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!
I vouch for that. I found the BBC IPlayer service a joy to use: All live and past events at your fingertip with a rich set of search and customisation capabilities and supporting information e.g. you could be watching a boxing bout and you want to know more about the boxers involved, you just click on the side and ooops, the boxers' bios are shown. Marvellous!
PS. I hear all content will remain online until early next year! It's free to access for people living in the UK (well, we pay for it through our licence fee!). Folks outside the UK can subscribe for a (small) fee.
That sounds much better than the experience I've had with NBC in the United States. I did use my iPad and HDTV to watch the game simultaneously, but coordinating the two (looking for deeper information while watching the game, for example) was an arduous task.
I mostly watched different sports on two screens as two separate experiences.
I would predict that 3D will gain some followers when it enables something that is not otherwise possible. The first time that 3D imaging makes it possible to understand how someone won when they appeared to have lost or it enables the creation of a virtual reality from the player's viewpoint that was otherwise impossible to achieve, there will be interest in the technology. As it is, the technology adds cost and technical baggage without a quantum step of payback to the consumer.