Giant leap (for television technology) at the Olympic Games
06 August 2012
2012 is the year when HDTV conquered the Olympic Games, with virtually all coverage in High Definition. Yet, at the same time, the Olympics were also a major milestone for next generation television. International Telecommunications Union experts agreed, earlier in the year, to the technical system for two levels of Ultra High Definition Television or UHDTV, which will be used for television in future years. The ITU submitted the proposal for approval to all administrations globally.
The lower quality level, though still of higher quality than today's HDTV, is called the 4k level, and the upper layer is called the 8k level or Super Hi Vision (SHV), and is well beyond HDTV quality. The genius behind SHV is the world famous research laboratory of Japan’s national broadcaster, NHK. Several European broadcasters have worked with NHK to test the SHV system for broadcasting in past years. The Olympic Games in 2012 is the occasion for a major trial of SHV, with feeds from London used for demonstrations around the world.
Left: One of the only 4 SHV cameras in existence is prepared at BBC Television Centre for installation at the Olympic Village; Right: The Broadcasting House Radio Theatre with Super Hi Vision installed for the Olympics (Source)
Technically speaking, the SHV at the Games was shot with 32 Megapixel images, 60 times per second, and with a 24 (or 22.2) channel sound system. The signals were compressed and distributed across the world at 350 Mbit/s. This is big stuff. HDTV today has images with about 1-1.5 Megapixels, and either 2 or 6 channel sound. HDTV today is broadcast with 8-12 Mbit/s. The perceived image quality jump from HDTV to SHV is roughly twice as large as the jump from standard definition television to HDTV. Coverage of stadium events at the Olympic Games uses three SHV camera positions, relatively few positions for such an event, but enough because the whole of a stadium can be captured in one camera shot.
Those lucky enough to see the SHV coverage agree that the results for the Olympic Games opening ceremony were simply astounding. Providing this degree of realism will open many doors for viewer involvement in all kinds of programmes.
Permanent SHV broadcasting is many years away, though NHK expect to begin test broadcasts by satellite in Japan by the end of the decade. Changing a television system is a monumental task and will take a long time, but those who saw the demonstrations agreed that, like HDTV, SHV will be too good to ignore, and the key question will be how to make the transition, rather than whether to make it.
As an omen, half-way through the Olympic Games, the news came that all the world’s administrations had now approved the specifications that the ITU experts prepared for the two UHDTV levels, including the upper layer SHV. The UHDTV standards are official now. For engineers, we are on the downhill path to the next generations of television. August 2012 will be a date to remember for the history of television.