Weren't we just saying that this year wasn't the year of 4K? The Japanese company NHK is plugging away with their 8K technological breakthroughs, and they've finally brought their 8K monster down to the size of a standard broadcast 1080p camera. That's big news in the advancement of camera technology, and it's only a matter of time before we're shooting 4K on our cell phones. But what does this really mean for the world of video? How far away are we from having 8K TVs in our homes and actually shooting in 8K?
The short answer? A long time. The long answer? A long time. 4K is barely even here yet, and the data rate for shooting RAW with a 4K camera is astronomical. Hard drive prices are also not helping the situation, but the real issue with 4K, or 8K, for that matter, is not in acquisition, but in exhibition. At this time, 1080p is a rarity on satellite or digital cable, and even if you're getting all those pixels, the data rate is often lower than a standard definition DVD (about 8mbps usually). Streaming HD is the same way, with most content on the web streaming at 720p, and if you're getting 1080, it's most likely only a few megabits per second.
The problem that will keep some of these standards at bay is compression and bandwidth. The compression is supposedly going to be partially solved with the new H.265 standard, which promises the same quality at half the bit rate of H.264. If you're not paying close attention, a good H.264 encode will look very close to the original source file -- but H.264 at lower bit rates tends to falls apart in darker scenes. This is acceptable for a lot of the content on television, but movies are often dark, and so we need better quality encoding options if we want larger frame sizes at similar bit rates. Bandwidth is also a huge problem, as there is only so much data you can put through the pipe until it gets clogged.
But what about for filmmakers? Once the standard for film is worked out, it's certainly possible that sometime in the future we could be shooting movies at 8K, or even 16K downsampled to a full quality 8K.
Here are the types of data rates we are dealing with. First, the 4K RAW (cinema aspect ratio of 1.89) data rates, taken from my other post:
- 4K RAW (4096 x 2160), 24fps, 10-bit: 253.125 Megabytes per second – 15.2 Gigabytes per minute – 911.3 Gigabytes per hour
- 4K RAW (4096 x 2160), 24fps, 12-bit: 303.75 Megabytes per second – 18.2 Gigabytes per minute – 1.093 Terabytes per hour
- 4K RAW (4096 x 2160), 24fps, 16-bit: 405.00 Megabytes per second – 24.3 Gigabytes per minute – 1.46 Terabytes per hour
Next, we look at 8K RAW data rates, using a similar 1.89 aspect ratio for comparison (even though the NHK camera is 1.78 at 7680 x 4320):
- 8K RAW (8192 x 4320), 24fps, 10-bit: 1.012 Gigabytes per second – 60.75 Gigabytes per minute – 3.645 Terabytes per hour
- 8K RAW (8192 x 4320), 24fps, 12-bit: 1.215 Gigabytes per second – 72.9 Gigabytes per minute – 4.374 Terabytes per hour
- 8K RAW (8192 x 4320), 24fps, 16-bit: 1.620 Gigabytes per second – 97.2 Gigabytes per minute – 5.832 Terabytes per hour
The Ultra High Definition standard for 8K is 7680 x 4320 at 12 bits. If that's what ends up being used when part of the 2012 London Olympics is filmed in 8K, what are those data rates going to look like. Let's figure they shoot at 30fps - what does that equal in RAW data per second? 1,423.82813 megabytes per second, or 1.423 gigabytes per second. The actual numbers will probably be different depending on the exact configuration of the camera and the frame rate, but I know that NHK has developed their own compression system, so it's certainly possible that the data rates will be much more acceptable when they actually shoot the Olympics. Trying to deal with data at 1.5 gigabytes a second is ludicrous.
So by taking a look at these numbers, you should get an idea how far off 8K really is. My bet is that you won't see an 8K TV set until WalMart is selling a 60 inch 4K TV for $500. Thankfully, for most of us, 1080p is all we have to worry about. I don't envy those who will one day have to back up all of this data, possibly in triplicate. If 48fps does become the 3D standard as Peter Jackson would like, just imagine the data rates shooting at 8K. Compression is going to be a big factor in actually shooting at these large frame sizes - which is why RED and Sony have both developed compressed RAW formats.
The real reason that 8K matters, is that a perfect 4K image can be derived from it. The color fidelity and resolution of a full 8K image downsampled to 4K would be phenomenal. RED is slowly pushing their cameras to record higher resolutions partially for that reason, and Sony downsamples their almost 8K sensor in-camera to 4K (since the resolution is 8768 x 2324, it could never record 8K in-camera).
But in the end, does the audience really care? Many are content to watch a poorly compressed 480p film streaming on their computers or their TV screens. As content creators, this is the type of behavior we are up against. The only way we will get proper exhibition for our work is by fighting for it. I always strive to provide the absolute highest quality when uploading work, and by making that the norm, hopefully we can convince regular consumers to demand more from their image quality.
Check out the new NHK camera below on the left.