Those wondering when we might expect to get real Ultra HD 8K content to go with the new 8K televisions coming to market this year and next, got some insight this week from Japan’s NHK broadcasting company, which formally announced plans to launch the world’s first 8K channel in Japan starting Dec. 1.

The date was teased more than a year ago, but NHK has now made it official. December 1 will mark the start of NHK “Super Hi-Vision” channel BS8K, which is to be transmitted using HEVC compression in Japan via satellite. It is slated to carry the first publicly distributed 8K content and will be joined by a new sister 4K startup channel, BS4K.

The Japanese broadcaster said it has been “developing Ultra High Definition 8K image systems since 1995 and NHK BS8K will be the world’s first 8K channel. The content will be further enhanced and facilities installed to target full-scale dissemination by the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic year of 2020.”

The Japanese government has directed NHK to begin 8K broadcasts in time to carry the 2020 Summer Olympics, which will take place in Japan. That means television manufacturers must also provide 8K displays on which to view it. Japan and China are already ahead of the United States in the rollout and adoption of 8K television.

While the lone Samsung 85-inch QN85Q900 8K QLED television just hit U.S. retailers a couple of weeks ago, Sharp has already offered 8K televisions in Japan and China. Samsung also makes other smaller screen sizes available in Europe and parts of Asia.

This comes despite the lack of a full HDMI 2.1 input capable of accepting full 8K/60p signals. The full version of that interface isn’t expected until late 2019 or early 2020.  NHK has said that at first the 8K signal will require special equipment to receive and present the images on 8K screens. This includes a new satellite antenna (or a new LNB), and new boosters, distributors, and cabling, among other things.

As a side note, Samsung has said on its web site that it plans to produce an upgraded One Connect box for the Q900 models that would add the necessary circuitry and  connectivity to support 8K sources, when available. But this won’t do much for NHK’s satellite-based “Super Hi-Vision” 8K broadcast.

To make things a little more difficutl are NHK’s plans to use 8K 60fps, with plans to ramp up to 8K/120fps with HDR.

As for plans for 8K content in the United States, nothing definitive has been announced yet. Most film-based archives that have been upconverted to 4K Ultra HD will be more difficult to transition to 8K, unless the content was shot in 70mm (like some IMAX fare). However, new 8K video cameras are now in use producing new archival material, while YouTube has already become support for 8K streaming.

NHK said that channel BS8K is positioned as “the flagship channel“for enjoying the highest quality [7680 x 4320] visual images, 22.2-channel audio, “and most attractive content as well.”

NHK BS8K will be broadcast about 12 hours per day, from 10:00 to 22:10.

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It is expected that the 8K programs will give viewers “a sense of full immersion in each scene, imparting the feeling of presence in the stadium or concer hall, or gazing directly upon the actual masterpieces at the art museum,” the channel announcement stated.

NHK said 8K music programs slated for BS8K include concerts by three of the world’s greatest orchestras, including the Vienna Philharmonic, while art broadcasts are scheduled to include masterpieces from The Louvre and the works of Katsushika Hokusai.

“Core content will also include TV dramas and nature programs and, in cooperation with NASA, scenes of the Earth shot from the International Space Station (ISS).” NHK’s annoucement reads.

Meanwhile, NHK BS4K which will launch along with BS8K on December 1, is positioned as the gateway channel for 4K Ultra HD visual images, the company said.

It will present 4K Ultra HD programming for about 18 hours per day, between 6:00 and 24:00.

NHK said it plans to launch the channel with a special telecast of the world’s first live 4K relay from Antarctica. In addition to original special 4K programs, the channel will feature 4K versions of popular 2K programs currently presented on NHK’s other terrestrial and satellite channels, the company said.

In addition, NHK said it has valuable video archives stored on film that are being digitally remastered in 4K HDR, with enhanced colors and luminance.


By Greg Tarr


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