2013 has so far been all about 4K UltraHD. We’ve written a lot on the subject as manufacturers have launched more and more 4K hardware. But we’re already hearing about 8K trials. Does this mean 4K UltraHD is already yesterday’s news?
Well the answer is no, probably not, at least not for consumers. The first 4K demo was ten years ago in 2003. It’s taken that long for the technology to reach a level and a price where it’s even beginning to become a reality in the home. It’s only in the past few months that manufacturers have begun to roll out products aimed at the consumer and even now, they can be eye-wateringly expensive, although that is rapidly changing. It will be a long time before 8K sets begin to arrive in stores.
It’s also only now that the issues around delivering 4K UltraHD content to the home have begun to be solved. Distributing 4K content involves moving huge amounts of data around. Without compression even a short 4K film of only 2-3 minutes can be 500GB which would make it impossible to fit a film onto a Blu-Ray disc or send over the air.
A standard for compression has only recently been developed and agreed. While that makes broadcasting 4K UltraHD content a possibility, it’ll be some time before providers do that and it was January this year before Europe’s first demo channel was launched. Mainstream broadcasters are still only at the trial stage, but it’s clear the industry sees this as the next step. Not just the traditional broadcasters – video on demand providers like Netflix have talked about delivering 4K content and Microsoft claim the new Xbox One will have 4K capability – it’s where gaming is heading too.
Having said that, 8K cameras are available and the BBC trialled 8K technology at the 2012 Olympics. But there are a lot of broadcast and video format obstacles to get over before distributing 8K is feasible, with some commentators suggesting 2020 at the earliest.
However, 8K resolution is already finding some use in the field of film restoration and mastering. Mastering from 8K insures the best quality transfer available. It also future-proofs production companies’ archives as it means content won’t need to be re-mastered when 8K does eventually come along. Some movie studios, are already going through their back catalogues and preserving their classic films in 8K resolution digital files to be used in Blu-ray disc and other high-definition mastering applications.
There’s no denying 8K is on the way, but it looks like 4K will be the standard for some time to come.