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October 24, 2023

Cedia Panel Highlights the Immersion of 8K and Above

At the recent Cedia Expo in Denver, Colorado, the 8K Association was on hand to show 8K and talk to members and interested visitors, but it also organized a panel session with the title ‘Understanding the Content Perspective’ on the “Smart-Stage’. You can view the full panel discussion here.

The speakers were:

  • Des Carey of Samsung, who was the moderator
  • Greg Ciaccio, Senior Director, Post Production, Original Content and Image Capture of Imax
  • Dominic Glynn, Senior Scientist of Pixar and
  • Paul Breen, Senior Director of Playback, Madison Square Gardens’ Sphere Entertainment Company
From left to right, Des Carey (Samsung), Greg Ciaccio (Imax), Dominic Glynn (Pixar) and Paul Breen (Sphere Entertainment). Ciaccio is highlighting the size of the 70mm film used by Imax.

Ciaccio was the first speaker and Carey set out that Christopher Nolan regards the Imax version of the ‘Oppenheimer’ movie that he directed and which was scanned in 8K, as the definitive master. He was responsible for the pipeline to produce the master and he explained that Imax has been working on high resolution for 50 years and highlighted the large ‘real estate’ that Imax 70mm film can provide.

Ciaccio emphasized that spatial resolution is one of the key parameters for content creators, along with colour, brightness and high dynamic range, that can help them deliver a great experience to an audience. Imax has a lot of content on 70mm film and has been scanning on its Northlight scanner in 8K for around 25 years. It is still pushing ahead and is anticipating going up to 12K for scanning in the future. Imax is archiving everything in 8K, Ciaccio said. A really good 8K scan actually makes for a better 4K deliverable, as well as protecting the archive.

How Does 8K Enhance the Storytelling?

 Carey asked Glynn how 8K could enhance the storytelling for content creators? Glynn responde that Pixar is a very technology heavy company and how to use technology was always a consideration in putting content in front of viewers, but without allowing the technology toi intrude on the experience. Pixar doesn’t use optics to create any of its content – everything is created virtually, so the resolution chosen for a particular viewing experience can be optimized. The firm can ‘pick and choose where to inject the appropriate level of detail and resolution’ to convey the story, whether that is on a smartphone or an Imax screen.

To support higher resolutions, Pixar will go back to the source and re-render the content rather than simply upscaling a previous 2K or other master. For example, it might re-render at 4K for cinema. A typical Pixar movie takes five years to make, so the firm is always looking for ‘late binding’ options for specifications such as resolution. Glynn said that there are ‘so many’ new venues coming where heightened resolution can increase the sense of immersion.

 Returning to the point about the technology intruding, Glynn said that if the audience is aware of some factor such as the number of pixels on the screen, than Pixar has failed. It doesn’t matter if its 8K or 128K, the audience should not be thinking about the technology, he said.

Companies Working Together

Carey pointed out that companies in the past tended to be proprietary in their use of technology, but in recent years, firms such as Imax and Pixar collaborated. So, for example, those watching Buzz Lightyear at an Imax venue actually saw more content on the screen than on TV or on the cinema. The content was rendered directly for the Imax format. Pixar used specific ‘virtual cameras’ to render the Imax versions of the virtual scenes.

Ciaccio explained that Imax has two main different aspect ratios in its facilities and content, either 1.90:1 or 1.43:1 (whereas many movies are 2.40:1).  Although initially it was thought that the squarer format would be used just for the wider scenes, it was actually more often used to ‘pull in’ the audience for close ups. This can change for different content – for example in another movie, the extra space was used to show how a view through a window opens up as the camera moves through the window.

Glynn said that Hollywood movies cost $50 million or more and more resolution does tend to cost more in terms of data and processing so there needs to be some judgement applied in choosing when to use it. It seems clear that vast landscapes with great detail might need more, but counter intuitively, often it is in the close moments, as in Oppenheimer, when the impact of resolution is greatest. Sometimes, the highest resolution is used on a quiet moment on somebody’s face.

The Sphere

Breen then talked about the opening of the Sphere, with a series of performances by U2. Carey said that he had been able to experience the Sphere and he had been ‘blown away’. Breen said that the video is processed and displayed at a base level of 16K x 16K with no compression and 12 bits of color. RAW video from the cameras is shown and each frame takes a gigabyte of storage – and the system runs at 60 fps! There are a lot of big numbers involved. The display surface is treated as a number of 4K x 4K displays with content going over an ST2110 digital networking connection – and it’s all fiber-based – there is no copper, Breen said, no HDMI, no DisplayPort.

The high bit depth is a complication as it is not widely used in the industry but allows for better processing and display.

China 8K
The Chinese claim to be the first TV channel in the country to provide 8K services to a broad audience. “If you haven’t seen sports in true 8K, you really don’t understand what you are missing” – Des Carey, Samsung

Carey reported that he had seen live sports in 8K from the last Olympics and, he said, “if you haven’t seen sports in true 8K, you really don’t understand what you are missing”.  He also said that the forthcoming Las Vegas F1 race would go around the Sphere and could be a good opportunity to show what can be done.

Breen explained that the Sphere puts video all the way around you. That changes the experience because of the level of immersion.

Carey said that Hollywood is capturing, these days, in 8K so, he asked, what are the broader implications for sports, live events and movies? Later in the discussion he highlighted that capturing in 8K allows content creators to go back to their original masters and re-create new versions for viewers.

Gaming Will Drive 8K

Glynn responded to the question by saying that interactive mediums often drive the development of infrastructure and he believes that consumers will get used to a high level of immersion and video quality in gaming. Users will want to get the best images at the same level. At the moment 4K is the limit of what is going into the cinema but for Pixar every pixel is natively rendered to that level. To deliver great 8K content to the home, a lot of infrastructure needs to be upgraded.

Glynn pointed out that all content in the home has been the subject of chroma sub-sampling, whereas in theaters, it is not sub-sampled, so the color resolution is better. He would like to see the infrastructure developing to allow a truly cinematic level of performance in the home. Imax also has a home entertainment division and Glynn said that it is very aware that TV sizes are growing faster than living spaces, so displays are getting more immersive and ‘you need more pixels’. Glynn also said that 8K will be important for theatrical and VR presentations.

Carey talked about the Amazon 8K LED display in Culver City – the first in the world. He said the work being done by companies such as Imax and Pixar is really helpful to the development of 8K.

Breen highlighted the impact of Covid in encouraging creatives to set new levels of quality.

In conclusion, the panel set out that there are new demands in special venues, but also with larger displays in the home, that will help drive the development of 8K content.

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