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."
Re 55" TV for 8K hi def:
Estimates for optimal viewing distance for 1080p are all over the map. Using Sun Microsystems's estimates for human visual acuity (twice as high as most sources) you must view a 55" TV at no more than 13' to fully exploit the resolution of a 1080p image. Since the 8k tv has a linear pixel density 4X that of 1080p, you would have to sit roughly 4 times closer. Other acuity estimates put you even closer. Keep plenty of aspirin on hand. See wikipedia article on optimal tv viewing distance.
As a first order of magnitude estimate, you can assume that 20/20 human vision is capable of resolving detail down to approximately 1 or 1 1/2 minutes of arc. This first order estimate suggests that HDTV screens are "good enough" if viewed at approximately a distance of three picture heights.
So for most living rooms, and even relatively large sets, 1080p ain't half bad. However, that is a first order estimate, and the human eye-brain system can get exceedingly clever about detail perception. So I'll grant that there might yet be something cool about UHDTV in homes.
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.)
Stereoscopic vision works by comparing the 'disparity' of corresponding image elements in left and right views. There is no question that sending all the pixels will produce a palpable 3d experience. It is also possible that the half images could tolerate some form of lossy compression, but it would take an enormous amount of psychophysical research to establish the parameters. As you suggest, the makers want to sell these RIGHT NOW.
Yes, I'm well aware how stereo vision or audio work.
This is the scheme I'm referring to:
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.
I am working on an archiving project and I wanted to produce a 4320p video that would push the envelope for video card and display technologies. I was day dreaming about my video appearing at the olympics...
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".
I am reminded of an old but rather good Phillips ad:
Idiot Customer: "Morning, I want a new video recorder."
Suave Salesman: "Well Sir, this is our new model, one touch recording, on screen display, ultra simple operation...."
IC: "Naaah, it hasn't got enough knobs on it. How about this one over here?"
SS: "That's a Washing Machine...."
Most customers wouldn't know the difference between UHDTV and HDTV, and in fact I'm sure I wouldn't unless it was on a screen as big as a shop window. But make something into a status "must have" and people will buy it.
I have a 3D TV. NBC's coverage stopped at 7:30PM, before I generally watch TV. Verizon did not transmit the format code, so I had to set up the TV manually each time. Neither of these is conducive to generating viewers.
I have watched sports on ESPN's 3D channel and the experience is worth the hassle of the funny glasses.
I am so happy to find, finally, among our readers, someone who actually had 3-D TV Olympic experience!
Judging from what you posted here, it's one thing for NBC to brag about their 12-hours a day 3-D TV Olympic coverage, there was a lot to be desired in terms of translating that into an actual consumer experience.
First, I had no idea that they stopped 3D coverage at 7:30p.m. (why?); second, I had no idea Verizon did not transmit the format code!
Once again, thanks for sharing your experience.
When marketing a new technology , you need to convince a certain groups of people who like to try new things, are generally more techno savvy, and are trusted by their friends to recommend such things.
I Think that among this group, many use p2p networks to get content or use streaming video services. since 1080p is relatively bandwidth intensive and harder to get, they have less demand for 1080p and no reason to seek UHDTV, an no basis to recommend it.
My take on the TV: what manufacturers really need to work on is:
1) The ablility to mirror any screen on any device within a reasonable range on the TV, with an attractive and simple user interface.
2) 3D without glasses....
3) SIRI for TV :-)
Unless we enter the sci-fi scenario where the wall of a room turns into a TV at a command, UHDTV sets will only be bought if they are priced HDTV set rates.
And I think many of us do agree that the Ultra HDTV won't make sense unless you have a HUGE wall size screen.
Looking back on how long it took for HDTV to get off the ground, I see UHDTV something we may see in one or two decades from now.
Still, I actually think what UHDTV can bring to us in terms of realism is something really remarkable. Sure, we won't be able to afford it any time soon; but it does amaze me.
@Junko: Does Panasonic have UHDTV resolution projection system? It will be interesting to know what kind of DLP/DMD projection chip they use for this. Panasonic's high lumen projection looks quite impressive.
3-D is all about content.
NBC being idiots and exclusively broadcasting US athletes' activities is not a reflection of the technology and is something I am glad I did not have to watch.
Even in 1-D NBC's Olympic coverage smells of arrogance and feeds American xenophobia and ignorance.
I watched it for hours each day in another country...how refreshing it was, and I don't spectate sports.
From all these discussions i feel that 3D tv is not attracting most of the viewers at this time.Even though this is the prime area of R&D ,till a attractive solution is not found. So a real 3D projection in space will attract every one, provided affordable.
As display resolutions get bigger, we begin to approach the fundamental limit of human vision. This requires a shift in the way we record and display imagery
Some quick calculations..
Using Sun's definition of human resolution (28 arc-seconds), we determine that a human can discern objects of 0.135 mm at one meter. Note that this high-resolution field only applies to the centre 2 degrees of vision.
Assume we have an 8K TV that's 55" diagonal, so each pixel is about 0.149 mm wide.
So to actually exploit the resolution of that TV, the average human would need to sit about 1.1 metres in front of it.
But at that distance, the TV is taking up over 100 degrees of the field of vision, and only a small part of that field is viewed in full resolution. So part of the shift to higher resolutions will require increasing the angle of view of the source imagery.
As a side note, sitting one metre in front of a TV would bit a bit awkward, so this level of resolution is probably better realized using something along the lines of a head-mounted-display.
I watched some Olympic events here in the UK both in UHDTV and 3D and I have to say that I was blown away!! It was as if I were right by the athletes' side, simply stunning!
Although UHDTV with passive 3D was not bad at all, Active 3D was a much better experience to me. I believe this technology will catch on in the near future.
"..I have never seen a single example of consumer demand for 3DTV."
Let me give you a single example - myself. I'm sure I an mot the only one.
I have been a still stereo photographer for many years, using film.
I have been following digital stereo technology technology since I saw a Tektronix stereo monitor with LC shutter glasses some 20 years ago.
I have yet to purchase a stereo digicam or monitor or TV because current offerings are either too expensive or not good enough or not standard enough. And I am still looking for software to convert my stereo film photos to compatible stereo digital files and continue my still stereo photography in digital form.
That is, I have a strong consumer demand, but there is a lack of satisfactory supply.
As to the glasses issue, I have checked out the 3D TVs that do not require glasses, and the image quality is just not good enough. I demand excellent image quality, and AFAIK LC shutter glasses is the only way to get it. I am willing to wear glasses to get good image quality.
As to resolution, I love my HDTV, both cable and broadcast. It is so much much better than SDTV. As screen sizes increase there is an argument for a higher resolution. Given the cost/benefit trade-off, I would prefer 4K (8 MPix) for consumer use, and leave 8K (32MPix) for movie theaters.
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.
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