Resolution/Evolution in Multimedia System Design: Are You Ready for 8K?

Author : Rob Green, AMD

05 October 2023

Figure 1: Increasing resolution with the move to 8K
Figure 1: Increasing resolution with the move to 8K

8K has emerged as the latest standard in ultra-high definition (UHD) video, offering 4x the resolution of 4K and 16x the resolution of Full HD. While it may have seemed like overkill at first, 8K video is gaining traction in professional media and now starting to emerge in an increasing number of consumer applications too.

The following article explores the driving forces behind 8K video adoption, along with the technical challenges of connecting, processing and compressing 8K content. 

One of the key reasons for the adoption of 8K video is the growing demand for high-quality video content, particularly in the professional media industry. As image sensor technology continues to advance, cameras can capture more detail than ever before. Consequently, 8K resolution is now commonplace in high-end broadcast and cinema cameras. It is particularly useful in applications such as sports broadcasting - where viewers want to see every aspect of what is happening on the field. As well as sports, the ability to zoom-in without losing detail can also be a huge advantage in movie production. 

The fact that most professionals buying video cameras today will choose models with 8K or higher drives videographers to buy 8K editing, switching and display products. Also, large format displays and video walls for public installations, such as sports arenas, music venues, museums and commercial digital signage deployments in retail environments, all greatly benefit from 8K.

On the other hand, consumer adoption of 8K has so far been relatively low. According to Omdia, annual shipments are under 500k units of the total 200+ million TVs sold annually. Historically speaking, consumers did not move to HD (720p), Full HD (1080p), or 4K until the price was right. 4K eventually took over the market because panel manufacturers built it into 100% of panels larger than 55” worldwide. There simply were no 55” 1080p screens to be purchased. This has not yet happened with 8K, but 8K adoption will take off when TV makers have more compelling, larger-format products. When we can see football games or movies in our living room on a screen that’s 2m high, 8K will truly arrive. Finally, smartphones, the camera of choice for many millions of users every day, can now capture and upload content in 8K.

Increasing the standard
While the future of 8K is bright - there are potential drawbacks to its widespread adoption. One concern is that 8K requires significantly more bandwidth and storage space than lower-resolution video formats. It can be expensive and time-consuming to store/transfer large 8K files, which poses a challenge for content creators and distributors. This will bring impetus to the adoption of compression codecs to reduce bandwidth and storage requirements. Whether it is mezzanine or lightweight codecs (such as JPEG XS or HTJ2K, or high compression codecs (like H.264/AVC, H.265/HEVC, or AV1), compression technology is being used at more stages in the content creation, production and delivery workflow to enable a higher quality video experience. AI/ML-based ‘super-resolution’ upscaling is being used in some cases, taking in HD or 4K content and upscaling to 8K using video context/content awareness rather than traditional scaling techniques, so as to dramatically improve results.

Field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) and adaptive computing solutions have been at the forefront of new video technology waves for many years, enabling the transition from analogue to digital video, from SD to HD, and more recently to 4K. Devices such as AMD’s UltraScale+ family and Versal adaptive SoCs provide flexible and reprogrammable platforms for 8K video routing, switching, processing, streaming and presentation, integrating connectivity, video processing, codecs, etc. This means that they can handle many channels of HD and 4K, but the hardware is ready for 8K when organisations want to make the move.

As well as the prohibitive cost and storage requirements of transporting 8K video - organisations must find solutions to the 8K bandwidth bottleneck. AV interfaces are an integral part of any display system - as they transfer the data required to stream content, play games and display high-quality images. To the viewer they don’t appear to change, but these interfaces are continuously evolving to keep up with the latest display standards. Now that systems are moving from 4K to 8K (and beyond), they are handling more data than ever before, with standards being updated to support that.  

At 33 million pixels, 8K technology can deliver sharper and more detailed images than ever before, but hugely increases the bandwidth requirements. For example, a 4K HDR stream might need approximately 9Gbps of data transfer capability, but an 8K stream with the same qualities needs almost 36Gbps. This puts a lot of pressure on the connectivity. However, not just any interface can handle these enormous amounts of data. It is crucial to have connectivity options that alter with them, and can support the newest video formats (such as 4K120 and 8K60).

Figure 2: Bandwidth capabilities of HDMI versions
Figure 2: Bandwidth capabilities of HDMI versions

Connectivity enabling 8K
High-definition multimedia interface (HDMI) has long been the go-to standard for connecting AV devices and it has evolved and adapted significantly to keep up with the growing demand for 8K content. The latest iteration, HDMI 2.1, can support 8K60 and offers uncompressed bandwidth of up to 48Gbps (see Figure 2). HDMI 2.1 also offers features such as dynamic HDR, which allows for enhanced contrast and more vibrant colours, as well as variable refresh rate, which minimises screen tearing and input lag for gaming. All of these come together to create a more immersive 8K experience. 

Like HDMI, DisplayPort has also increased support for 8K with the newest 2.1 version. Now with a bandwidth that reaches up to 80Gbps, DisplayPort can transmit uncompressed 8K content at elevated refresh rates (up to 120Hz). This enables smoother motion and reduces motion blur, which is particularly beneficial for gaming or live sports. DisplayPort 1.4 is very capable as well - at around 25.92Gbps it can support 8K at 30Hz.

The main difference between HDMI and DisplayPort really boils down to the market. HDMI is solidly entrenched in consumer electronics. It is the interface of choice for television sets, video cameras and nearly all consumer living room equipment. However, in the PC market things are a little different. HDMI is a frequently used video interface, but DisplayPort also has strong support because it shares the same transmitter/receiver PHYs as USB and other PC interfaces, even including the same USB-C connector. In most cases, developers will choose their interface based on the displays or markets they intend to support. 

AV markets are also swiftly moving towards Ethernet adoption, allowing for robust video media transport with a wide variety of features - including media options for longer transmission distances, fault-tolerant topologies, protocols to support 1-to-1 or 1-to-many distribution, aggregation of multiple channels over a single link and suchlike. Because of Ethernet’s flexibility and scalability, with support of 8K and higher frame rates being part of this, many AV-over-IP protocols and standards have emerged to build on top of Ethernet to add features like error correction, security and control mechanisms. Examples include SMPTE ST 2110, AIMS IPMX, Haivision’s SRT, Audinate’s Dante or NDI to name just a few. 

No matter how AV engineers choose to support 8K in their designs, AMD provides 8K-capable IP subsystems for DisplayPort, HDMI and Ethernet, with a robust partner ecosystem for IP protocols and codecs. This means organisations can build devices with the confidence they will be ready for video standards progression. Furthermore, the AMD Video IP Toolbox and Ethernet IP cores mean those building 8K solutions don’t need to worry about the interfaces and can focus on their multimedia design. When it comes to PC-based use of 8K, graphics processing units (GPUs) are also evolving to support the necessary standards. The AMD Radeon RX7900 XT graphics card supports DisplayPort 2.1 and is ready to support next generation displays.

In summary, 8K adoption is rapidly gaining momentum in both professional media and consumer applications. While there are challenges to overcome, AV standards and silicon architecture are moving at pace to support present and future design needs. The benefits of 8K, including unparalleled image quality and an immersive viewing experience, make investment in appropriate infrastructure a commercially viable proposition. For broadcast technology organisations, getting ahead of the 8K curve now will prove a prudent strategy as demand continues to grow - to the point that 8K becomes an expectation rather than an aspiration.


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