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October 12, 2022

A Dive into the 8K Future with Industry Veteran Allan McLennan

Allan is San Francisco-based, founded the global consulting firm PADEM Media Group, as well as these past few years, the Head of Media & Entertainment Americas with Atos, the Paris-based digital powerhouse with over 100k employees with the stated purpose of designing the future of the digital space. That fits well with what I know of Allan. Chris Chinnock and I sat down with Allan to discuss his views on the development of the 8K ecosystem.

In September, at the IBC conference, McLennan gave some insights into the production world, saying, “In some ways, the pandemic helped drive nascent technologies and processes to be refined and robustized in almost real-time. Virtual production and remote post are not exotic workarounds. Today, they’ve become first choices.”

So, I asked him how that related to the 8K future. “while the next horizon, 8K isn’t rocket science; it’s progressive evolution,” said McLennan. “As for years of technical migration, we’re still in an evolutionary process concerning 8K; it remains for the time being an aspirational goal because the required efficiencies are just now beginning to come into focus.”

Allan McLennan

However, McLennan believes we must build for it today to be ready for the inevitable future.

As viewership drives production, McLennan feels we’re in for a domino effect. “Once viewers have enough bandwidth (and we’re almost there), enabling fluid access on their new dynamic screens that can present 8K, 8K production will be accelerated.” He noted, as an example, that just before our interview, Imax had bought Ssimwave, an acquisition he sees as part of the way for IMAX to start developing and delivering even higher quality video over an IP network which 8K will help empower.

He pointed out an angle on the move to 4K that I’d never considered. Coincidentally to the rise of 4K, we were learning more about users, enabling personalization. This parallelism of two seemingly unrelated trends continues for 8K as we see more precise personalized ads due to the sheer amount of data that the networks will be able to carry unilaterally that 8K future will provide, for example, only now. Any progress here needs to consider privacy laws to be confidential and secure.

Drilling to the essence of 8K future, McLennan sees an 8K stream having the potential to provide not only higher quality image but also more content; it’s a multi-layered, more efficient pipe. There is room for more information, even if it’s unclear what all of it will be. And therein may be where an 8K capable delivery system has a value proposition. It may be able to deliver an 8K resolution video or a combination of multiple 4K videos, 8K VR, or some video plus data. But the delivery solutions need to be in place to offer such personalization.

Should doubters still believe in 8K? “Yes, we’re just in the same spot as a few years ago for 4K,” continued McLennan. “It starts with creative storytelling and visual presentation where the studios have always been at the forefront; once produced and made available to the audience, interest will be generated. There’s a parallel with 5G. Sure 3G was good, and 4G is outstanding. But with 5G being 10x better than 4G, it is only a matter of time before the 5G infrastructure is more broadly deployed. Another useful comparison for 8K is ATSC 3.0, the two-way OTA medium that will benefit the distribution of high-quality video and be able to carry 8k too!

We had a brief discussion about the new Netflix Drive. Cloud providers deliver a considerable breadth of service and stability at a potentially huge cost. “Is Netflix interested in becoming a content hyper-scaler (like AWS or Azure)? I don’t think they don’t need to. They could just provide (their own) technology to existing hyper-scalers. Many studios within Hollywood are doing similar things behind closed doors. I can’t share any details, but I think this initiative ultimately addresses Netflix’s cost issues from a strategic perspective.”

As McLennan’s quote at the start of this article shows, production is becoming remote, creating a security issue. Netflix Drive – in part – is looking to address this. Another way is for high-res content to sit in secured on-prem environments while editors collaborate on proxies in the Cloud. McLennan noted that Netflix Drive seems to be looking to keep costs under control with secure file transfer at this stage, along with the spirit of creative collaboration in filmmaking with companies such as Adobe, Avid, or EditShare.

So, if consumer demand is needed to kick start an 8K market, which consumer-facing brands are the most likely to start the ball rolling? He’d look to HBO or Apple with their quality of content to help differentiate them with 8K in the living room. A little later, probably a FAST channel like maybe Peacock or Pluto might try to enhance their programming and differentiate with 8K.

Live 8K for sports will help drive the initial deployment of 8K future. 8K 60 works great to launch services, but Allan agrees that we’ll get to 120 fps and beyond.

8K will eventually become the conduit for delivering top-quality visuals. We’re already on the path with 8K production. Whoever picks up the ball and starts to run with it will be in an excellent position to help industry migration. It’s just a matter of time!

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