In 2014 I wrote a blog asking if 4K video was going to become mainstream. At that time, 4K TVs were just hitting the market and cost $3,000 and higher. There was virtually no 4K video content on the web other than a few experimental videos on YouTube. But in seven short years, 4K has become a standard technology. Netflix and Amazon Prime have been shooting all original content in 4K for several years, and the rest of the industry has followed. Anybody who purchased a TV since 2016 almost surely has 4K capabilities, and a quick scan of shopping sites shows 4K TVs as cheap as $300 today.
It’s now time to ask the same question about 8K video. TCL is now selling a basic 8K TV at Best Buy for $2,100. But like with any cutting-edge technology, LG is offering a top-of-the-line 8K TV on Amazon for $30,000. There are a handful of video cameras capable of capturing 8K video. Earlier this year, YouTube provided the ability to upload 8K videos, and a few are now available.
So what is 8K? The 8K designation refers to the number of pixels on a screen. High-Definition TV, or 2K, allowed for 1920 X 1080 pixels. 4K grew this to 3840 X 2160 pixels, and the 8K standard increases pixels to 7680 X 4320. An 8K video stream will have 4 pixels in the space where a high-definition TV had a single pixel.
8K video won’t only bring higher clarity, but also a much wider range of colors. Video today is captured and transmitted using a narrow range of red, green, blue, and sometimes white pixels that vary inside the limits of the REC 709 color specifications. The colors our eyes perceive on the screen are basically combinations of these few colors along with current standards that can vary the brightness of each pixel. 8K video will widen the color palette and also the brightness scale to provide a wider range of color nuance.
The reason I’m writing about 8K video is that any transmission of 8K video over the web will be a challenge for almost all current networks. Full HD video requires a video stream between 3 Mbps and 5 Mbps, with the highest bandwidth needs coming from a high-action video where the pixels on the stream are all changing constantly. 4K video requires a video stream between 15 Mbps and 25 Mbps. Theoretically, 8K video will require streams between 200 Mbps and 300 Mbps.
We know that video content providers on the web will find ways to reduce the size of the data stream, meaning they likely won’t transmit pure 8K video. This is done today for all videos, and there are industry tricks used, such as not transmitting background pixels in a scene where the background doesn’t change. But raw 4K or 8K video that is not filtered to be smaller will need the kind of bandwidth listed above.
There are no ISPs, even fiber providers, who would be ready for the largescale adoption of 8K video on the web. It wouldn’t take many simultaneous 8K subscribers in a neighborhood to exhaust the capability of a 2.4 Gbps node in a GPON network. We’ve already seen faster video be the death knell of other technologies – people were largely satisfied with DSL until people wanted to use it to view HD video – at that point, neighborhood DSL nodes got overwhelmed.
There were a lot of people in 2014 who said that 4K video was a fad that would never catch on. With 4K TVs at the time priced over $3,000 and a web that was not ready for 4K video streams, this seemed like a reasonable guess. But as 4K TV sets got cheaper and as Netflix and Amazon publicized 4K video capabilities, the 4K format has become commonplace. It took about five years for the 4K phenomenon to go from YouTube rarity to mainstream. I’m not predicting that the 8K trend could do the same thing – but it’s possible.
For years I’ve been advising to build networks that are ready for the future. We’re facing a possible explosion over the next decade of broadband demand from applications like 8K video and telepresence – both requiring big bandwidth. If you build a network today that is not contemplating these future needs, you are looking at being obsolete in a decade – likely before you’ve even paid off the debt on the network.