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Where to Find 8K Content

By Bob Raikes

For a great viewing experience in any resolution, you need content, delivery and display. The industry has developed fantastic 8K displays, and there are many reasons for content creators to use 8K. However, at the moment, neither broadcasters (apart from in Japan) nor streaming providers have adopted 8K to provide the delivery.

Traditionally, broadcasters controlled video technology and content, and display developments followed. In recent years, many broadcasters have been technology ‘laggards’, lagging behind the waves of growth in video processing. In a webinar a couple of months ago, satellite broadcaster Eutelsat said that out of 7,100 channels it carries, only 34 are in UltraHD/4K, and 72% are still in the standard definition!

An essential step in developing an 8K broadcast was taken last year when the DVB set out its first specifications for the broadcast of 8K using the HEVC codec. DVB is an important developer of broadcast technology.

The lack of content with high visual quality via broadcast channels may be one factor that has made streamed content and services so popular in recent years.

The one exception to the lack of 8K broadcasting is in Japan. There, national broadcaster NHK, the pioneer of 8K, is broadcasting a satellite channel of 8K content known as BS8K. 

NHK in Japan broadcasts via satellite in 8K

Looking Elsewhere for 8K

So, if many broadcasters are now getting years behind the display technology, where else should we look for content? Well, for many years, the very best content has been movie content delivered to home movie servers. Products, such as those supplied by Kaleidescape can provide that content. (to give you a sense of how ‘high end’ they are, the firm’s website has suggested system configurations from $70,000 to $150,000) However, the Digital Cinema Initiative (DCI) controls the technical standards for cinema and has only two resolutions of 2K (2048 x 1080) and 4K (4096 x 2160). Those two formats are slightly wider than the FullHD (1920 x 1080) and UltraHD (3840 x 2160) broadcast formats.

DCI has recently been developing standards for high dynamic range (HDR) and for Direct View Displays rather than boosting resolution. LED display makers would like to replace the projectors in cinemas with LEDs. However, they faced real challenges in meeting the DCI requirements for a long time. DCI was developed initially just for projection. (If you are interested in the technical details, the full specifications for DCI can be freely downloaded here). However, cinema has not yet caught up with 8K (even IMAX Enhanced is based on UltraHD/4K).

Optical Media?

The other high-quality content source in recent years has been Blu-ray optical disks. Blu-ray has very high storage, allowing a very high bit rate of video data. That reduces the distortions from compression and is the medium of choice for UltraHD/4K content of the highest quality for most consumers.

UltraHD Blu-ray disks were released from February 2016. However, the advent of streaming has delivered optical media a mortal blow. Several years ago, the Blu-ray group stopped developing future resolution and performance standards as it acknowledged that the days of packaged media were going to be over soon.

One of the critical technologies that have enabled and driven the 8K TV market has been the development of high-quality and increasingly sophisticated upscaling technology. The writer has been in the display business for forty years. However, he is not sure he could distinguish good quality well, upscaled UltraHD/4K from native 8K unless there were a side-by-side comparison! But a key for really good upscaling is perfect UltraHD/4K content. Home cinema servers and Blu-ray are excellent sources of the highest quality UltraHD/4K content.

We counted up the titles. At the time of publishing, there were 1,530 titles available in UltraHD Blu-ray in the US, UK and Germany, including three from Netflix!

UltraHD Blu-ray disks have this logo.

Enter the Digital Dragon…

Of course, the key source of 8K content currently is from digital streamed sources. There was big news this week when Sky in Germany said that it would give Samsung set owners in Germany access to the third series of ‘Das Boot’. The series will be streamed to Samsung 8K TVs (2020, 2021 and 2022 models) via the Samsung TV Plus app in 8K resolution. Das Boot is already produced in 8K. Viewers will need a 40Mbps minimum internet connection.

Image: Samsung

Elsewhere, YouTube is a good source of 8K native content. 8K content on YouTube is encoded with the AV1 codec, so to play it back, you need a TV that supports that technology which would mean 8K models from LG and Samsung from 2020. The content on YouTube leans heavily towards documentaries and nature programs that allow the extra details and textures to shine.

  • The 8KAssociation has a playlist of 8K Entertainment on YouTube
  • Vimeo is another source of 8K streamed content. However, at the time of writing, the content was only available via Mac and Windows PCs using the Safari 11+ and Microsoft Edge 15+ browsers.
  • In other regions, 8K is developing, and Megogo supplies 8K content in parts of Eastern Europe.
  • TCL and Samsung TVs carry the ‘The Explorers’ app to allow access to The Explorers’ content in 8K. TCL provides a three-month free subscription to The Explorers+ content. Philips in Europe has signed up to add the app, but only in 4K for now.

Game Play

Another way to enjoy 8K is from gameplay. We are writing a review of 8K gaming as advanced consoles such as the X Box Series X and the PlayStation 5 will support 8K gaming, and PCs can also support 8K gaming.

User Captured Content

As we reported recently in our round-up of developments in smartphone cameras, there are currently almost 100 models of smartphones that can capture 8K video.

There are several good options if you are looking for an even better quality 8K capture. At the time of publication, AV retailer B&H Photo listed 11 models of ‘digital cine cameras’, four models of digital still cameras and 8 360 degree/VR cameras with 8K support. So there are plenty of ways to capture 8K content that can be played back directly onto 8K displays.

So, there is 8K content around, and when you have that excellent quality, you can really get the most from your technology-leading 8K TV!