Intel’s 8K HDR Live Streams ‘Way Beyond Proof of Concept’

On the heels of several successful tests that included Tokyo 2020 Olympics telecasts in Brazil and Japan, Intel is moving full steam ahead to bring live, end-to-end 8K HDR streaming to audiences across the globe. The company sees the future of 8K HDR as revolutionizing the worlds of sports, entertainment and gaming by delivering spectacular, immersive events at stadium scale, augmented by 3D, VR, AR and UHD audio. The key to this brave new broadcast world is Intel’s Xeon Scalable processors for local encoding and delivery over-the-top. And of course, the slickest compression algorithms.

“We are way beyond proof of concept,” Intel global content technology strategist and 8K lead Ravi Velhal told VentureBeat in an interview. The 23-year Intel veteran is well-known in Hollywood circles as a pioneer of VR cinema who has collaborated on high-profile projects with studios including Paramount, Sony, Universal and Warner Bros.

Velhal explains that the first Olympics 8K broadcast was by NHK for London in 2012 but using a fixed-function solution that was not scalable. Strictly a broadcast, that signal was sent to a satellite that then distributed it in a geo specific region, Japan (the only country now commercially offering 8K TV).

That type of broadcast cannot scale to over-the-top using Amazon Web Services or Google Cloud. In partnership with OBS and NHK, Intel is endeavoring to demonstrate that it can process the 8K signal “and scale it to a larger area, beyond one city or country, over an open Internet cloud. That’s the big difference,” Velhal told VB.

Intel did it for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, but used a dedicated link, which meant it was not scalable. The technical feasibility Intel is currently showcasing involves using an agnostic cloud service provider, so millions of viewers can simultaneously consume content in 8K globally.

Compression that uses AI to determine how the frames should be compressed and encoded is also part of Intel’s secret sauce. “You have to do that at the edge, in the broadcast studio,” explained Velhal. “Then you use the cloud as a distribution vehicle.”

Intel’s Olympics content was captured at 8K using 60 fps HDR “in big, fat 48 gigabit-per-second optical lines,” the engineer told VB. “That’s what we feed to our encoder server.” The only non-Intel part in the Intel live 8K HDR streaming workflow is a Nvidia’s graphics card for color correction and output to an HDMI 2.1-compliant format for TV display. “All the rest is done by CPU, both from the encoding side and the decoding side,” said Velhal.

Calling Intel’s live 8K HDR streaming technology “the future of sports broadcasting, and the future of live entertainment broadcasting,” Velhal concluded: “We are preparing the world for the democratization of 8K using open Internet. ‘Seeing is believing,’ so we’re working to give you a chance to explore soon.”