NHK’s 8K Ambitions

Akihiko Chigono, executive director and chief of engineering at NHK, talks to TV Real about the company’s plans to step up its 8K content efforts.

Japan’s NHK is looking to the future, in that it’s already stepping up its 8K content efforts in a big way. The ultra-high ***Image***definition images and multichannel sounds of 8K deliver “excitement and experiences to the audience that makes them feel like they’ve actually stepped into the scene,” says Chigono.

At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), there were many 8K displays unveiled, and numerous production tools that support 8K debuted at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Show. “By creating an environment where displays and production equipment are accessible, we expect that we can accelerate the spread of 8K content production,” Chigono says.

At MIPCOM, NHK will have on display a large 8K screen with a 22.2 multichannel sound system. Chigono says that he’s excited to “learn how the world’s biggest content market will evaluate their experience. NHK organizes special 8K screenings and sessions with international creators to share the latest stories. The potential of 8K is yet to be fully explored, so I hope wider creative communities and industry will check out this screening and join the adventure.” Among the highlights for MIPCOM is the premiere screening of the 8K dramatization of Kazuo Ishiguro’s An Artist of the Floating World.

NHK has been actively working with the international creators to broadcast the new 8K programs on its 8K channel. “Since the launch of the channel in 2018, we are clearer on the kinds of programs and creators to work with,” says Chigono. “Some of the successful examples of international co-productions and acquisitions might be from natural history, science and music or art. As we expect 8K technology will be widely used in 2020, the year of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, sports is another promising genre to be focused on.”

In the natural-history arena, NHK is working with the U.K.’s Icon Films and Botswana’s Natural History Film Unit (NHFU) on Okavango: A Flood of Life, due for release in spring 2020. The Okavango team will film a seasonal cycle on the delta, using aerial and underwater photography. Filmmaker Brad Bestelink will be in Cannes to showcase some 8K clips and discuss 8K’s impact on natural-history programming.

“Every month, we set a theme for 8K programming,” Chigono explains. “Our theme for July was the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 and space. We produced a two-hour program that allows viewers to experience space with footage shot by astronauts at the International Space Station using an 8K camera, and a talk show where we observed high-resolution images of the lunar surface recorded by an Apollo space probe in the 1960s. We created a total of seven programs in a short period of time.”

Broadcasting sports in 8K has also been a priority for NHK. “With the opening of the Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan on September 20, we are airing three games in 8K,” says Chigono. “One characteristic of 8K is that because it provides such high-definition images, there is no need for the camera to zoom in on the players or the ball. Therefore, we can maintain a wide-angle view and create a broadcast from video that covers the entire field. We will continue to explore visual expressions that take full advantage of 8K and share the appeal of 8K with people around the world.”