The world’s first Ultra High Definition TV broadcasts could begin as soon as 2016, four years earlier than originally planned.
A team from the Japanese broadcaster NHK was in London this week to coincide with the opening of the 2012 Olympics, where Super Hi-Vision (its brand name for Ultra HDTV) is being used to capture key moments from the games.
A showreel of Super Hi-Vision (SHV) footage, including highlights from the stunning London 2012 opening ceremony, is being shown to the public for free at three venues in the UK (London, Bradford and Glasgow), as well as Tokyo and Fukushima in Japan, and Washington DC in the USA. The UK screenings run until August 12.
SHV has a resolution of 7,680 x 4,320 pixels and is described as “the future of television”. Its image is 16 times clearer than today’s HDTV broadcasts and twice that of the 4K digital cinema specification.
The system also boasts 22.2 channel surround sound, a far cry from standard stereo or 5.1 speakers. Even sitting close to a screen showing Super Hi-Vision, it hardly looks like recorded video, more like real life.
Speaking to the press at the BBC Radio Theatre in London, Dr Keiichi Kubota, NHK’s Executive Director-General for Engineering, said that NHK has been “investing a lot of time and passion in making Super Hi-Vision as close to reality as possible.”
The broadcaster, which is working with BBC R&D on the project, also announced a new prototype SHV camera, which is much smaller and lighter than current models. Ten years ago SHV cameras were a hefty 80kg. By 2010 they were 20kg but the new version, by Hitachi, has got that down to 4kg, similar to today’s pro HD cameras and only weighing “about the same as a newborn baby,” noted Dr Kubota.
NHK's Dr Keiichi Kubota with the new Super Hi-Vision lightweight camera prototype
The lightweight camera has a single-chip sensor and a normal-sized lens mount ring so that special lenses are not needed. It enables production crews to shoot more easily and in a wider range of locations, including for news gathering. There is also a special single-point microphone for capturing 22.2-channel sound out in the field.
These kinds of developments on the professional side help programme makers build their library of material, and it brings SHV a step closer to becoming a fully fledged broadcasting format.
NHK set a 2020 target date for public broadcasts to begin in Japan but according to Dr Kubota, recent progress means that they are “already talking about moving the target date forward as soon as possible.”
He later confirmed to TrustedReviews that its new target date could be only four years away. “The speed of technological innovation is very fast now. I would be very happy if we could make it around 2016,” said Dr Kubota.
Other broadcasters, such as the BBC, are free to develop Ultra HDTV on their own timescale. However, it’s hoped that there won’t be the long gap between this new format’s Japanese launch and a take-up in other countries; unlike conventional HDTV, which took ages to reach the UK. Satellite operator SES-Astra has already hinted that the capacity exists for the 4K (3,860 x 2,160 pixel) version of Ultra HDTV to start in Europe within three years.
SHV has been test-transmitted via cable, satellite and – over a short distance in Tokyo – by digital terrestrial bandwidth. For full-scale broadcasting to begin there will need to be improvements in compression technology. NHK is considering the HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding) system, which is designed to follow on from the H.264 standard used commonly in digital video today.
Suitable display screens are at an early stage, including Sharp’s 85-inch LCD and Panasonic’s 145-inch plasma, both of which can show Super Hi-Vision in full 8K quality. It will be some time before compatible TVs or projectors are an affordable consumer proposition, but HDTVs went from an expensive luxury to supermarket commodity items in just a few years.
The NHK team also said that the SHV experience impresses viewers more than 3D, mainly because it is 2D taken to such a vividly high quality.