SVG Sit-Down: NHK’s Izumoto on How Sports Drives 8K Super Hi-Vision Development

Japanese public broadcaster NHK has long been a trailblazer when it comes to futuristic broadcasting technologies, and much of that development has revolved around sports. From the first HD/Hi-Vision production at the Los Angeles 1984 Games to this year’s 8K/Super Hi-Vision productions at the Sochi Winter Olympics and FIFA World Cup in Brazil, NHK has continued to push the industry forward, often light-years ahead of others. Following Tokyo’s successful bid for the 2020 Olympics, NHK upped the ante even further, pushing its projected timeline for the launch of Super Hi-Vision broadcasting to the home by two years, to 2018 (a timeline that many in and out of Japan doubt is feasible).

NHK’s Takahiro Izumoto shows off the company’s 8K demo.

NHK’s Takahiro Izumoto shows off the company’s 8K demo.

This week at CEATEC Japan, in Chiba outside Tokyo, NHK has a wealth of 8K Sochi and World Cup content on display at its Super Hi-Vision Theater and a trio of BOE 85-in. 8K TV sets. In addition, NHK is highlighting its role in the recently launched Channel4K service in Japan, as well as its Hybridcast broadcast/broadband interactive TV service, which launched last fall.

SVG sat down with Takahiro Izumoto, senior manager, Planning Division, Engineering Administration Dept., NHK, discuss the development of Super Hi-Vision, the launch of Channel4K and Hybridcast, success at the World Cup, and the broadcaster’s plans for the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics.

How has Tokyo’s selection to host the 2020 Olympics boosted NHK’s development of 8K and Super-Hi Vision?
We believe that every big sports event like Olympics and World Cup are the events that push TV technology. We will have the Olympic Games in 2020 here in Tokyo, so that is what we are now focusing on. We want to have 8K broadcasting ready [for the public]. So, yes, it is very important for us to cover the big sporting events like the World Cup and Olympics in 8K.

It seems like everything is building toward the Tokyo Games in 2020, but now NHK says it wants to start 8K broadcasting as soon as 2016. Is that timeline feasible?
The Japanese government officially have reached the roadmap on how to start 4K broadcasting and also the 8K broadcast. According to that roadmap, NHK will start the test broadcasting from 2016 via satellite. And, in 2018, we will start actually broadcasting via satellite. That will give us two more years until 2020, and we are confident that [8K broadcasting] will be active for the Tokyo Olympics.

NHK has put a lot of time and investment into development of 8K and Super Hi-Vision, but you are also highlighting 4K here at the show. Why doesn’t NHK focus solely on 8K?
That’s a very good question. Because we believe 8K equipment and the 8K ecosystem is still developing. We believe 4K has matured and is much more developed. But, within five or 10 years, the 8K environment will also be mature. That’s why we are now focusing on the 8K environment, but we are not going to just ignore 4K.

Japan’s Next Generation Television and Broadcasting Promotion Forum (NexTV-F), of which NHK is a member, began testing the Channel4K service in June and is set to begin commercial 4K broadcasting by 2016. Can you explain how the service is being transmitted?
4K broadcasting has started via a the 124° and 128° communication satellites, instead of the 110° satellite, which is major in Japan. The 128 and the 124 are not so major. So, at some point, the 4K broadcast wants to move to the 110 because that satellite can cover the majority of homes in Japan. At this moment, they just started 128, but, someday in the future, they will move to 110.

How will the development of HEVC/H.265 compression play into the development of 8K broadcasting to the home?
We are now trying to develop that, but it is still a process. When we start the test broadcasting in 2016, we will use the HEVC encoder and the decoder. But we are still in development.

Another big initiative for NHK has been the Hybridcast interactive broadcast/broadband system. How does the platform benefit Japanese viewers, and what has been the public reaction since it went live last fall?
Broadcasting only allows us to send out one program. We cannot [interact] with people at home. We want to gather all the information [related to that] program and give that to the audience: weather, sports, news, and business information. If we want to achieve that circumstance, Hybridcast is very useful because we can provide some information to the audience via Internet connectivity. That’s why we launched that system last year.

Can you provide an update on NHK’s 8K video-production technology and how it has evolved since research began in 1995?
At the beginning of our development, the camera weighed something like 80 kg [176 lb.]. Last year, we developed the very small Cube camera, which weighs just 2 kg [4.5 lb.]. Now that we can use such small devices, the productions are very similar to those with high-definition cameras. Of course, the price is not the same.

And how did the 8K production at the World Cup in Brazil this summer help advance these technologies?
At the World Cup, we used the three 8K cameras and two 4K cameras for slow-motion and upconverted each to 8K. Then we mixed it in the truck, compressed it with an H.264 encoder, and sent it to Japan. We had four theaters showing [the matches] in Osaka, Tokushima, Tokyo, and Yokohama. We covered nine matches from the beginning of the World Cup to the end of the Final.