The world is barely screened in HD, let alone 4K UHD, yet 8K TV is so advanced as to be considered inevitable, leading some companies to actively pursue live video production and distribution at 16K resolutions — by 2024.
Intel, along with Japanese broadcaster NHK and Brazilian broadcaster GloboTV, just announced plans to experiment with multiple streams of High Frame Rate High Dynamic Range 8K and even 16K at the Paris Olympics, which is just three years away.
What’s more, this leap in resolution will be accomplished over the open internet and not over satellite or cable as per traditional TV broadcasts.
“We are way beyond proof of concept,” says Ravindra Velhal, global content technology strategist and 8K lead at Intel, writing in an Intel-sponsored article at VentureBeat. “Right now, we’re at the beginning of another seven-year cycle for a new TV 8K format.”
Scaling 8K Over the Internet
The Olympics was first broadcast live in 8K in limited fashion at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, led by NHK with input from the BBC. Intel streamed matches of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in 8K over a dedicated link. At the Tokyo Games earlier this year Intel, NHK and GloboTV broadcast 8K at 60 frames-per-second with HDR (High Dynamic Range) to Brazil and Japan. It was believed to be the first live, broadcast-quality transmission on an open IP network cloud.
“The technical feasibility we’re showing now is using agnostic cloud service provider, so that you can have millions of clients consuming content in 8K globally,” said Velhal. “What we’re doing with OBS/NHK is to show that we can take the 8K signal and scale it to a larger area, beyond one city or country, over an open Internet cloud. That’s the big difference.”
READ MORE: Intel’s 8K HDR Internet livestreams: The future of OTT sports, entertainment, and gaming broadcasts? (VentureBeat)
If we’re to take Intel’s description of its achievement at face value, then it is remarkable given the data it is processing and the ultra low latency is claims for an 8K live sports experience.
According to Intel, the major innovation here are its Scalable Xeon-based local encoding and delivery solutions. You need a lot of them and Intel doesn’t go into cost, but the whole focus of its involvement is to sell more chips.
The company isn’t not shy about explaining the workflow, however. Content is captured at 8K 60fps HDR “in big, fat” 48-gigabit-per-second optical lines. That’s fed to Intel’s encoder server, from where data is either distributed directly to consumers at 80-100 Mbps or offered as a contribution feed at 250 Mbps to rights holders. The higher quality is necessary for broadcaster’s to further manipulate the signal for its own presentation.
“The work we’re doing is the future of Olympic broadcasting, the future of sports broadcasting, and the future of live entertainment broadcasting. We are preparing the world for the democratization of 8K using open Internet.”Ravindra Velhal, Intel
According to Velhal, right now, the web service provider cannot handle distribution of more than 100 Mbps. “Basically, we’re delivering 8K on the existing 4K infrastructure,” he says.
This comes back to Intel chips. If you want to process 50 Gbps data and compress it to 80-100 Mbps, you have to use 112 core-based Xeon Servers. At the Tokyo Olympics, they used encoded servers equipped with four Xeon 8380H processors. Going off this price chart, I think that works out at 4 x $8000 x 112 = $3.584 million. Forgive me I’m wrong on that Intel. Seems like a heck of an investment.
8K Data Crunching and Latency
Point is, 8K live streaming at scale can be done. Delivery to the open Internet cloud is managed using standard repeat request protocols like RTP and TLS or RTP and HLS. Intel says it solves the bottlenecks of an 8K TV playback using single cable HDMI 2.1. The only non-Intel part used in the Tokyo proof of concept was an Nvidia graphics card, which handles color correction and outputting this to the HDMI 2.1 compliant TV. All the rest is done by Intel CPU, both from the encoding side and the decoding side.
Impressively, the round trip latency from venue to screen of the 50 Gbps input signal encoding to produce a 200-250 Mbps contribution and 80 Mbps distribution signals for OTT is 200-400 milliseconds.
“That’s a world record in itself, though we yet to get an Emmy Award for it,” Velhal says.
He has however twice won Hollywood’s prestigious Lumiere award, been twice projects were nominated for an Emmy, holds several patents, and chairs the 8K Association, an advisor to film industry forums worldwide.
He went on to explain how Intel divide the 8K screen into multiple horizontal bands, each with a dedicated Intel Xeon core processor. “That’s how we do a lot of metrics calculation, add, multiply, add, because there’s huge amount of vector data or scalar data. Quality of service is important for broadcasting industry standards, because we are doing a lot of this parallelism here. That’s how we’re able to achieve 200-400 millisecond latency from input to output.”
Noting that the pricing for 8K TVs is consistently falling, along with the fact that YouTube has more than one million 8K videos available, and that entire 8K workflow toolsets from capture to post-production “are increasingly affordable,” Velhal says you don’t need to wait for your cable carrier to start streaming their library in 8K.
Now, On To 16K
The breakthroughs in streaming 8K live are a continuum of the “format momentum” that has led the industry to deliver digital TV, HD and UHD. There are always those who will argue whether 8K resolutions are even necessary or actually visible to viewers without a very large screen, and Intel is keen to point out that its experiments combine 8K with HDR and HFR, attributes that significantly upgrade the viewing experience.
On that note, Velhal says, “For the Paris 2024 Summer Olympic Games, Intel technologies will continue to push pixel frontiers to even live 16K, multiple 8K TV channels or 8K with 120 frames-per-second over 5G. Technically, 16K is several times more than 8K 60fps data rate. When the next platform comes we’ll continue to evolve and advance this technology and explore new frontiers.
“The work we’re doing is the future of Olympic broadcasting, the future of sports broadcasting, and the future of live entertainment broadcasting. We are preparing the world for the democratization of 8K using open Internet.”
- Acquisition and Production
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- Television / Video Production
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- Television / Newsroom Automation Systems / Master Control