The content creator's perspective on the value of 8K video capture is about more than just pixels. Greater resolution means a better way of storytelling throughout the entire creative process.
THE MOST INNOVATIVE STORYTELLERS CAN NEVER BE TOO far removed from the latest technologies in content acquisition, creation, and display. COVID has been the catalyst for accelerated growth and change within the entertainment industry, especially when it comes to refining the latest innovations. It gave technologists time to think, innovate, and look forward—and now 8K is entering the conversation.
There hasn't been a time in history when consumers invested more in home technology, as it became their primary location for entertainment,1 remote work, and education. TV sales boomed and content consumption skyrocketed during the pandemic, and consumers became keenly aware of streamers’ offerings. In many households, 4K HDR became the norm, and there was no need to compromise—until 8K! The 8K push certainly falls under “innovation and looking forward.”
The adoption of 4K by consumers and the media and entertainment industry should provide good clues as to how 8K will be received. First came the 4K cameras used by leading filmmakers. Consumer electronics companies introduced 4K TVs in larger screens sizes and quickly reduced prices, added features, and expanded ranges by investing in panel fabrications (fabs). The high-efficiency video coding (HEVC) codec emerged to better distribute the new 4K content, and major streaming companies committed to producing and distributing 4K content. The laggards are the broadcast industry, which has been quite slow to adopt 4K.
These same dynamics are now in play to move to 8K. Multiple companies now offer 8K cameras, with a 12K camera now available for filmmakers. The 8K TV has been introduced for larger screen sizes, and prices are starting to decrease.2 The HEVC codec now is quite mature and able to stream 8K, with the versatile video coding (VVC) codec in the wings to bring even more distribution efficiency. And consumer broadband connection speeds are increasing rapidly, with 1-gigabit per second (Gbps) service available in many communities and multi-gigabit service3 debuting as well.
Major streamers have not yet committed to an 8K offering, but smaller service providers are beginning to jump in.4, 5 Broadcasters will likely lag again, but high-profile events, such as the recent Summer and Winter Olympics, featured hundreds of hours of 8K coverage,6, 7 as well as 8K virtual reality8 coverage. It seems likely that history is about to repeat itself.
The 8K trend has made its way into the United States, with Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., outfitting their entire replay system with 8K cameras.9 Replay officials can review game play videos with more detail than ever before, which hopefully will result in more rapid decision making and more accurate officiating of professional sports.
Filmmakers’ View of High Resolution
Most filmmakers prefer to acquire footage in the absolutely highest resolutions, if economically and technically feasible. With 8K and even 12K digital cameras at their disposal, the most forward-thinking already are making the move to capture images at these resolutions. Experimentation by both A-list and independent filmmakers are taking the leap. Examples of this would be John Lee Hancock's The Highwaymen and David Fincher's Mank10 (Fig. 1)—with the latter winning an Oscar for Best Cinematography in 2021—both filmed with 8K cameras. An example of an independent feature to shoot in 8K is Derek Bauer's coming of age film, Two Yellow Lines (Fig. 2).11 Lower resolutions would not have done this film and the natural beauty of Montana justice.
There are many benefits, but also challenges, to capturing in 8K or higher resolution. Futureproofing the content is an important factor, because most 8K-captured content still will be finished at lower resolution for distribution to consumers. When 8K services are available, having those assets at 8K will enable the rendering of an 8K version and a new revenue stream for this enhanced version.
Flexibility is another key benefit of a higher-resolution capture; for example, post-processing is a huge component in any David Fincher film. He loves a huge palette in which to play, and 8K creates the ability to recompose within the frame and draw viewers into the story. The process is highly methodical, and Fincher is a master. Image stabilization is another key benefit, along with the cleaner edges an 8K master offers when compositing visual effects shots. These filmmakers consistently push the boundaries of what can be accomplished.
Any filmmaker looking at 8K also will wonder about the tools needed to manage the higher-resolution content, as well as the added costs. The correct tools have been addressed with multiple cameras and support systems available today at modest premiums.
That being said, storage and bandwidth costs will increase, as 8K files are large, and there is a trend to store the raw sensor data, which can be even larger. In the early days of 4K production, post-production companies charged four times the cost of full high-definition (FHD) resolution storage, as 4K was four times as many pixels. That has changed with 8K, with post-production companies only charging two times the 4K price (even though 8K is 4 four times as many pixels).
Cost also may increase as more content is moving to the cloud, as opposed to being kept on the premises. The pandemic has accelerated this remote production trend, which will certainly drive down the price of cloud uploads and storage.
Another important emerging area where 8K is becoming prominent is virtual production, whose growth has exploded as a result of the pandemic. Virtual production means that massive LED video “volumes” (walls, ceilings, and floors sometimes) are constructed on sound stages. Camera positions are tracked so the images on the volume are linked to the camera movements. Virtual production can eliminate costly on-location shooting and replace some green- and blue-screen shots. It allows many visual effects shots to be captured “in-camera,” saving lots of post-production time and cost.
As the resolution of these virtual production sets increases and the pixel pitch decreases, high-resolution content is needed for these background shots. Game engines can provide some of this content, but increasingly, 8K or higher resolution video is the source of this content.
Moving the Industry Forward
To encourage the growth of 8K as a format, to adopt 8K across the entertainment industry, and to bring awareness to consumers of the numerous benefits of 8K, the 8K Association (8KA) has been working with major players to coordinate, standardize, and test the most important parts of the 8K ecosystem to ensure the smoothest possible transition.
As a start, the 8KA is supporting filmmakers, both large and small, in their efforts to transition to 8K. Much of this work is in demystifying the transition itself. This mission also includes sourcing 8K content from filmmakers for encoding tests, visual demonstrations, and various standards development. In return, filmmakers are supporting the 8KA by sharing best practices and lessons learned from completed 8K projects.
One project the 8KA is undertaking is writing a report that will focus on providing guidelines and/or best practice techniques, with the goal of finishing the content in 8K—now or later. The goal is to create guidelines similar to 4K capture guidelines in place by companies such as IMAX, Amazon, and Netflix.
8KA also is developing visual quality tests to help the industry make the best possible choices in their 8K content acquisition, distribution, and reproduction. These tests are developed with the collective knowledge of the supporting members of 8KA in their respective areas of expertise,12 from test device manufacturers, test facilities, encoding, production, and post-production facilities, to some of the world's largest display, device, and microchip manufacturers.
8KA also is working on a second guidelines report focused on the practical aspects (e.g., hardware, software, settings, and optimizations) of producing a live 8K end-to-end production using streaming as the major distribution platform.
The most forward and innovative thinkers already are implementing 8K video in creative and unique ways with varying objectives. Whether that is to acquire in the highest quality possible for truly immersive storytelling, reduce the burden on production with the most lifelike virtual production sets as a way to improve fair gameplay in live sports, or to draw in as many viewers as possible with the most realistic reproduction of a major event, 8K has a prominent foothold in each.
As we look to 2022 and beyond, 8K will continue to play an important role in the video ecosystem in ways we can't even imagine today.
Des Carey is the head of Cinematic Innovation at Samsung Research America. He received a BA in industrial design and engineering from the Institute of Technology, Ireland. In 2012, he was named one of the top 50 most influential technology innovators in the entertainment industry. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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- 6 (2022). 8K debuts at 2022. Winter Olympics. 8K Association. Retrieved from https://8kassociation.com/industry-info/8k-news/8k-debuts-at-2022-winter-olympics-2/.
- 7 (2021). Intel supports live 8K stream of 2020 Olympics. 8K Association. Retrieved from https://8kassociation.com/industry-info/8k-news/intel-supports-live-8k-stream-for-2020-olympics/.
- 8 (2022). 8K VR at the 2022 Winter Olympics—overview. 8K Association. Retrieved from https://8kassociation.com/industry-info/8k-news/8k-vr-at-the-2022-winter-olympics-overview-2/.
- 9 (2020). Levi's Stadium to debut first fully 8K video replay system. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/timnewcomb/2020/10/29/levis-stadium-to-debut-first-fully-8k-video-replay-system/?sh=7b21923530ff.
- 10 (2020). The RED Monstrochrome is being used by David Fincher to shoot a feature. Y.M. Cinema Magazine. Retrieved from https://ymcinema.com/2020/01/01/the-red-monstrochrome-is-being-used-by-david-fincher-to-shoot-a-feature/.
- 11 (2021). INDIE movie benefits from 8K capture. 8K Association. Retrieved from https://8kassociation.com/industry-info/8k-news/indie-movie-benefits-from-8k-capture/.
- 12 8K Association. (2022). Members. Retrieved from https://8kassociation.com/about-us/members/.