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November 21, 2023

Content Creators Bullish On 8K in Malaga

At the 4K HDR event in Malaga, Spain, a number of content creators gave very positive opinions on the development of 8K in content creation and capture.

Olivier Chiabodo is from The Explorers and is completely committed to 8K capture and goes further by using Red Raptor cameras to capture all of its content in 8K with 120Hz frame rate. Much of his content is output as 4K/UltraHD at 120Hz from the 8K source but 8K is the optimum for capture. The firm goes to the limit in getting high quality by capturing data in RAW format. That means a need to capture, store and back-up a lot of data. In the past, that need meant a lot of challenges in storage and batteries, but, Chiabodo said, work with Lacie, a Seagate company, had overcome the storage challenges of speed of back-up.

His firm has done a lot of work in Africa and is developing an Academy in Gabon. It has also worked in Qatar, which had surprising wildlife, he found, and has just started working in Saudi Arabia. The Explorers has also worked for a number of months in China.

Chiabodo said that China wants to be #1 in 8K. He explained that there is a project to install and support 1,000 large 8K LED displays in 100 cities around the country to show high quality 8K video – including content from the Paris Olympics, although the organizers are only planning to capture 4K content. (Prashant Chothani of TravelXP later said at the conference that he had heard from the Paris Olympic organizers that they wanted to focus this time on new sports rather than any improvement in technology)

Equipment from China is Improving

Chinese engineers that The Explorers has worked with have been very diligent and are rapidly understanding how to capture 8K well. Filming equipment from China is getting better and better, he said – and in the near future there will be Chinese cameras and lenses that are 30% cheaper than the Red unit. There has been ‘incredible progress’ among TV brands in China in 8K, he said. Europe has to see how to work with China, he believes. Although he likes the quality of Sony’s high end Venice and Burano cameras, they only capture at 30fps in 8K, so he doesn’t use them.

Asked whether live sports might go to 8K, Chiabodo said that capture is currently 4K with HDR and there has been a lot of work in recent years to support HDR which is seen as more important and cheaper to implement than 8K. However, China is looking to capture sport in 8K and the conversations around 8K remind him of the time when HD was standard and 4K was the new idea. He is convinced that high end production is now 8K and eventually it will be widespread for a lot of production.

Chiabodo said that content companies have to develop the value of their catalogue which can become a growing asset, but that the catalogue has to be created and archived in the highest quality possible.

Is Satellite the Best Option?

Speaking against the prevailing view, Prashant Chothani of TravelXP said in his talk that he sees satellite and other traditional broadcast media as the best way to deliver high quality video and he believes that the relative lack of support and content is just an issue of timing – the need to change the whole of the delivery system means a delay in upgrading from HD.

That was not the view of Ulrich Grönewald of Synamedia, who talked about compression at the event. He highlighted in a discussion that transmission, whether by IP or otherwise, is the largest cost, so it’s critical to get costs down to encourage broadcasters and streamers. He pointed out that a typical OTT multiplex is 19.8Mbps but a multiplex has to handle more than just a video stream. It is likely to have additional audio, subtitles and radio that reduces the available bandwidth to between 15 and 16Mbps. However, the multiplex is also likely to have to share its capacity with multiple channels, so a realistic target for success in any high quality video is to get to 10Mbps to allow widespread adoption, but this also has to be of very high quality video.

Synamedia Can Encode 8K in a Single Server

Grönewald also said that his firm can encode 8K in a single server (this was demonstrated with BT Sport in 2022) but Synamedia has been working closely with AMD and can achieve a boost of 70% in compression speed with AMD’s Genoa generation of chips. That is really useful for high frame rates, VR and 360 degree video. ‘Everything is possible’ he said, but the economics has to be right. On that topic, he explained that his firm’s cloud based services are really valuable for occasional peaks in quality. If you can encode the Olympics or another event in the cloud, you may not need to upgrade your mainstream compression technology.

Gray Highlights Changing Business Models for Streamers & TV Brands

In his talk, Paul Gray of Omdia, an experienced and highly regarded TV market analyst, made another key point that is affecting the market and its development of 8K content delivery. For the last several years, the big trend in the content delivery business has been to subscription channels for streaming companies such as Netflix. The subscription model meant that streamers could charge more for better content. In pursuit of that, and to capture market share, they spent heavily on a lot of high quality content. However, the investors now want to see a return on their big investments.

Streaming channels have also found that Free-to-Air advertising funded channels have proved more profitable than the subscription channels, so the streamers have changed focus to promote those business models. Set makers have also found that there is real money to be made in advertising-led channels. There are now 1,700 or so advertising funded channels in the US so the growth has been very very rapid.

Gray said that a set tied to an advertising-based channel could make $100 of profit. On a low cost (e.g. $249) set, that means that the advertising is worth much more than the profit on the set. Brands are therefore cutting their margins to nothing on the hardware to sell the sets and capture the advertising revenue. That is impacting the higher quality and premium marketing segments, too.

Gray said that VR headsets will need ‘8K type’ resolution, but strong growth is forecast.

Positive about Content Capture in 8K

Responding to a question about 8K, Gray said that his experience is that TV set features that do not have content support do struggle to gain mass acceptance. However, he can see a strong justification for content capture and production in 8K and he also sees a big need for an 8K level of quality in VR headsets. After a lot of development, these headsets are getting good enough for sustained watching of immersive content, but need really high quality source material. Gaming support for 8K VR headsets would also really help the development as gaming can be so immersive.

Gray also mentioned that new formats can take a long time to become established and said that when NHK and the BBC first mooted the idea of 8K, they didn’t see it really taking off until 2025 with mass adoption not until 2030. It really was a long term plan and even those dates will have been disrupted by Covid.

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