The next step change in television and video quality is a theme of two major trade shows. The NAB Show in Las Vegas focuses on the kit, while MIPTV in France deals with the programming. The message is that 4K ultra-high-definition television formats are already here and 8K is on the horizon.
Displays of 4K resolution, four times that of high-definition television, were much in evidence at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas at the start of the year, although they have yet to be seen by many consumers.
While some may doubt the need for even higher definition displays, technology is driving the change and consumer adoption will no doubt follow as prices fall. Unlike 3D, which remains something of a party trick, the quest for higher quality reproduction continues.
The television production and post-production industry is beginning to gear up for 4K, which is already used for digital cinema. A key reason is to protect the catalogue value of programmes when 4K delivery to the home becomes practical and prevalent.
There are other benefits to shooting in higher resolutions in the interim. One is the increase in quality when down-converting to high-definition that arises from oversampling the image. Another is the ability to recompose within the frame, or zoom in on details, without loss of resolution in current high-definition formats.
Recording images with more bits per pixel also provides for more latitude in grading images to control exposure and colour balance, much like shooting in raw formats with still digital photography.
There are also advantages to shooting at higher frame rates than can be delivered using current distribution technology, providing better slow-motion reproduction.
The next step beyond 4K is 8K resolution, which is 16 times higher than high-definition.
At the NAB Show, NHK is again be showing its 8K Super Hi-Vision technology, with a terrestrial transmission of SHV, using the combined bandwidth of television channels, the first demonstration of its kind in North America. It has a prototype single chip camera that looks more like a conventional news camera than the laboratory rigs shown previously. As well as broadcast applications, it expects SHV to be used for sports events, concerts and movies.
The Korean research and development organization ETRI will present a proposed next-generation TV broadcast system that provides 4K images to fixed receivers and HD pictures to mobile receivers, within a single multiplexed transmission. It is also showing how an array of speakers above and below a television screen can create a 22.2 channel 3D audio representation.
Korea Telecom will be working with Ericsson on a trial of ultra-high-definition television using High Efficiency Video Coding, the next-generation compression standard, to see how it can be deployed in different applications.
Meanwhile at MIPTV, celebrating its 50th Anniversary in Cannes, Sony is saying that 4K is the broadcast standard of tomorrow and that producers need to plan for it now. They will be showing demonstration material highlighting the quality that can be achieved today using the 4K format.
Any move to 4K has major implications for broadcasters and television service providers, many of which have only recently invested in high-definition. While some may adopt a wait and see strategy, some pay-tv providers are expected to push forward in promoting a premium viewing experience.