beyond. With proper scanning, film can be pushed to 18K, so IMAX aims for the maximum fidelity with ‘the proper look and feel’. The work that the company has done with Christopher Nolan and others to deliver what they wanted.

Reyes asked about getting the content into the home and Mathur said that 8K content is already being delivered to headsets for live events. This includes NBA sport but also content such as concerts.

“A headset is just an 8K display that you happen to attach to your face”, Mathur said. “It’s not a large leap to think that 8K will be pervasive in just a few years as hardware costs come down”.

Alvarez-Mesa described an orchestral concert that was created by NHK at the end of 2024 that was live streamed to a number of locations in Japan and to Germany. High quality audio is also important and has to be combined with 8K for the full experience. (we are planning an interview with NHK about this project – editor). The stream was sent over the open internet, without and dedicated connections. 8K can be streamed now. We have the technology.

Rehman said that it is an effort to bring 8K into the home and viewers have to have a reason to yearn for this quality and look for an 8K experience. It has to be a win for the creators, infrastructure and display makers and for the viewer. Creating the demand will drive adoption and sports will help.

Velhal concurred that streaming in 8K is already being done and Intel has livestreamed the Beijing Olympics to Meta headsets. Latency is down to two seconds, with HLS streaming at 14 seconds. Velhal said that there are millions of 8K videos already on YouTube and with camera prices reducing, all of the steps are getting into place. “Live is the hardest thing to do. But in cinema the quality has to be exceptionally maintained”. Velhal pointed out that even if you are delivering content in 2K, the quality will be much better if you capture in 8K and downscale to HD during production.

Near and Future Plans

The panel was asked to comment on current and near future plans for 8K. For Mathur, the most exciting area is in live capture to the cloud and he said that customers are now adopting the technology. Alvarez-Mesa agreed that IP is important. He is also seeing some real interest in 8K 120 fps capture and encoding. There are displays that can show that content and in live sports it is likely to become the new benchmark. Rehman identified next generation audio and the Apple Vision Pro as key current topics for IMAX. Velhal reinforced the importance of better audio. He also said that on the 8K Association booth was showing very high quality and compelling content in 8K. 8K sport can be very engaging and involving.

The final question was about what is needed to evengelize the development of 8K.

Velhal appreciated that the 8K Association is bringing players together rather than relying on a single company. For Rehman, the big need is for the mastering process to be in 8K and it’s not enough to leave it to Directors of Photography and Cinematographers. They need the help of technologists to do it in a high quality, economically feasible way. Alvarez-Mesa identified better codecs as being critical. He said

“As soon as you get 8K files being very small (and) very easy to play and quality is great, you say ‘Why not?'”.

Ease of use with efficient codecs will enable the growth in popularity. Mathur agreed on the importance of capture. The creatives know what to do but need help to get content ‘out there’.

Reyes concluded by thanking the panel.

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