NEW YORK – London 2012 Olympics has offered an epic event – great athletes, thrilling games and the record number of viewers. Unfortunately, though, it has done nothing – absolutely nothing, when it comes to generating buzz on new broadcast technologies.
For broadcasters, the London Olympics is the first to feature extensive 3-D coverage (NBC has been broadcasting 12 hours of 3-D programming every day!), while testing-ultra HDTV (also known as 8K). And yet, the U.S. market has seen virtually no uptick in 3-D TV sales. Similarly, UHDTV is drawing scant media attention. Thus, no consumers seem inclined to ask what on earth UHDTV is.
Most U.S. consumers today have already got a big-screen HDTV at home. Nobody wants any more new TV sets. Besides, a big-screen flat panel TV isn’t the only screen they are looking at for the Olympic Games. There are iPads and there are smartphones.
For the industry, London may have proved that depending on the Olympics as a launch-pad for new broadcast technologies has become a thing of the past. In that light, let’s take a closer look at what has just happened with UHDTV and 3-D TV at London 2012.
Here comes Ultra HDTV
Some events in London Olympics have been shot in Ultra HDTV for the first time in history. Broadcast engineering teams from NHK and BBC have been working together in London to shoot the Games with 32-Megapixel images, with a 24 (or 22.2) channel sound system. According to NHK, UHDTV offers images that are 16 times current HD quality.
During London Olympics, two UHDTV cameras were used at set positions. Uncompressed signals are sent over dedicated optical fibers to the BBC Television Center, West London, which are then recorded and edited daily into short programs at BBC. These are then compressed and sent to public viewing theaters around the world at a data rate of 280 Mbit/s video coding rate using eight H.264 AVC encoders working in parallel. Once 24-channel sound is added and put into IP packets, the total bit rate becomes about 350 Mbit/s for the demonstration.
UHDTV’s public viewings are, however, rather limited. Demonstrations are set up in cities including Bradford, Liverpool, London, Tokyo, and Fukushima. In the United States, UHDTV demo has been held at Comcast-NBC Universal’s office in Washington, D.C.
Considering that UHDTV won’t become a commercial reality until 2020 (estimated by NHK), the almost non-existent public awareness of UHDTV is understandable.
But then again, in the high-tech world where everyone eats up – ad nauseam – every rumor about an upcoming iPhone 5 or iPad mini, it’s surprising to see no hype built around this broadcast technological feat at the Olympics.
At press time, I found -- in the entire twitter universe -- exactly two tweets about UHDTV. One was posted by the Geneva-based European Broadcast Union, understandably touting the UHDTV broadcast from London as a “Giant leap (for television technology) at the Olympic Games.” Another tweet was from a multimedia visual artist: “I can't wait. My computers are nowhere near ready to handle editing and fx in 8k. It'll take 16x to do anything with 16x the pixels.”
Seriously, though, only two tweets? Come on, people!
You're surprised by this? I'm surprised anybody sells 3-D TV sets that require glasses. You know, maybe they should give us football helmets to wear containing those 24 channels of audio properly positioned on our head too.
Of course, in most of the swim meets, gymnasiums, or events where a British athlete is participating, you can't hear the commentator over all the screaming and background noise. They could save the bandwidth and jam pink noise audio in at the box on my curb.
I really like what NBC did by packaging the best of American interests into prime time. And I appreciate most Internet outlets' and bloggers' warning of spoiler alerts if they reveal live results.
Just because technology allows 8K resolution (if price is no object) doesn't mean people want it, even with good programming. People are spending far more money on cell phones and tablets to watch small screens. Broadcast isn't dying, but the last thing I need is to see hillbilly TV or the Kardashians in 8K 3-D. I might watch Bruce Jenner as a decathlon-ian, but then what?
Oh, yeah, my cable box reset itself again last night in the middle of watching Olympics. The fundamentals are still failing us some times.
I hear what you're saying.
But of course, there were many people in the past who claimed, "who needs HDTV?" And a few decades later, they are enjoying the fruit of the labor.
8K will be, as the EBU guy says in the video, the technology for our kids.
I am one of those who was begging for TV to get past the bronze age, way, way back in the 1970s. TV was stuck at a stage analogous to that of AM radio (limited to a pitiful 3-4 KHz audio bandwidth by the RF spectrum allocation rules). TV didn't get out of the antedeluvian standards until the 1990s, with the advent of the digital standards.
So HDTV was a long time coming, and cleverly designed to use the same spectrum slices as analog TV, only a lot more efficiently. The Olympics in HD are fabulous. All you have to do is see the footage from Olymics several years back, to see how abysmal it was then.
On the other had, I have never seen a single example of consumer demand for 3DTV. At first, I only saw articles on EE Times about it, and the entire push seemed to come from the supply side. You go to stores, and it's always been pretty clear that few are interested. My bet is, any 3D sales are misleading, because the 3D feature is simply a standard item in the larger and more expensive sets.
One problem is the glasses. Another problem is the potential for queasiness (especially among people who don't wear glasses). Another problem is the spectrum needed by all of the existing 3DTV standards, although at least in principle there are more clever ways of transmitting 3D. But the existing options out there are very wasteful, UNLIKE what HDTV managed to do.
Just because a lot of kiddie movies come out in 3D, and people seem to enjoy that occasionally, does not mean that people want it as a steady diet.
UHDTV is somewhat similar, certainly with respect to bandwidth usage. And it's also not really all that beneficial for TV sets of, say, 55" or less.
"TV was stuck at a stage analogous to that of AM radio (limited to a pitiful 3-4 KHz audio bandwidth by the RF spectrum allocation rules)."
That might be confusing. I was talking about AM radio being limited to 3-4 KHz, not TV. Was just trying to draw an analogy
Although in fact, network TV audio WAS similarly limited, until the mid 1970s, to just about 5 KHz. The NTSC and some of the PAL standards didn't limit it, but the network feeds did.
I am in agreement with your sentiment about 3-D TV, Bert.
The defining moment for me was when I was sitting in a conference in Yokohama several years ago. One Japanese engineer stood up and asked the panel (largely consisted of TV manufacturers like Panasonic and Sony, and a couple of broadcasters): "I don't know about you, but I watch TV while I have supper. Do you expect me to wear glasses while I eat?"
When I heard that, I said to myself, "Say, no more."
And there's actually more to this, Yunko, from an EE's point of view at least.
Color TV is clever. It provides the chrominance separately from luminance. Given that humans don't need as much chrominance as they need luminance, to discern a sharp image, color TV, both analog and digital, saves a lot of bandwidth that way.
Digital TV is really clever. It depends on MPEG compression, which saves on bandwidth by not transmitting the static parts of an image as often as the rest. And it uses the same trick of sending fewer chrominance bits as luminance bits.
But there's nothing at all clever about the way 3DTV is being transmitted, at least so far. I think it was rushed to market. The existing standards require a total duplication of every image. So even from this aesthetic standpoint, I'll pass. (Although there are more clever ways that could be adopted, in principle, to transmit 3DTV, where the two images are reconstructed from a main image and a difference signal, conceptually similar to stereo FM radio.)
Honestly, I'm not sure we need UHDTV (nor HDTV). At least for TV I mean. I was quite happy with the old analog TV when I was a kid, and is the quality of pictures increased I cannot tell the same about the quality of content. But anyhow, I think there it is much more interesting to develop those technologies for industrial or medical applications.
I heard recently that a robot to perform surgical operation was about to be approved by FDA. In such an application I think that having the highest resolution is a very very good thing. Such a system need high resolution cam, high speed data transfer and high resolution screen, no?
Maybe in the next year pure TV broadcast won't be enough to drive development, and we'll start to see such applications....
BTW, I totally agree that wearing 3D glasses while having dinner is not an option. Furthermore, I'm already wearing real glasses, and having those 3D glasses on top is not comfortable at all. If at least you could choose the glasses design....
I think UHDTV and beyond is wonderful. The expanded standards would enhance the world in many innovative products. I worked on a seven second UHDTV video with about 151 7680 by 4320 images. My 1 and half year old computer with the assistance of Adobe Premier was able to produce an AVI video file. I could not play it because I do not have a UHDTV monitor, which I want, to test the output on. I uploaded the video to youtube though they converted only to 1080p format and below.
HDTV, at present price points is highly desirable. The difference in quality over SDTV is readily available to almost anyone with a reasonably sized television at a reasonable viewing difference.
UHDTV will not offer the same difference in quality. It is simply a matter of diminishing returns. Sure it may be 8 times higher resolution, but the benefits will only be evident in specialized viewing conditions such as a movie theater.
3DTV is similar. I love 3D and don't even mind polarized based 3D glasses for viewing. I just don't want to do it all the time. Sure for watching a movie or full attention watching of sporting great. However, for me, television is often one of several activities that are engaging me. I.e. like right now where I am typing and watching some cheesy sci-fi movie. I cannot be wearing glasses while doing this.
That said, sure 3DTV and even UHDTV will become ubiquitous ... just like HDTV. It's all a matter of price. The features these technologies provide is not sufficient to drive a large enough market at a large enough premium to drive development and costs down quickly. That said, technology will advance and over time these items will become "standard".