Just when you thought 4K was as detailed as TV technology was going to get for the next few years at least, video streaming platform Rakuten TV comes along claiming that it’s going launch the world’s first 8K streaming platform before the end of the year.
The revelation came during an interview Variety conducted with Jacinto Roca, founder and CEO of the relatively new, Spanish-based video on demand streaming service. At the end of a discussion about how Rakuten TV (formerly known as Wuaki until it was taken over by Japanese e-commerce company, Rakuten) was expanding into more than 30 new European territories, Roca added this: “That’s something we are working on with key manufacturers and content providers: to make movies available in 8K. It’s a project we are going to try and make a reality in the second half of this year.”
Prior to Roca’s comment, most industry pundits had supposed that widely available 8K content wouldn’t likely be a thing for years, with many of them (ill-advisedly in my opinion) using this supposition to bash the idea of 8K TVs coming out now. Assuming Rakuten makes good on Roca’s promises, though, then once again the AV industry will have proven what a competition-driven appetite it now has for constantly pushing TV technology further.
The Rakuten 8K plans also again reinforce the TV manufacturers’ ‘If you build it, they will come’ approach, where bringing next-gen display hardware to market now tends to lead to some fairly rapid support from a once technologically conservative software industry.
Samsung is already into its second generation of 8K TVs, don’t forget, while Sony has a couple of 8K TVs coming out in the next few months, and LG is launching 8K OLED and LCD TVs later this year.
Before everyone (or maybe just me!) gets too excited about Roca’s 8K comments, it’s worth stressing that at the moment it’s hard to imagine that Rakuten TV will be able to rustle up all that many 8K movies (unless it starts upscaling stuff…). After all, films that exist with 8K masters are currently seriously few and far between.
There’s an 8K version of 2001: A Space Odyssey doing the rounds (this was used to open NHK’s 8K broadcasting service in Japan), and I’m pretty sure an 8K master of Lawrence Of Arabia was done when remastering it for 4K distribution.
Mortal Engines was predominantly shot in 8K meanwhile, but only given a 4K digital intermediate. There’s some 8K work in Captain Marvel too – but again, so far, at least, I’ve heard nothing about any final 8K mastering for this title.
As well as true 8K movie content almost certainly being in short supply if Rakuten TV’s 8K service really does launch this year, its 8K titles will likely cost more – perhaps substantially more – than Rakuten TV’s current 4K films do. The service already charges more for 4K streams than HD ones, after all, so a resolution-based pricing structure is already established.
Consider, too, that while Rakuten TV has ambitions to take on Netflix and Amazon Prime in the video streaming space, it’s currently very much the smaller, new kid on the block.
In fact, while it’s just greatly expanded its European operation, it doesn’t currently operate in the US at all. So making eye-catching statements like Roca’s one on 8K could turn out to be more a ‘look at us’ marketing exercise than a truly serious signal of substantial 8K intent. Especially at a time when Roca is doubtless aware that rival Netflix has already shot at least one show – Lost In Space – in 8K, and so could be considering launching its own 8K subscription tier.
It’s unknown yet, too, what sort of broadband speed you will likely need to receive an effective Rakuten TV 8K stream – though to quote Cameron Poe in Con Air, “my first guess would be… a lot”.
There’s also always the concern about whether Rakuten TV’s 8K delivery/compression format will be compatible with the first 8K TVs. It’s this sort of issue, for instance, which prevents the current YouTube 8K videos from playing on Samsung’s 8K TVs.
Roca does state, though, that “we are working with key manufacturers and content providers” – which sounds promising, at least. Although having raised the Variety interview with Samsung, it’s fair to say that Roca’s 8K claims appear to have come as a surprise to the Korean TV brand!
Even if Rakuten TV’s 8K pre-2020 launch date ultimately proves ambitious and/or its 8K content levels are initially small, though, Roca’s statement is the most significant bit of AV industry proof yet that, whether you like it or not, 8K may well become a significant force in the AV world much sooner than you imagined.