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Here's how Netflix could stream 8K TV shows

Money Heist
(Image credit: Netflix)

While 8K TVs aren’t exactly ten-a-penny these days, there’s no denying that displays sporting the ultra-high resolution are growing in number – and that their fortunes will be inextricably tied up with support for 8K content in the coming years.

You won’t get anything like 8K on Netflix, Disney Plus, or similar streaming services for one, given the huge amounts of data that need to be transferred over an internet connection. But technologies are emerging that could reduce this problem.

The 8K Association reports that the kind of video encoding utilised by Netflix may offer a strategy for transferring 8K video manageably. This “per title encoding” – also known as “content-aware encoding” by the Ultra HD Forum – effectively encodes videos on a “scene-by-scene basis”, packaging up content into more easily transferred parts than attempting to move a file in full. It’s a bit like getting a bicycle in the mail in five different boxes, rather than one giant box that will be much harder to transit.

The 8K Association writes that “‘per-title encoding’ is a Netflix term that refers to creating encoding parameters on a scene-by-scene basis. Before introducing this approach, encoding typically used the same parameters over an entire piece of content, which can waste a lot of bits. Other techniques can encode on a frame basis.”

This technique is something that’s already in practice, aiding the “OTT delivery of very high resolutions” such as 4K, and reducing streaming bandwidths by 25-40% during heavy-usage periods like the first lockdown in early 2020

But it will only become more crucial as and when providers try to deliver 8K videos through platforms like Netflix, given that 8K packs in four times as many pixels as 4K video. File transfer specialists at Signiant state that “raw 4K footage files like those in the acquisition phase of film production are already huge, averaging about 6000 GB for 90 minutes. However, in 8K, files are nearly three times that size."

Disc world

Of course, there is a more local solution to 8K TV shows and movies, and that’s in the form of the 8K Blu-ray and 8K Blu-ray player. While you won’t find anything of the sort in retailers just yet, we know from our time interviewing data transfer specialists in the industry that the technology is possible, and that manufacturers really just have to decide whether or not to pursue distribution of pricey disc-playing hardware for a still-small coterie of 8K TV owners.

“What we’re trying to determine is if distribution of 8K Blu-rays is worthwhile pursuing,” says data compression specialist QuVis. “And it's a huge challenge. Could you put [an 8K movie] on a Blu-ray disc and send it out? Maybe – but I don’t know that this is going to be the savior of Blu-ray. For us, we’re just saying that we can do it.”

The ever-improving upscaling abilities of 8K TV processors may make this all a moot question too. If TV chipsets can turn 4K content into a convincing facsimile of 8K, then the hassle of sourcing native 8K content – over either Wi-Fi or a cabled disc player – doesn’t feel as urgent or necessary.

In the meantime, of course, many of you reading may just be hoping to get a steady 4K picture over your internet connection. If you’re ready to make the move to 8K though, here is our best 8K TV guide.