Tokyo -- The people at the Japan Broadcasting Corp. see their 8K x 4K ultrahigh-resolution broadcasting, which they have labeled Super Hi-Vision, as the next generation of consumer television. Now they have taken a step toward realizing that vision by demonstrating working prototypes of key component systems.
But don't start saving up for a new set yet. It might be a few decades, give or take several years, before the technology makes it to market. And the breakneck pace at which communications, broadcasting and information technologies are transforming themselves leaves a question hanging over the whole enterprise: Twenty or more years from now, will consumers want it?
Still, the specs are impressive. Super Hi-Vision's resolution is 7,680 x 4,320 pixels--16 times that of today's 1,920 x 1,080-pixel HDTV. Japan Broadcasting (NHK), the nation's public broadcaster, has demonstrated it at several venues over the past two years, ranging from the 2005 Aichi World Exposition in Japan to NAB2006 in Las Vegas, IBC 2006 in Amsterdam and CEATEC 2006 in Makuhari, Japan. At those shows, NHK used large screens--on the order of 450 and 600 inches diagonal.
"We've been demonstrating Super Hi-Vision on large screens to show its high image quality, so people might have thought that the system is to be used at a big public event only. No, it isn't," said Kenkichi Tanioka, director general of NHK Science and Technical Research Laboratories. "NHK is a TV broadcaster. Our real challenge is how to deliver this wonderful quality content to each and every home."
But look at the long-range picture, said Reiji Asakura, digital media critic and vice chairman of the Society of Picture Quality Engineers in Japan. "No one knows yet what the next-generation broadcasting should look like, or even whether the next-generation system itself is necessary," he said. "Such unknowns were also in existence when NHK started its original HDTV technology development in the 1960s. The research work, therefore, should not be based on the market demand. Rather, it should be an effort to plant seeds for the future. It may be too advanced an effort, but probably only NHK has enough resources to pull this off, ranging from content and media to research power.
"Current HDTV is OK up to about a 65-inch display. But for larger displays, much higher resolution will be needed sooner or later," said Asakura.
Based on their experience with HDTV, NHK officials said it takes about 30 years for a broadcasting system to be developed and accepted. NHK began working on HDTV in 1969, and it was the first to start HDTV broadcasting in 1989--in analog. It took 31 years, until 2000, for NHK to start satellite digital HDTV broadcasting in Japan. Terrestrial digital TV broadcasting, in collaboration with some private TV stations, followed in 2003. And by last December, coverage of the terrestrial digital HDTV service had spread to all corners of Japan.
Based on that 30-year-cycle theory, since NHK started working on Super Hi-Vision in 1995, the technology should be ready around 2025.
"We believe that Super Hi-Vision is the ultimate 2-D broadcasting system. But it is not our final target. What comes next will probably be 3-D TV broadcasting. We want to realize natural, eye-friendly 3-D after we realize Super Hi-Vision broadcasting," said lab director Tanioka.
NHK's R&D plan is based on the strong faith in broadcasting. Even two decades ahead. "We believe that TV broadcasting will continue serving," said Hideki Suganami, director of planning and general affairs of the labs. "Quality and reliability are always required for broadcasting, especially for a public broadcaster, and we've been satisfying the requirement. We don't expect that something else can easily replace broadcasting."
A closer look
Super Hi-Vision delivers 8K x 4K images at a 16:9 aspect ratio, scanned 60 frames per second in progressive mode with 22.2 multichannel sound. The transmission method has not been nailed down yet. It is designed to give the viewer a strong sensation of reality. So to give the viewer the sensation of being engulfed in images on a display, the desirable horizontal viewing angle was set at 100 degrees. This means that with the standard recommended viewing distance 0.75 times the display height, NHK calculates that the standard size for a Super Hi-Vision display in the home would be 100 inches. Therefore, the viewer would have to be about 1 meter from the display.
Under those conditions, 8K x 4K was the resolution at which the viewer would not see individual pixels. "The specifications were defined as the ultimate resolution from the viewpoint of the human factor. And the number of pixels is the integral multiplication of the present HD specification, four times both horizontally and vertically. This makes format conversion, maintaining backward compatibility, and building hardware easy," said Suganami.