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8K in Homes: A Unique Opportunity to Make Intelligence Ubiquitous

[Shanghai, China, August 24, 2021] Improvements to video technology are a prime example of China's growing technical prowess. In the field of 8K video, China is now ahead of the curve. As 8K technology continues to advance, 5G and fiber network bandwidths will be increasingly utilized, making it an opportune time for 8K deployment in homes. With large-scale commercial use, concerted efforts need to be made to enhance core technologies and standards, including with regard to shooting, production, compression, transmission, decoding, and display, as well as the development of industry clusters and immersive technologies.

1. 8K Upgrades Video in Every Respect

In 2012, 8K UHD was originally defined by ITU as a resolution of 7680 x 4340. Since then, adjustments have been made to the 8K UHD definition and standards. In fact, 8K UHD refers to more than just a higher resolution. Notably, 8K delivers:

✔ Meticulous level of detail: With a pixel count that is 16 times that of FHD and a frame rate that is 4 times that of FHD, 8K UHD creates images that are both sharp and smooth – far superior to a 24 fps movie and even beyond the temporal resolution of the human visual system.

✔ Brighter colors: With up to 12-bit color depth (currently 10-bit), 8K combines HDR Vivid and BT.2020-enhanced WDR, and blows SDR's traditional 8-bit color depth out of the water. This improves the color gamut coverage by 72% and luminance by 40 times, delivering a richer color depth and more nuanced images.

✔ True-to-life immersion: Under normal lighting conditions, human eyes can differentiate objects with a precision of 1/60 degrees. (Visual acuity is measured in arc minutes, and 1 degree is divided into 60 arc minutes.) Since 8K 2D displays have reached and even exceeded 1/60 degrees, this means that image grain is imperceptible to the human eye, and that the gradients look natural. The powerful video processing capabilities behind 8K can be applied to cutting-edge fields like 3D AR/VR to inspire the next-generation of display interactions. The combination of 8K visuals and 3D audio results in unprecedented immersion.

8K represents an across-the-board upgrade in video services, and can be used for live-casting important events, and ordering on-demand programing, as well as a whole host of home smart screen and immersive gaming experiences.

2. How 8K in Homes Spurs the Development of the Industry at Large

China has evolved from a follower in the 4K realm to a market leader in 8K. The 2021 Spring Festival Gala from early 2021 was aired in 8K to more than 30 large screens, through an 8K UHD TV channel. This marked a milestone, indicating that 8K delivery to homes can now be accelerated. On May 7, 2021, the China Media Group (CMG) kicked off the launch of a public service 8K UHD TV platform in Beijing, China. The CMG plans to broadcast the 2022 Winter Olympic Games and other specific large events in 8K splendor. To meet this goal, it has worked closely with a number of partners to bring 8K TV channels into more homes.

8K produces more detailed data and a more natural audiovisual experience. Thanks to the mutually-reinforcing capabilities of 8K, 5G, and AI, 8K has now become one of the most important applications for both 5G and AI. Media is not the only industry that stands to benefit from advancements to 8K UHD. According to the White Paper on China's 5G Development and Its Economic and Social Impacts released by the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology (CAICT): "2021 and 2022 will see the marriage of UHD and 5G in live broadcast, surveillance, and smart identification. Typical applications may be 4K/8K UHD live broadcasts, HD video surveillance, 5G quality inspection based on machine vision, 5G remote consultations, and mobile law enforcement." As "5G+4K/8K+AI" continues to gain traction, the CMG is ramping up its efforts to deliver 8K into homes by the end of 2021. This will further stimulate growth in the information and intelligence field.

The contest of the future is more about standards than the technology itself. To build economies of scale for intelligent capabilities, it's important to take the initiative in developing industry standards for the 8K audiovisual field. In recent years, China has led the way with regard to core standards in 8K-related fields, and in turn the existence of these standards has driven industry-wide growth.

China has formulated a number of 8K-related standards: AVS3, HDR Vivid, and ChinaDRM. AVS3 is a next-generation video compression standard, on par with the MPEG H.266/VVC standard with regard to compression rate. It has drawn acclaim for its friendly patent policy. HDR Vivid is a leading dynamic HDR standard, with a viewing experience and brightness adaptation that meets international standards, having passed most of the relevant certification tests. The ChinaDRM standard framework has become the gold standard for the industry at large, and the ownership of core patents has greatly reduced the barrier of entry. As the standards continue to evolve, HiSilicon's 8K chipsets have taken the lead in supporting AVS3, HDR Vivid, and ChinaDRM. They have been applied across most 8K activities organized by the CMG.

Other significant 8K-related standards are under development, such as 3D audio standards, AVS VR and free-view standards, next-generation high-speed multimedia interfaces, and P2P interfaces for 8K screens.

Further work is needed to prepare standards for 8K deployment in new scenarios. For example, standards for transmitting 8K video over terrestrial and cable broadcasting networks remain nonexistent across the globe. A single traditional 6/7/8 MHz physical channel is not capable of carrying the 8K video stream at 100 Mbit/s. This is where channel bonding, or Multiple-Input Multiple-Output (MIMO) technology, comes into the picture. In 2020, HiSilicon partnered with Jiangsu Broadcasting Cable Information Network Corporation Limited (JSCN) to verify the full band capture modulation and demodulation solution based on HiSilicon chipsets. This involves multiple physical channels being bonded to transmit 8K videos, and requires that related technologies are standardized.

As more and more applications are going commercial, an increasing number of segment-specific standards are needed. Based on its advantages in economies of scale, China is well positioned to research and develop relevant segment-specific standards as an early adopter, and stay ahead of the curve.

3. Industry Value Chain for 8K Home Delivery

Based on recent practices, it's clear that China is close to being ready to deliver 8K to homes (from content production, transmission, and drop-in, to decoding and display), but a lot of work still remains to be done.

Making premium 8K content broadly accessible is key for such technology to become mainstream.

In terms of 8K content for commercial use, exorbitantly-priced, non-Chinese devices still dominate the 8Kp60 space, due to high requirements on picture quality. In addition, the video compression components in these devices do not provide high compression rates, making them less than ideal for such scenarios as 8K live broadcasts.

In terms of 8K content for consumers, HiSilicon 8K+AI chip-powered 8Kp30 cameras from Z CAM, BOSMA, Skyworth, and other Chinese manufactures have proved to be remarkably competitive with premium-tier products. Z CAM devices have been used to film the 2021 Spring Festival Gala and a number of Hollywood blockbuster movies. Compared with higher-end devices, Z CAM devices are more flexible and easier to deploy on a commercial scale. It's important to promote domestic 8Kp60 camera solutions to fill the need for devices in 8K live broadcast networks.

In terms of user-generated content, some of the latest flagship smartphones are capable of 8Kp24 shooting, and more 8K photography and videography tools will be made available to consumers in the near future.

Upscaling using AI SR is the main workaround for a lack of native 8K content. AI SR technology can be applied at the video production end or at the terminal end. The former produces better results with large computing power, but is data heavy and requires large transmission bandwidths. The latter is less demanding on transmission bandwidths, able to produce results in real time, and applicable across a wide range of scenarios. However, its results may be inferior. HiSilicon's 8K+AI display chipsets apply AI SR at the terminal end, directly upscaling low-resolution content to 8K to ensure that consumers can enjoy 8K footage in a cost-effective way.

Reliable transmission is the bridge between 8K content from the central office to the user side. The CMG sets out transmission requirements for 8K UHD TV services: 120 Mbit/s AVS3 transport stream (TS) for live TV and catch-up TV services, and 80 Mbit/s MP4 stream for VOD services. Thanks to China's formidable infrastructure, there is extensive experience in 8K transmission based on IP networks and broadcast and television networks.

The IP network–based solution is the most popular 8K transmission solution. According to research by China Telecom, the typical QoS for 8K stream transmission is 180 Mbit/s bandwidth, 20 ms latency, and a 0.01% packet loss rate. During the 2021 Spring Festival Gala, 120 Mbit/s 8K AVS3 streams were transmitted thousands of kilometers from the CCTV hall to nine cities across China, over the IP network, demonstrating the feasibility of long-distance transmission of 8K streams.

2021 Spring Festival Gala aired in 8K over the IP transmission network

Figure 1 8K live broadcast network based on the IP transmission network

Cable networks are an important asset in broadcast and television systems. However, the current capacity per frequency is insufficient to carry a single 8K stream. HiSilicon and Jiangsu Broadcasting Cable Information Network Corporation Limited (JSCN) jointly developed a multi-frequency 8K transmission solution based on the cable network, which was successfully verified with the 8K live broadcast of the 2020 final for the Chinese Super League. Based on the channel bonding protocol proposed by HiSilicon, an 8K stream is divided into multiple sub-streams and transmitted through multiple frequencies of the HFC network after 256-QAM modulation, and then multi-frequency demodulation is performed on the receiver side and the sub-streams are reassembled. This allows for 8K streams to be aired live through broadcast and television networks without major network retrofitting.

Live broadcast of the 2020 final for the Chinese Super League, with multi-frequency 8K live broadcast network based on the broadcast and television network

Figure 2 Multi-frequency 8K live broadcast network based on the broadcast and television network

Universal access to high-performance broadband is the last major hurdle for 8K content delivery. China features a world-leading FTTH network, as well as the world's largest 5G network, which lays a solid foundation for the delivery of 8K to homes.

China has 484 million fixed broadband subscribers as of 2020, of which 454 million are FTTH subscribers , accounting for a whopping 94% of total subscribers, as compared to the global average value of 67%. 90% of these subscribers have access to bandwidth of more than 100 Mbit/s. The access networks of these subscribers are capable of supporting 8K streams at 100 Mbit/s, or higher-level 8K streams after simple retrofitting. The rate acceleration and tariff reduction (95% drop in unit bandwidth fees) offered by carriers further lowers the barrier of entry for 8K in households.

For outdoor screens, 5G can be effective in locations where wired access is difficult or impossible. As of late 2020, China had built 718,000 5G base stations, forming the world's largest 5G network. According to the tests conducted by the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology (CAICT) in 2020 on key road segments in 10 major cities, 5G download speeds exceed 600 Mbit/s, and upload speeds mostly exceed 100 Mbit/s, both of which are sufficient for outdoor 8K content transmission. Still, to better meet the high bandwidth requirements under 8K live video uploading scenarios, super uplink and other technologies need to be applied.

The value of 8K is in how it enhances the viewing experience across the board, notably, with improved picture quality, 3D audiovisuals, and 3D XR, brought about by new technology, new standards, and new applications.

First, with regard to picture quality: To ensure that consumers can perceive the difference between 8K and FHD and 4K, device manufacturers should not be bogged down by product homogeneity and price considerations. Instead, they should strive to compete in terms of technology and the user experience, as well as improvements to resolution. For example, higher frame rates and MEMC technologies can be introduced for use in high-speed and motion scenarios. Support for the latest HDR Vivid standard can provide consumers with richer colors and exposure latitude. Adaptation to ChinaDRM can provide access to more premium copyrighted content. On-device AI enables traditional content to be upscaled to 8K.

Advances in 3D audiovisuals can be broadly applied. Certain smart TVs have adopted adaptive zoned sound field optimization, which transmits sounds based on where the user is seated in front of the TV, to create a highly immersive experience. In AR/VR scenarios, simultaneous 3D rendering of audio and video, with automatic tracking of the head, can reduce motion sickness and deliver a better in-person experience.

4. 8K and AI as Drivers of New Immersive Experiences

The powerful audio and video decoding capabilities of 8K devices have enormous implications across a vast range of fields. 8K devices allow consumers to switch to a desired angle of view — a feature that's ideal for sporting events, concerts, and important events. This feature also creates value for carriers, as consumers will be more willing to pay for personalized services.

Innovative multi-view for 8K live events

Figure 3 Multi-view service

Extended reality (XR) is an umbrella term for virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and hybrid reality (MR). XR integrates the virtual and display with innovative modes of interaction. It has been widely used in games, online education, and SOHO scenarios. 8K is the pinnacle of the 2D display experience, and is also the jumping-off point for premium 3D XR. An 3D XR experience free of the screen-door effect can be produced only at 8K@120 Hz or higher.

HiSilicon's Hi3796CV300 8K chipset earned the CCBN Outstanding Product Innovation Award, and is the only flagship chipset that supports 8K@120 Hz decoding, while providing full support for AVS3, HDR, Vivid, and ChinaDRM. It also marries 8K with motion estimation and motion compensation (MEMC) and AI super resolution technologies. Better yet, the chipset has an NPU with a computing power of up to 4 TOPS, helping developers unleash the full potential of AI SR, AI interactions, and personalized services. A combination of 8K and AI makes the chipset an ideal platform for AR/VR.

5. Amazing Together

HiSilicon strives to lay the groundwork for an intelligent world. HiSilicon will work with all stakeholders involved, including universities, research institutes, and standards organizations, to serve the developers and innovators on the front lines, and explore breakthrough paradigms in the audiovisual, AI, display interaction, devices, and app fields, among others. Together we can build a vibrant and far-reaching 8K sector, which can serve as a hallmark for China's technological growth and development.