Japan aims for ubiquitous 8K in time for 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games

DENVER--The government of Japan is working with cable operators, broadcasters, TV manufacturers and a number of other constituencies with the goal of establishing ubiquitous 4K services across Japan's TV industry by 2016, and broad 8K services in time for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Setting this ambitious goal establishes perhaps the world's first comprehensive roadmap for the broad conversion to higher resolution standards. The specs behind this map were laid out Tuesday by Satoru Wajiki, managing director of the Japan Cable Telecommunications Association, presenting the plan at a morning panel during the SCTE Cable-Tec Expo here.

Testing of regular 4K broadcasts in Japan began in early June on the SKY Perfect JSAT satellite service, with six hours a day of regular programming supplied by a consortium of 64 companies called the NexTV Forum. The platform uses 27 MHz of bandwidth, as well as HEVC/60P real-time encoding and a rather robust video bitrate of 35 Mbps.

The latter specification drew a mild smattering of consternation from the audience of U.S. cable industry engineers, but Wajiki said the bit rate will ultimately be slimmed down.

The consortium has also set up more than 50 4K viewing sites across Japan, where consumers can sample broadcast- and IP-based 4K content. NexTV Forum has also produced 15 shows in 4K to provide their tests with a modicum of programming.

"From a cable TV operator's standpoint, 4K [Ultra HD] is rather easy to deal with, because the bitrate of 4K/60P/HEVC content, estimated to be between 20-35 Mbps, will easily fit within the maximum payload that one 256-QAM channel can carry," noted Wajiki, in a white paper he distributed to audience.  "If we want to transmit 4K over IP, current DOCSIS 3.0 technology provides enough room for multiple streams."

As 4K goes mainstream in 2016, Japan wants to begin simultaneous testing of 8K. But Wajiki concedes ramping up to that standard will be far greater engineering challenge.

"We have to squeeze a 100-Mbps-class transmission path for RF broadcasting over IP. We can't deal with that big of a stream with the current generation of cable TV transmission technologies."

Japanese public broadcaster NHK is currently leading experiments in 8K transmission--or what it calls "Super-Hi-Vision." In May, NHK demonstrated an 8K cable transmission by using three 6 MHz channels (two 256 QAMs and one 64 QAM) to transfer one 105-Mbps 8K stream through J:Com's 21 km HFC line.

The push by Japan's government began in 2012, when the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications formed a study group to oversee the TV industry's Ultra HD rollout plans. This led to the formation of the NexTV Forum.

Further driving Japan's ultra-high resolution push are local TV manufacturers, who are anxious to entice affluent consumers--those who last upgraded their TVs early in the adoption of HD a decade ago--to buy next-generation sets.

Japan's 4K to 8K roadmap. (Source: NexTV Forum)

4K test specifications for Japan's drive toward ubiquity. (Source: NexTV Forum)

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