Super Hi-Vision - the future of television?
The NHK and BBC trial of ultra-HD television - what we'll all have in five years in our living room?
What's Super Hi-Vision, I hear you ask? Just as we've got used to the impressive pictures of HD television in our front room, along come the Japanese public service broadcaster, NHK, with something a little better. Super Hi-Vision is, actually, more than a little better. It's *16 times* better. Instead of a full HD signal, typically 1440x1080i in the UK, Super Hi-Vision is a rather more impressive 7680 x 4320 pixels. (The new, much-vaunted MacBook Pro Retina is a paltry 2880x1800.)
It's not just the pictures that have received a quality improvement. The sound has, too. This isn't stereo, nor is it 5.1 surround sound, it's 22.2 multichannel sound. The demonstration started with sounds swirling around the theatre: behind, above, below and around us.
We were in the BBC Radio Theatre in Broadcasting House, to be treated to some of the highlights of the Olympics so far on a 400-inch screen, in a collaboration with the BBC, NHK and the OBS. And the results were, frankly, jaw-dropping. Genuinely, I "felt as if I was there" - the enhanced sound and incredibly clear images were super-impressive.
This was like watching film in one of the best cinemas in the world: but, instead, it was a television picture, shot only a few days ago. Crowd shots were so crisp and clear you could easily recognise every single face. In Usain Bolt's 100m race, every single grimace was visible from every single runner, even in wide shots. Individual planks of wood in the velodrome were clearly visible, too, in David Hoy's race. A wide shot of the Queen declaring the games open allowed us to see all the VIPs - at least 40 faces across - and see Tony Blair, David Cameron, Prince Charles and many other faces. Every blob in the crowd is now a clearly recognisable person. Fill the screen with spectators, and every one is clearly visible. Worried about privacy? This will make you nervous.
The lack of hardware to film this stuff was fairly apparent: all cameras were static; pans were slow, zooms slower still. The Opening Ceremony appeared to be filmed on only three cameras overall. You felt you were there, with the wide, crisp, views and the absence of quickly-changing shots; but it lacked the excitement that well-produced television offers.
And what was interesting was the lack of close-ups. At no point was an athlete's face taking up anything more than a tenth of the height of the screen: yet you could still see every detail, every wrinkle. Partly, this was due, I guess, to the staticness of the cameras (and perhaps the zoom capability of the lenses); but partly, too, the very real concerns about inducing motion sickness, too. This changes the rules about how television is shot - and, with 22.2 surround, the rules about how the sound is mixed, too.
And, naturally, it changes how television is distributed. The raw images are 24 Gbit/s (most computer network connections are 1 Gbit/s); compressed, the video comes down to about 250Mbit/s, with the audio being at least another 10Mbit/s. One Astra transponder, used to broadcast around five satellite television channels, is just 30MBit/s, so you'd need to take nine transponders - a third of the entire satellite - and do some fancy combining of these transponders to manage one Super Hi-Vision channel. And let's not even start with any production questions: that would be one fierce video editing system to cope with that.
Putting aside the difficulty of broadcasting it, fitting a 400-inch size screen into the average front room is a challenge: not least where to put the 22 speakers! (The smallest current screen is 85 inches - which looks, incidentally, like looking out of a window).
Is Super Hi-Vision "the future of television", as the hype has it? I'm not, yet, convinced, that Super Hi-Vision will ever be seen in the home. Perhaps that's not the point; perhaps it's to replace film distribution, and breathe new life into movie theatres as a place to engage in live events as well as pre-produced movies.
Is Super Hi-Vision a jaw-dropping theatrical experience? Absolutely.
There are still a few more demonstrations of Super Hi-Vision in London, Bradford, Glasgow, Washington DC, Tokyo and Fukushima; though I'd expect tickets to have sold out by now. The Closing Ceremony will be shown live.
James Cridland is the Managing Director of Media UK, and a radio futurologist: a consultant, writer and public speaker who concentrates on the effect that new platforms and technology are having on the radio business.
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I read somewhere that there are only three SHV cameras in the world, so perhaps not surprising that the Opening Ceremony was only filmed on as many cameras as are currently in existence. Apparently they also cost over $1,000,000—each—to build!
I’m super jealous that you got to see SHV!
I also saw a SHV screening and concur it truly is amazing. Really did feel like you were in the stadium watching the opening ceremony. In full 22 speaker form completely impractical for home use, that said it has left me
a little bit totally underwhelmed by my own home cinema system.
Who’s David Hoy James? Is that Chris’ SHV alter ego? ;-)