Besides its main focus on competitive sports, the Olympics also offer an opportunity to boost the host nation’s technology. Back in 1964 when Tokyo hosted its first Summer Games, color-TV sets were growing in popularity and eventually became a standard fixture in Japanese homes.
Now as the nation gets ready to host the sports extravaganza again in 2020, it is trying to once again bring about a revolution in broadcasting, as both public and private sectors team up to introduce “made in Japan” 8K resolution imaging technology.
However, amid the current trend of declining TV viewers, how much of an impact will the technology have on society?
The Japan Times has taken a closer look at 8K resolution technology to offer a glimpse into post-Olympics society and the “ultimate” TV display.
What is 8K and how does it differ from conventional displays?
The 8K resolution display, or Super Hi-Vision (SHV), is a next-generation technology that is expected to succeed 4K, or ultra-high definition resolution, which most TV manufacturers offer.
The term 8K derives from the letter “K,” which stands for 1,000 in the binary numeration system commonly used in the computer industry.
SHV technology boasts a resolution of 7,680 pixels horizontally by 4,320 pixels vertically, or 16 times as many pixels as the standard high-definition displays, which have a resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels.
The higher the resolution, the sharper, deeper and smoother the moving images.
The 8K display imagery is said to be equivalent to 4.3 in human eyesight in terms of visual acuity, and experts say it can be regarded as “the ultimate 2D display,” as it enables viewers to see moving images without recognizing pixels even on a large screen.
The sense of realness one can get from 8K display “won’t be upgraded any further even if there were such technologies as 16K or 32K,” said Yoshihiro Fujita, professor of broadcasting technology at Ehime University and a former vice manager of NHK’s Science and Technology Research Laboratories who has been involved in the development of 8K technology since the project began in 1995.
How has development of 8K technology progressed?
The development of 8K resolution technology is near completion, and developers are now moving toward introducing the technology to consumers.
In 2012, during the London Olympic and Paralympic Games, NHK and BBC jointly conducted the world’s first experimental public viewing using 8K broadcasting technology.
Under the government’s scheme, experimental 8K broadcasting is expected to begin in Japan as early as next year with a limited number of channels on satellite broadcasts. Broadcasting to the public is likely to start by 2018, involving more satellite broadcasters.
The telecommunications ministry hopes a majority of people in Japan will be able to watch the 2020 Tokyo Olympics either at home or at public venues, tapping the breathtakingly beautiful image quality of 4K and 8K displays.
Is 8K just about watching clearer images on TV and large screens?
If it is just an extension of current TV technology, it may not be worth the investment. But the detailed, vibrantly-colored display technology can be applicable to other areas to advance the post-Olympics society.
Perhaps the most appreciable benefit other than broadcasting is for medical use, as the superhuman clarity of 8K resolution can make possible surgeries that were not possible before.
For example, an 8K resolution endoscopic camera may allow doctors to perform operations using extra-fine sutures — currently visible only through a microscope — to avoid damaging narrowed blood vessels.
The 8K resolution’s color-rich images also allow doctors to identify cancer cells at an extremely early stage by observing even the slightest differences between normal tissues and cancerous tissues that cannot be detected with HD resolution.
As images recorded with an 8K camera can be seen clearly even when zooming in, the technology can also serve security roles, as well as scientific research, education and visual arts.
Are there any obstacles to introducing the technology?
The equipment needed to offer 8K viewing is extravagant and expensive and may not be the first choice for consumers.
Such resolution is said to require a screen bigger than 80 inches to display the finest quality images. Ordinary households in Japan may have a hard time accommodating such large equipment.
The price of 8K displays may run between ¥4 million and ¥5 million when they debut on the market, said Yasushi Anzo, a journalist versed in IT and household electronics.
Because of these obstacles, Anzo said it’s more realistic to suggest that, by the 2020 Olympics,8K displays will be installed at public viewing venues to let many people experience the technology, rather than for home use.
Despite the difficulties, why is Japan set on developing 8K technology?
Japan seeks to reclaim its title as the world’s electronics leader by pushing 8K technology.
Using the 2020 Games as an opportunity to advertise Japan-made technology globally, “Japan is aiming to sell the broadcasting technology overseas” to regain its share in the international global electronics market, Anzo said.
The 8K technology is also the key for Japanese electronics makers to recover their reputation by showcasing their potential for technological development to the world, Anzo said.
“Even if the already-struggling TV display departments of Japanese electronics makers go even deeper into deficit by developing 8K displays, they cannot cut it off immediately” because they must maintain their presence as producers of cutting-edge innovation, he said.
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