Japan Carries Out World’s First 4K Video Streaming Test

Mike Wheatley

Japan’s NTT West is set to become the first telecoms company to carry out a trial of 4K video streaming across the web, in an attempt to prove that it can be done. The trial, which lasts until this Friday, makes use of the new H.265 High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) standard, which is able to compress the amount of data that needs to be transmitted to make 4K streaming possible.

Japan 4K Streaming
Japan carries out world’s first 4K video streaming test

As HDTVTest readers will know, 4K broadcasts come with four times the resolution of standard 1080p HD content. In theory, the new HEVC codec should allow broadcasters to transfer data over the web without stretching bandwidth, or reducing the image quality.

The Japan Daily Press gives a good description of how HEVC works. Basically, it involves sending data as a variety of algorithms, which can be decoded to analyse how color is distributed across each image, in contrast to sending data ‘bits’ that describe each pixel of each frame. The algorithms also tell the receiving TV what changes occur between each frame. By doing this, HEVC effectively discards a lot of redundant data, instead delivering only what’s needed for the TV to reconstruct each frame in succession, based on an understanding of the relationship between each pixel and frame.

Okay, so that’s still pretty complex – but the good news is that it should work. HEVC was recently approved by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), which means that it should soon phase out the old H.264/MPEG-4 codec that’s most widely used today. According to the ITU, HEVC should allow both 4K and HD videos to be streamed using only half of the bandwidth taken up by H.264, which means there’ll be plenty of room for internet broadcasters if 4K takes off in the way we’re hoping.

There’s actually a lot riding on this. Whilst most TV makers have already brought 4K TVs to the market, native content for them is extremely hard to come by, with most viewers simply resorting to upscaling existing HD content. In particular, Japan and Sony seem to be forging ahead to make 4K content delivery possible – just last week the country revealed ambitious plans to become the first nation to introduce 4K satellite broadcasting nationwide by 2014, before delivering 8K streaming by 2018.

If 4K streaming is possible, we can expect that it’ll open the door for numerous web-based TV services. Companies such as Netflix could gain a considerable advantage over traditional satellite and cable TV broadcasters by offering premium 4K packages, for example.

Source: Japan Daily Press