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Growing 8K Ecosystem, HDMI 2.1 Specification to Drive 8K Home Entertainment Adoption

Written by Joseph Palenchar

   Hyper-realistic 8K UHD video is on the road to becoming a major force in the home entertainment industry, and the HDMI 2.1 specification is playing an essential role in driving 8K into the home.
  With 33.2 million pixels, 8K images are 4-times denser than 4K images, enhancing image quality at typical viewing distances in the home, new research shows. Sharper, smoother edges around objects, more realistic color tonality, and perceived enhancements in brightness and contrast add depth to the image, creating a 3D-like effect. Subtle textures of leaves, concrete and other objects become visible. And pixels disappear, even at close range, enhancing realness and delivering a film-like look.
   8K Ecosystem Advances: All the pixels are starting to fall into place to drive 8K into the home. They include:
   • a small-but-expanding ecosystem of 8K content-creation tools such as professional cameras and encoders;
   • a small-but-growing supply of native 8K content, including a growing reserve of movies and TV shows captured and archived in 8K for future 8K distribution;
  • the late-2020 launch of 8K game consoles by Microsoft and Sony;
  • NHK’s December 2018 launch of an 8K/60fps satellite channel delivering live action, scripted movies and episodic content for 12 hours each day;
   • plans by select media companies to broadcast the 2020 Olympics in 8K;
   • the expected 2020-2021 launch of limited 8K streaming in select countries, with robust 8K streaming libraries available perhaps as soon as 2023 or 2024, Strategy Analytics analyst Michael Goodman said;
   • and accelerating 8K TV sales as more suppliers launch their first models and TV prices continue to drop.
   Other factors moving the 8K needle forward include continued advances in 8K encoding efficiency, which promises to reduce the amount of bandwidth needed to distribute 8K to homes without reducing picture quality. Lower bandwidth requirements will encourage satellite, cable and telco MVPDs (multichannel video program distributors) to offer 8K, given that a single 8K channel consumes the bandwidth of multiple 4K channels and even more HD channels.
  More efficient encoding will also make 8K streaming more practical via broadband, as will continually accelerating broadband speeds delivered either by wired networks or expanded wireless 5G networks.
   Though the requisite broadband speeds are already available to many households, the price of high-speed bandwidth is still too high to foster broad adoption, so “greater compression efficiency will be necessary if the cost of Internet bandwidth remains the same for the next few years,” said Mauricio Alvarez-Mesa, CEO of Spin Digital, which makes video encoders and decoders. As a result, Alvarez-Mesa expects more powerful encoders will be deployed to reduce the bit rate of the widely adopted HEVC codec while efforts are underway to develop the VVC codec, which promises a 50% bitrate reduction with no performance loss.

   TV Trends: TV-market trends also promise to lift 8K’s fortunes. One major trend is growing consumer demand for big-screen TVs at least 65 inches in size. Those screen sizes deliver the best 8K experience at typical viewing distances, and 8K TV suppliers have exclusively focused on those sizes for their 8K launches.
  By 2025, all TVs with screen sizes of at least 60 inches will account for 23% of total global TV shipments in 2025, up from 6% in 2016, Display Supply Chain Consultants (DSCC) said in a mid-2019 forecast. And 8K will account for a disproportionate share of big-screen sales. Every 75-inch TV and 60% of 65-inch TVs shipped in 2025 will feature 8K, DSCC projects. 


   Another trend generating 8K tailwinds is a forecast substantial drop in big-screen TV prices due to an expected “huge oversupply” in big-screen LCD panels, said DSCC president Bob O’Brien. In China, newly built government-subsidized 10- and 10.5G-class LCD-panel factories are optimized for the efficient production of 65-, 75- and even 98-inch panels. Some of these panels will deliver 8K, and their increasing affordability will encourage consumers to step up from 4K, he said.
  O’Brien expects overall TV prices to decline at a rate of about 20% per year in the coming years.
  With 8K TV supplies growing and prices expected to fall, the number of global 8K TV households will rise to more than 18.5 million in 2023, up from only 400,000 in 2019, Strategy Analytics said in a June 2019 forecast.

   HDMI 2.1 Specification Role:  In 8K’s growing end-to-end ecosystem, HDMI 2.1 Ultra High Speed Bandwidth connectivity is the last link in the content-delivery chain and the glue holding an 8K home entertainment system together.
   The HDMI 2.1 specification is so critical to 8K adoption that the 8K Association (8KA), a cross-industry group, includes the specification in its 8K TV performance and certification requirements, which define an 8K TV’s minimum capabilities. Requirements include resolution, peak brightness, black level, color gamut, high dynamic range (HDR), and refresh rates.
  With bandwidth of 48Gbps, certified HDMI 2.1 ports and Ultra High Speed HDMI Cables support the transfer of uncompressed 8K content at up to a 60Hz refresh rate to TVs from planned next-gen Microsoft and Sony game consoles, future 8K-capable OTT video-streaming devices, and cable-, satellite- and telco-TV boxes.
   At 60Hz, high-speed 8K action can be rendered with smooth sharp images with less judder, or shakiness, on big screens displaying bright HDR (high dynamic range) images, said Chris Chinnock, president of Insight Media. Higher refresh rates are particularly important to sports fans, action-movie enthusiasts, and gamers.
For even smoother ultra-fast action, HDMI 2.1 specification also supports uncompressed 4K video at 100-120Hz refresh rates and uses optional VESA Display Stream Compression (DSC) 1.2a lossless compression to deliver 8K at 100-120Hz refresh rates.
   Just as important, HDMI 2.1-certified products and Category 3 “Ultra High Speed HDMI Cables” ensure that 8K content and other HDMI 2.1-supported features can be delivered reliably to a TV from an external source, avoiding compatibility glitches among products from different suppliers.
   Other key HDMI 2.1 features include support for dynamic-metadata HDR (high dynamic range) formats, low-lag Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM) for responsive game play, and Variable Refresh Rate (VRR) for a smoother gaming experience.
  HDMI 2.1 technology also supports 5K and 10K imagery for commercial and industrial applications such as digital signage, simulators, and medical imaging.


     Native Content, Upscaling: With native 8K content still scarce, consumers might question the wisdom of purchasing an HDMI 2.1-equipped 8K TV. But TV suppliers anticipated this objection by offering all of their 8K TVs with sophisticated 8K upscaling technologies that generate compelling 8K images from lower resolution content.
  The latest upscaling technologies significantly outperform their predecessors, using such techniques as machine learning and artificial intelligence to restore sharp edges, create texture, and reduce noise and other compression artifacts, Insight Media said. 

   Sophisticated upscaling will encourage consumers to buy into the 8K ecosystem, thus expanding the installed base of 8K TVs and encouraging content creators and distributors to deliver native 8K content.
  “Being able to enjoy superior upscaling and have a TV ready for native content as it becomes available can make buying an 8K TV a good future-proofing strategy,” said Insight Media’s Chinnock in an FAQ developed by the 8K Association, which promotes 8K adoption.

    The supply of native 8K content, meantime, continues to grow. Sources include 70mm catalog films scanned and remastered in 8K, along with movies and TV episodes captured in 8K for archiving content and for creating the highest quality 4K masters.
   “For cinema or high-value content production, having the high-resolution [8K] master makes for a much better archival version and will enable distribution of 8K versions at the appropriate time with little additional cost,” the 8K Association contends.

  For its part, NHK is “proving that a full channel of 8K content can be produced on a regular basis,” the 8K Association said of the Japanese broadcaster’s 8K satellite channel.
   More 8K broadcasting will accompany the 2020 and 2022 Olympics. NHK plans to broadcast the full 2020 summer Olympics in 8K from Tokyo. Italian broadcaster RAI also plans 8K broadcasts of the 2020 Olympics, and the Chinese National Engineering Research Center is developing an 8K terrestrial-broadcast system that it wants to make ready for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
   Several major European streaming services have also announced intentions to join the 8K ecosystem, including Chili, The Explorers, MEGOGO, and Rakuten TV.
  Other content includes thousands of 8K videos available on Vimeo and YouTube.
  With the ecosystem evolving, “the pieces of the 8K transition are in place and progressing in ways that mirror the way 4K was adopted,” Insight Media’s Chinnock concluded.


For additional information, see:
Avid gamers won’t enjoy the full potential of high-frame-rate 8K gaming on their next-generation game consoles without HDMI 2.1-capable cables and HDMI 2.1-capable 8K TVs, according to this Technology Integrator story.
This Display Daily article delves into the latest research showing that 8K image-quality enhancements can be perceived at typical viewing distances in the home.
CSI magazine takes a deep dive (pages 8-12) into the state of 8K capture, production, display, experimental broadcasts, and the capabilities of the distribution chain. 

  • Valerie Robbins
  • October 21 2019

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