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August 16, 2021

Intel Supports Live 8K Stream for 2020 Olympics

In a record-breaking first, Intel and assorted partners were able to live stream many events in 8K 60 fps and 10-bit HDR over the public internet. This feat was carried out for 19 days of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and is the only known distribution of 8K outside of Japan. Specifically, the HLS-formatted stream was 8K at 60 fps, 4:2:0, 10-bit, PQ HDR with HEVC encoding with a bit rate that varied from 80 to 100 Mbps. This accomplishment is a big deal, proving that consumer distribution of 8K streaming content is feasible today. Yes, these data rates are high, but easily within reach of anyone with 500Mbps to 1Gbps broadband service – capabilities that available to many households already.

The live stream was produced in Japan and sent to an Intel office in Tokyo, Japan, an Intel facility in Portland, Oregon, Intel HQ in Santa Clara, CA, a partner monitoring facility in Berlin, Germany, and to Intel partner Globo TV in Brazil, who offered the 8K OTT stream to its customers with compatible 8K TVs all over Brazil (see this article and related 8K Monitor article). Members of the Digital Entertainment Group (DEG), Hollywood executives, VIPs, and selected media benefited from a one-day special session at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles on August 3. The 8K Monitor attended a virtually-hosted session with Intel from Tokyo. We were also able to get several media friends and 8K Association members to attend the event in LA in person.

The Skirball 8K activation featured a recorded replay of the live stream due to time differences. But later that evening in LA, the team offered a live stream of Table Tennis when games started at Japanese Standard Time. The graphic below provides an overview of the livestreaming of 8K, 60 FPS, HDR 10-bit workflow powered by Intel.

The workflow starts with all native 8K content captured by NHK/OBS (Olympic Broadcasting Services) for their delivery to customers in Japan and Intel. The 8K camera brands were not specified, but a high-quality, uncompressed video contribution signal (8K, 59.94 fps, HLG, 4:2:2, 10-bit) and audio (22.2 + 5.1 + 2.0; LCPM, 48 kHz, 24-bit) was delivered over 48 Gbps fiber from the camera CCU to the Olympic Broadcasting Service (OBS) center at IBC (International Broadcasting Center), Tokyo. This video delivery may have used a SMPTE 2110 formatted connection, but we haven’t yet had access to the details. The OBS production center supported 4x12G SDI routing for the 8K production.

Intel then processed the finished NHK feed from the OBS facility at the IBC. Intel hardware and a Spin Digital software encoder optimized for Intel Xeon Scalable Processors then created a contribution signal for the Skirball demo and a distribution signal for streaming by Brazilian broadcaster Globo.

Details of the real-time compression are shown below.

  • Signal acquisition: conversion from fiber optical to 4x 12G SDI format
  • Conversion from HLG to PQ HDR
  • Encoder server captures 4x 12G SDI
  • Encoder server
    • 4x Intel Xeon 8380H Scalable CPUs (112 cores in total)
    • Ubuntu Linux 20.04 OS
    • DRAM: 384GB of RAM
    • SSD: 4TB Intel DC-P4600
    • Encoder: Spin Digital – Spin Enc Live v1.0
  • Encoder settings: Distribution Signal
    • Codec: HEVC Main 10
    • Bitrate: 80 Mbit/s CBR
    • Chroma format and bit depth: 4:2:0 10-bit
    • Colorimetry and transfer function: BT.2020 – HLG
    • Low latency mode
  • Encoder settings: Contribution Signal
    • Codec: HEVC Main 10
    • Bitrate: 250 Mbit/s CBR
    • Chroma format and bit depth: 4:2:0 10-bit
    • Colorimetry and transfer function: BT.2020 – HLG
    • Low latency mode
  • Audio
    • Channel layout: 5.1
    • Codec: AAC-LC
    • Bitrate: 384 Kbps

Intel created other streams for its campuses in Tokyo, Japan, Santa Clara, and Portland using the Real-time Transport Protocol (RTP), but without revealing encoder or other packaging details for the HLS contribution and distribution signals (segment size, ladder setting, etc.).

Both the contribution and distribution signals were delivered using unspecified open cloud service, which is likely one of these options: AWS (Amazon Web Services), Microsoft Azure, or Google Cloud.

The Skirball Center has fiber-based gigabit internet access, so the contribution signal was passed by the router to a Windows 10 PC (one Xeon W-2295 CPU with 18 cores and 64GB of RAM and a 1TB Intel SSD) via Wi-Fi 6E. The Spin Digital Player V2.2.2 decoded the video in real-time was then sent to a 75-inch compatible 8K TV via HDMI 2.1 (brand not specified). Overall end-to-end latency was 2.5 to 4 seconds, depending on where the playout display was located in the world.

Scott Wilkinson from TechHive was at the Skirball Center, where he saw pre-recorded streamed content included swimming, sprinting, basketball, and skateboarding. “As you might imagine, the image was amazingly sharp with loads of detail; I could even read the names on ID badges in medium shots! In longer shots of the stadium, the seats were much more clearly discernable than they would be at lower resolutions, and drops of water that splashed about during the men’s 50m freestyle were razor-sharp,” noted Wilkinson.

“One shot showed a side view of the overhead camera suspended with wires at very shallow angles, and I could see virtually no jaggies, even up close to the screen,” continued Wilkinson. “Notice I said ‘virtually;’ when I was close to the screen, I did see a few minor discontinuities in those wires when they were nearly but not completely horizontal. Still, this artifact was far less pronounced than it would be even at 4K.”

The 8K Monitor also spoke with Ravi Velhal, Intel’s Portland OR-based Global Content Strategist and 8K lead, pioneering 8K space for the last 8 years, and Chairs 8K Association Encode-Decode working group. Velhal said that at one point, a judoka athlete lost a contact lens on the floor during a Judo match and the 8K camera was able to see the contact lens. “During swimming competitions, water splashes looked like real water – something observers had never experienced before,” noted Velhal.

“Though audience weren’t allowed to experience this inside stadium, we attempted to bring a stadium-sized immersive experience to you – an amazing accomplishment. More (8K), faster (60 fps), better (10 bit HDR) live sports experiences powered by Intel aren’t just better. They are transformative. We are driving the future of 8K with over three decades of a rich history of pioneering and shaping the digital media ecosystem, media formats, content access standards, and delivery methods worldwide. Intel is advancing the promise of 8K and turning it into reality—today—with the help of Intel processors and platform technologies. With low-latency, high-quality 8K, 60 frames per second (fps), high dynamic range (HDR) live streaming over the public internet. Intel is creating new possibilities to connect audiences around the world with unforgettable viewing experiences while generating, processing, and distributing over 4.7 Peta Bytes of 8K data over 19 days of Olympics games,” he concluded.

This demo was a significant and historic industry milestone because it established that an 8K 60 fps HDR streaming service could be configured using existing hardware, software solutions, and available network infrastructure. It proved that a broadcast-grade 8K delivery solution is feasible and a consumer streaming solution at 80 Mbps. Will the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics seek to top this? Let’s wait and see.