posted on Tuesday, 7th August 2012 by Steve May
One recurring theme in the world of professional AV is next generation ultra high resolution video. The first commercial 4K displays are already coming to market, courtesy of Sony and Toshiba, with many predicting that this shift will herald a big opportunity for CI going forward. But could 4K already be yesterday's news? Japanese state broadcaster NHK has been demonstrating Super Hi-Vision, the 8K 'ultimate' next-generation TV system, and it's already looking quite incredible.
Inside CI was invited along to the new BBC Radio Theatre in London to see demonstrations of the new system, and chat with Dr Keiichi Kubota, NHK's Executive DG of Engineering, about the technology.
Super Hi-Vision explained
Super Hi-Vision (or SHV) delivers a picture 16x as sharp as today's Full HD displays and is four times as dense as the 4K digital cinema standard. SHV also shoots at 120 frames per second, for unbeatable cinematic fluidity. To develop the technology, NHK and its partners have had to develop cameras, recorders, switchers, slow-motion systems, 3D sound recording, control systems and more.
NHK used the technology to record highlights from the London Games, as part of its biggest outdoor trial yet. Footage was then screened at three locations around the UK, with free admittance to the public. Similar events happened at venues in Japan and the United States. Inside CI attended the first London screening and can confirm that the SHV footage looked quite sensational; the amount of detail captured is astounding, and images look hyper-realistic.
And there's more. In addition to the ultra high resolution pictures, SHV uses a 22.2 sound system. Interestingly, speakers are arranged in three tiers, allowing audio to be panned around the soundstage in both horizontal and vertical planes.
The origins of Super Hi-Vision
Established in 1930, NHK Science & Technology Research Laboratories (STRL) is the foremost research and development facility for TV in Japan. Funded by contributions from Japanese viewers, it's tasked with making Japan the world-leader in broadcast technology. It's scientists work on everything from signal transmission to programme production.
"Super Hi-Vision is something NHK has been investing a lot of time and passion in," says Dr Kubota. "It gives us an unrivalled sense of presence, creating a viewing experience that is as close to reality as possible."
NHK's research into ultra high definition dates back to the mid-nineties. "We had just started digital HD broadcasting in Japan. That was the start of a long period of research into Super Hi-Vision," he recalls. NHK screened the first Super Hi-Vision clip in 2002, to celebrate the opening of its new R&D lab in Tokyo." The Super Hi-Vision camera weighed 80kg. We used it to film a mother and her child playing in the back yards of our laboratory."
Since then progress has been fast. Coinciding with the London Games is the unveiling of a third generation SHV camera. Developed by Hitachi, this shoulder-mounted shooter, pictured in our gallery below, is evidence that the system is fast becoming a viable option for broadcasters and film-makers. The prototype weighs just 4kg and has a 33 megapixel head. The use of a single-plate imaging mechanism reduces size and weight. I tried it on for size and can confirm the weight and balance are not unlike current Pro HD cameras.
"Our next challenge is to develop compression technology, so that these rich images can be sent around the world by satellite and through fibre optic networks. We also have to develop new transmission technology, so that the compressed signal can be squeezed into terrestrial and satellite channels," says Dr Kubota.
NHK's engineers are also working on a new 'display joint speaker array' and are wrestling with techniques to bring the sound system down to more manageable levels.
Super Hi-Vision launch date
Dr Kubota says that he's optimistic about the adoption of SHV by the world's standardisation bodies. Both the ITU-R (International Telecommunications Union Radio Communications) and SMPTE (Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers) are expected to embrace it. NHK is working closely with Italian broadcaster RAI and the BBC to develop the system further.
"Our experts have set the target date of 2020 for the start of experimental Super Hi-Vision broadcasts, but they have already started to discuss the possibility of bringing this date forward and beginning as soon as possible," he says. "Our public viewings have proved that all the equipment is reliable enough to be used for programme production. Now we must once again look to the future and figure out how we can best use this technology. The motto for the Olympics is faster, higher and stronger. Athletes strive to be better than the best. The same could be said for the people that work at NHK."
And while Super Hi-Vision will be keeping Dr Kubota's team plenty busy for the next few years, NHK is already looking beyond. It says it plans on developing yet another version of 3D. Called Integral 3D, this will be an ultra high definition glasses-free autostereoscopic system.
Just don't expect a mad rush to 8K, warns Dr Kubota. "All broadcasters, including NHK, have only just moved from analogue to digital, from regular television to HD - and and HD will be around for quite a while. It'll take time for everyone to think about taking the next step."
Steve is a veteran of the UK consumer electronics
industry, having covered it for
various media outlets for more than 20 years.