One of the highlights of this year's IBC is sure to be the new demonstration of Super Hi-Vision. The 7680 x 4320 pixel television system has been seen before, but this year it will include two international links providing content into the Amsterdam demonstrations. Digital Studio looks at the prospects for definitions beyond HD.
Super Hi-Vision was developed by Japanese public broadcaster NHK. The picture resolution is four times that of HD both horizontally and vertically, currently with 60 progressive frames a second. Audio is 22.2 channels: nine channels at ceiling height, including one directly overhead; ten channels at the centre height of the screen; three front channels at foot height; and two low frequency effects channels at the front.
The significance of the IBC2008 demonstration is that content will be carried over long distances to Amsterdam, part of a wider research project that is looking at Super Hi-Vision as a template for future broadcast standards. A major part of the challenge has been in developing compression schemes that will allow Super Hi-Vision to be transported: its native digital signal is a massive 24Gb/s.
The IBC set-up will be, as before, a theatre containing a 6.95m diagonal projection screen and full audio system with demonstrations throughout each of the open days of the convention. Some of the content will come from a local server, but some will come from another server at the research headquarters of Italian public broadcaster RAI in Torino.
This will be compressed using MPEG-4/H.264, using 16 encoders in parallel, to around 140Mb/s and delivered over two full satellite DVB-S2 transponders provided by Eutelsat - the first time that Super Hi-Vision has been delivered internationally by satellite.
A Super Hi-Vision camera will be sited on a high building in central London, next to the River Thames, with its pictures also being fed live into the Amsterdam demonstration, this time in 600Mb/s MPEG-2 over an ultra-broadband fibre provided by Cable&Wireless. This is another first: live pictures have never been transported internationally before.
The camera will be operated by SIS Outside Broadcasts alongside NHK, and the BBC and its technology partner Siemens are project managing this part of exercise. Siemens is responsible for the technical infrastructure and communications over IP.
As well as being shown on the 8k x 4k projector, it can also be seen on the European Broadcasting Union stand, down-converted for a 3840 x 2160 LCD display. Super Hi-Vision content coded using the BBC's Dirac compression format can be seen at the NHK stand.
Super Hi-Vision was developed by NHK, which is continuing to lead the research. Now the Broadcast Technology Futures group (BTF), an alliance of leading broadcast research and development facilities and bodies like the European Broadcasting Union, is also taking getting involved in the research, as part of a wider programme to look at the television of the future.
The partners in BTF make the point that broadcasting is a worldwide market, and collaborations lead to economies of scale which make research affordable. International co-operation also leads more readily to open standards which should speed their acceptance.
Is Super Hi-Vision a practical proposition for broadcast? According to Dr Keiichi Kubota, newly appointed director-general of NHK Science & Technical Research Laboratories, explained, "As a broadcaster, NHK's goal is to make it possible that Super Hi-Vision can be enjoyed in every home. We estimate that it will take around 10 years to establish the technical foundations and a couple of years more for the standardisation.
"However, the applications of Super Hi-Vision other than broadcasting, such as public viewing or theatres, will be utilised much earlier," Dr Kubota added. "In Japan, one of the national museums is already showing visitors its collection items in ultra fine still pictures."
The challenge of Super Hi-Vision, of course is that it needs a very large screen to appreciate it. The normal human eye - so-called "20/20 vision" - can resolve detail to one arc-minute. If you do the arithmetic, you will find that you can appreciate Super Hi-Vision in the home on a screen of about 4m diagonal (156") from a viewing distance of about 1.5m. European homes tend towards viewing distances of around 3m, which gives a screen width of 6.7m, or 7.7m diagonal.
While that might be too big for the average home, it does have other applications. As Dr Kubota suggested, out of home displays would be ideal for Super Hi-Vision, and one of the applications the BBC is considering is that it might be used for town centre screens when it is host broadcaster to the 2012 London Olympic Games. At this stage, this is still a research aim.
Another application might be to capture high resolution images, which are later processed into HD or digital cinema formats. You might use Super Hi-Vision to record very large background plates for compositing, which can be electronically panned and scanned in post without compromising quality.
But in talking to all the parties involved in the planned IBC demonstration, it is clear that, at this stage at least, the real value of the research is in finding out what the future directions should be.
Is the goal of electronic media continuing advances in spatial resolution, or are there other areas which will tempt the viewer more? 3D television? Immersive environments? Greater temporal resolution - many more frames per second? Multiple views of the same event?
What Super Hi-Vision as a research project is doing is allowing the partners - BBC, EBU, NHK and RAI - to get right down into the nuts and bolts of the technologies and find out how they can best be used.
The other companies who are part of the IBC demonstration are also contributing a great deal of engineering and resources to make it happen as part of their own forward looking research.
Siemens as the BBC's technology partner manages its contribution and distribution network, and will be carrying the signal from the camera position in City Hall over its London Fibre Network to Television Centre, from where Cable&Wireless will be doing the long haul from London to Amsterdam: carrying very fast signals like this is a real test of the network. Similarly, RAI and Eutelsat are combining to deliver the content over a bridged pair of satellite transponders, again a critical test of communications skills.
Remember, too, that this is not to be a one-off technical exercise but to be repeated many times a day over the five days of IBC2008, each time to an expert audience of highly critical broadcast professionals. The stakes are very high!
If you are visiting IBC this year then you should make sure you take the opportunity to see Super Hi-Vision in action. Tickets for presentations in the NHK Theatre are free, but likely to be snapped up quickly.