China Makes Aggressive Moves to Showcase 8K at Winter Olympics
The Chinese government, along with TV and telecom partners and institutions, have been working on becoming the leader in 8K. The upcoming 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics will showcase these efforts. Is the rest of the world being left behind?
While gathering all information on the country’s plans is difficult, we have found some on many of their efforts, albeit somewhat incomplete, which we report here. We have not yet determined which events will be broadcast in 8K, but the broadcast channels, content, and screens are starting to be revealed.
Beijing Radio and Television
On December 31, 2021, Beijing Radio and Television’s Winter Olympics 8K Ultra HD Test Channel was officially launched. They claim to be the first TV channel in the country to provide 8K services to a broad audience.
Their efforts started only last April, and by launch date, Beijing Radio and TV Station had completed three main tasks. These included the construction of an 8K core production facility, 8K content production, and an 8K App development. So far, the station has produced more than 50 hours of 8K quality programs that are now being shown on the newly launched test channel. The 8K content is encoded using China’s AVS3 codec at 50 frames per second and features a 5.1 audio track.
In the future, the pilot channel will continue to carry out research and broadcast the Winter Olympics, linking urban outdoor large screens, medium-sized community screens, and small personal screens. The channel will also seek to improve the production and broadcasting technology, reduce production costs, increase production capacity, increase the length of premiere broadcasts, and support regular operation.
After the Olympics, they will strive to expand the production capacity of 8K programs focusing on nature and humanities documentaries. Also planned is the launch of the first 5G mobile application with an 8K App. This new app will likely deliver 8K content to 8K TVs with integrated 5G receivers (Chinese brands like Skyworth and Konka already offer 8K TVs with 5G).
The station also revealed some tidbits on their production techniques. For instance, they appear to have developed a 5G cloud broadcast backpack useful for production. They noted that the uncompressed 8K signal is 50 Gbps (probably 8K/60p 4:2:0), but they use an unnamed mezzanine codec to squeeze this into a 10 Gbps Ethernet network.
They also talked about a “layered coding” technology with a base encoded layer at 4K resolution and an enhancement layer to reconstruct the original 8K video. This appears to be used in the production ecosystem, not as a consumer coding solution. For example, they note that this method allows the base layer to be used for editing and signal monitoring with the two layers then combined before broadcast. They say layered coding technology reduces system computing power and data bandwidth requirements.
The layered approach also then requires a robust up-down 4K/8K conversion technology. They have developed a process leveraging machine learning, AI, and convolutional neural networks. This innovation is much like advanced 8K TV do for their upconversion. They appear to be using this to upconvert 4K original content to 8K for rebroadcast. Such a capability is needed as not all cameras will be 8K, and not all pre-recorded content, including commercials, will be 8K.
Viewing Olympic Content
According to Yu Hong, director of the Beijing Organizing Committee for the 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games’ technology department, “Spectators will be able to see 8K images of Olympic events on TVs and UHD images on 8K terminals at venues, city squares and other places during the Winter Olympics.” We are unclear if this means 4K or 8K images will be sent to the 8K screens in these public venues, but it does imply that 8K content will arrive on consumer 8K TVs. However, other articles suggest the content on these screens will be 8K.
The “Hundred Cities Thousand Screens” public large-screen project is significant in China. These screens are supposed to be 8K resolution. According to reports, the project has started construction in more than ten provinces, including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangdong, Zhejiang, Hubei, Jiangsu, Anhui, Sichuan, Shandong, Fujian, and Jiangxi. High-profile screens are already up in four high-speed train stations to highlight Winter Olympics coverage: Qinghe, Yanqing, Taizicheng, and Chongli.
The screens are of different sizes, all large outdoor screens in various cities.
In addition to live and pre-recorded 8K Olympic coverage, the 8K micro-documentary “The Winter Olympics” and the documentary “Charming Hainan” were also released.
China Media Group – CCTV-8K
China Media Group’s China Central Radio and Television Station has launched the CCTV-8K channel. CCTV will reportedly work with local party committees and governments, four major telecom operators, related enterprises, and institutions. Together they will promote the entry of 8K ultra-high-definition channels into the home network and the “hundred cities, thousand screens” project.
During the Beijing Winter Olympics, the CCTV-8K channel will also be rebroadcast by the Beijing and Guangdong cable TV networks and broadcast simultaneously on hundreds of ultra-high-definition large screens across the country. We soon see how much these efforts contribute to China becoming the leader in 8K it would like to be.