The 8K Association followed up the recent announcement of TCL televisions adding The Explorers 8K channel by speaking with Gilles Dassac, CTO at The Explorers, and Aaron Dew, Director of Product Development at TCL North America.
Dassac says that the natural and human heritage channel now has more than 40 hours of exclusive 8K material available for viewing.
A stand-out quote from the 8K Association’s discussion with Dew was that “it was pretty easy to create this 8K streaming service.”
“We began this effort with The Explorers after we were introduced to them in the 8K Association,” said Dew. “Once we got to know them, we decided to start a project to use their amazing native 8K content on our 8K TVs, which were still in development at the time. These TVs were planned to use the Roku platform, so we worked with them as well to develop the solution.”
The Explorers service was already available on Samsung 8K sets, and for the TCL project, more content was needed, so they have been busy mastering more 8K content that had been shot but not yet finished. Two and a half hours of new content are added per month, and at least as much existing content is re-encoded in AV1 for the new project each month. AV1 was chosen over HEVC for its lower bandwidth and especially its lower decoding processing requirements, more suitable for TV set hardware.
Dassac pointed out that the advantages AV1 currently has over HEVC also had a downside in requiring about 10x more processing for the original encoding. This expensive overhead is gradually reducing, according to the 8K Association.
Their internal Open-Source-based encoding workflow is down from the initial four hours, when they started, to just over one hour for each minute of 8K content. As sustainability is a growing issue in the industry, in the short term, it would seem to be greener to encode blockbuster content with AV1 and long-tail content in HEVC. The 8K content is currently encoded at 60Mbps at 30fps with the libaom-av1 multi-pass encoder. Static High Dynamic Range is used for the moment with HDR10, and the Explorers are looking into dynamic metadata solutions for a future upgrade.
Critical to access the 8K content is internal TV support for decoding of AV1 content.
“Support for AV1 decoding was already planned to augment HEVC 8K decoding, so it was important for us to try to bring new 8K content to our customers as well,” said Dew. “So, to enable access to the 8K content from The Explorers, a channel or app needed to be available in the Roku store for content playback.”
The 8K Association says The Explorers already had a channel in the Roku store, but it was not configured to support 8K playback. This task, they say, was the responsibility of Roku, and it mainly involved adding support for the chosen 8K codec for delivery: AV1.
A recent spat between Roku and Google didn’t help matters and is not entirely resolved today.
“This clash and other issues resulted in Roku removing the YouTube TV app from its devices. Google then implemented a fix to allow access to YouTube TV via the separate main YouTube app. But the situation remains volatile with Roku’s license to the YouTube app set to expire on December 9, 2021,” said the 8K Association.
“[But] even if it comes to this, it should not impact the streaming of the 8K Content from The Explorers. Existing Roku customers who already have the YouTube and YouTube TVs apps installed on their TVs or devices should continue to have access, but new access may not be permitted,” added the 8K Association.