Super-Hi Vision Update: Answering the Eight Biggest Questions on NHK 8K Production

It has been 85 years since NHK’s Science and Technology Research Laboratories began researching next-generation broadcasting and other technologies. After playing a pioneering role in the launch of color TV and HDTV, the Japanese public broadcaster is prepping for another major technological leap forward coming in 2018: 8K Super-Hi Vision.

One of two new NHK 8K trucks

One of two new NHK 8K trucks

NHK’s 8K Super-Hi Vision, which offers 16 times the resolution of HD and 22.2-channel audio, has impressed viewers with breathtaking demonstrations of live sports and other content at trade shows and theaters. Although the format faces an uphill battle — both technically and in terms of consumer and broadcaster adoption — NHK is undaunted in its mission to launch Super-Hi Vision broadcasting by 2018.

SVG sat down with representatives of both NHK STRL and NHK Broadcast Engineering Department (which handles in-the-field production) in Japan to get an update on the evolution of 8K Super-Hi Vision and their expectations for an ambitious three-year timeline to launch. Here are eight things you need to know about NHK’s 8K plans in the coming years.

1. When is NHK planning to launch 8K Super-Hi Vision Broadcasting to the home?
NHK recently published a three-year roadmap that entails the launch of 8K test broadcasting in 2016 with plans to roll out full 8K services by 2018. NHK then plans to “provide broadcasting and services to the world’s highest standards by the year 2020” to coincide with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

NHK recently hosted the world premier of 8K broadcasting via satellite during its annual NHK STRL Open House May 28-31. Signals were transmitted from the NHK Broadcast Center (in Tokyo’s Shibuya ward) to STRL (in Tokyo’s Setagaya ward) via satellite broadcasting.

2. What sports events will NHK produce next in 8K?
All roads lead to Tokyo 2020 for NHK. The broadcaster expects the Tokyo Games to serve as a coming-out party for 8K Super-Hi Vision and plans to roll out the largest-scale 8K production to date at the 2020 Games.

In the meantime, NHK has committed to produce live shows at Super Bowl 50 next February and the Rio Olympics next August and will continue to produce Super-Hi Vision shows of domestic sports events, such as golf, sumo wrestling, tennis, and baseball.

NHK produced a Yankees-Mariners three-game series in 8K at Yankee Stadium in July.

NHK produced a Yankees-Mariners three-game series in 8K at Yankee Stadium in July.

NHK has a growing catalogue of live multicamera 8K productions at major sports events from which to draw knowledge. In addition to the 2012 London Olympics, 2014 Sochi Olympics, 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, 2015 Wimbledon Championships, 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, and three MLB Mariners-Yankees games this past summer, NHK has produced live 8K shows at a long list of domestic events. That is on top of drama and documentary productions, for which NHK is developing its own end-to-end 8K production system covering cameras, recording, editing, graphics, and visual effects.

3. What cameras is NHK using for live 8K sports productions?
NHK continues to work with a variety of vendors to evolve the cameras it uses. At the World Cup in Brazil, for example, the company deployed three 8K Ikegami SHV8000 60-fps cameras, two FOR-A FT-ONE 4K cameras for slo-mo replay, and one Sony F65 4K camera for features. However, that will change when NHK arrives at the Rio Olympics next summer.

Ikegami's SHK-810 8K camera was unveiled in March and will be used regularly by NHK.

Ikegami’s SHK-810 8K camera was unveiled in March and will be used regularly by NHK.

Ikegami introduced the first-generation 8K UHDTV camera with NHK in 2002. Last March, Ikegami introduced its fourth-generation 8K UHDTV camera, the SHK-810, which 10% the size and weight of the first generation and features a single 33 million-pixel Super 35 CMOS sensor. NHK debuted this camera at the Yankees-Mariners games in New York in July and plans to use it extensively for upcoming productions.

Hitachi's SK-UHD8060 8K camera on display at NHK's booth at the CEATEC Show this month

Hitachi’s SK-UHD8060 8K camera on display at NHK’s booth at the CEATEC Show this month

NHK has also worked with ASTRODESIGN, Hitachi, and others to develop a variety of 8K systems. ASTRODESIGN’s 2-kg CUBE uses a new 120-fps single-chip CMOS sensor that was tested in Brazil but not used in the actual production. Hitachi, meanwhile, is developing the SK-UHD8060 8K camera, which can be used in a fixed or handheld configuration.

NHK says it will continue to work with vendors to research and develop full-spec 8K single-chip cameras capable of 120 fps and wide color gamut. Lensing also continues to present a major challenge for live 8K production, but advances are being made with each passing show, according to an NHK Broadcast Engineering rep.

As for getting the signal out of the camera, NHK has developed U-SDI (UHD Signal/Data Interface), which can transmit full-spec 8K video signals (which have about 100 times the data of HD) over a single cable. In addition, the company has created a 22.2-channel sound-multiplexing device that enables simultaneous transmission of video and sound signals during production.

Inside NHK's new Ikegami-centric 8K truck

Inside NHK’s new Ikegami-centric 8K truck

4, What trucks is NHK using to produce live sports in 8K?
Last month, NHK rolled out two brand-new 8K Super-Hi Vision mobile units, each with two trucks: one for 8K video, the other for 22.2-channel audio. Each mobile unit — one developed by Sony, the other by Ikegami — carries up to 10 cameras; the audio van is compatible with conventional stereo and 5.1-surround production gear.

According to an NHK Broadcast Engineering Department representative, the two trucks are similar in footprint and equipment but are each — not surprisingly — heavy on Sony and Ikegami gear. The Ikegami 39-ft. single-expando truck features 10 Ikegami 8K cameras (a mix of SHV- 8000 and SHK-810 units) and a 16-input/four-output, 1M/E switcher. Technical infrastructure on board includes an 8K/4K/2K router, 8K downstream keyer, and an 8K recorder and allows UP to three additional recording channels. Picture monitoring is via a 55-in. master screen plus a 55-in. auxiliary display, which can be used in multiview mode.

5. What other equipment is NHK developing to produce live 8K content?
In addition to cameras and trucks, NHK continues to cultivate an end-to-end 8K broadcasting system, with systems for audio mixing, recording, editing, encoding/decoding (using HEVC), multiplexing, satellite and cable, storage, and displays of all sizes (although 85 in. or larger is ideal for 8K).

On the audio side, NHK has launched a 22.2-channel loudness meter for production and broadcasting that is fully compatible with loudness meters for stereo and 5.1 surround sound.

NHK has demonstrated an 8K recorder for production at 120-Hz frame rate. The compression recorder can input/output an 8K signal over a single fiber and record data in a removable memory package.

For long-term storage of 8K content, NHK is developing high-density holographic memory. To increase recording density, the system multiplexes data recorded on a holographic medium and reads compressed 8K signal data to display it as video.

During STRL’s 2015 Open House, the entire ecosystem was linked together to broadcast 8K to visitors at the event, marking the first broadcast of 8K over an active satellite.

6. What about 8K transmission technologies for contribution from the field and broadcast delivery to the home?
NHK is currently researching a variety of fiber- and satellite-based technologies for 8K contribution and broadcast transmission.

In terms of contribution, NHK is working on optical technology capable of transmitting an uncompressed program feed at 72 Gbps by using wavelength multiplexing and a field pickup unit (FPU) able to send 20 Gbps over short distances in the 120 GHz band. In addition, NHK has introduced an IP-based system capable of transmitting a compressed program feed at “a few hundred Mbps.” This technology was used to deliver public viewings of the past two Olympic Games (London 2012 and Sochi 2014), along with an FPU able to transmit over long distances.

As for delivery to the home, NHK is working on a satellite broadcast system, which has been standardized in Japan and will be used for the 2016 testing; a cable-TV system using existing infrastructure, currently in the standardization process in Japan; and terrestrial broadcasting technologies, which are still in development.

NHK is working on an advanced wide-band satellite transmission system for 8K broadcasting with plans to use a 12-GHz–band satellite for test broadcasting next year. For cable delivery, NHK has already begun plans to take those 8K satellite-broadcast signals and transmit them through a cable system.

NHK also continues to work on closed captioning for 8K Super-Hi Vision using an extended encoding scheme based on TTML (Timed Text Makeup Language).

NHK's 8K HDR demo at CEATEC provided a glimpse into what viewers can expect in their homes come 2018.

NHK’s 8K HDR demo at CEATEC provided a glimpse into what viewers can expect in their homes come 2018.

7. How are Japanese viewers going to view 8K Super-Hi Vision content in their homes?
Installing a massive 85-plus–in. 8K UHD display and 24 loudspeakers for 22.2-channel sound in the home for Super-Hi Vision broadcasts is a lot to ask of average folks. That is why NHK STRL is currently researching ultra-thin, lightweight large-screen displays OLED displays, as well as audio systems that use binaural-reproduction technology to reproduce 3D spatial sound with fewer speakers. Both items are very much in the early R&D phases, but NHK is confident that 8K has a place in the home (as long as viewers can fit the TV sets through their front door).

For theater viewing, NHK has also developed a laser-diode projector capable of projecting full-spec 8K (120 Hz with wide color gamut) video on a large screen. At the STRL facility, this JVC projector is used to display video on a 450-in. screen with (in this writer’s opinion) stunning results.

8. What does NHK have in store beyond the launch of 8K broadcasting in 2018?
Nearly everyone interviewed stressed the fact that the 8K broadcast service set to launch in 2018 is only the beginning. Beyond the initial launch, NHK plans full-spec 8K with 33 megapixels in each RGB channel, a 120-Hz frame rate, wide color gamut and 12-bit depth for each color, and high dynamic range (which was demonstrated at the recent IBC and CEATEC shows). Many of these features are expected to be available in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Because 8K requires a lot of data to be pushed through a pipe, NHK continues to work on new compression and transmission technologies that will allow the massive 8K, HDR, WGC, HFR, 22.2-channel audio signal to reach Japanese viewers’ homes.

On the production side, plans for an 8K high-frame-rate camera are also in the mix. NHK currently uses 4K cameras for slo-mo replay in its live 8K sports productions.

In addition, MMT-based two-way services and NHK’s HybridCast on 8K displays would allow viewers to interact with the broadcast and simultaneously display several media windows on the 8K TV.

Rolled out by NHK in September 2013, HybridCast offers various interactive services synchronizing the television broadcast with mobile and tablet devices. Applications include sports viewers’ ability to switch between multiple camera angles to replay and record their favorite moments of a game.

In addition to interviews, sources for this story included the NHK exhibit at CEATEC 2015 and the NHK STRL Bulletin: Broadcast Technology.

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