London 2012: Experimental 8K Television System Set to Debut

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BBC, NHK and OBS will test Super Hi-Vision during Olympics opening and closing ceremonies and select events.

While it might seem as though the transition to HDTV just occurred, a test of what might someday become its replacement—3D, as well as 2D television—will have its first public test at the London Olympics.

Japanese public broadcaster NHK is developing a bleeding edge “Super Hi-Vision” 8K television system, which contains a jaw-dropping 16 times more picture information than today’s HDTV and 22.2 channels of surround sound. At the Olympics, NHK is teaming with the BBC and host broadcasting organization Olympic Broadcast Services to test this format—which is so precise that one could view a shot inside the Olympic Stadium that appears to be three dimensional and contains stunning detail.

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“It’s exactly like looking through a glass window,” said Tim Plyming, the project executive for the BBC’s Olympics work in digital, live sites and Super Hi-Vision. “The images seem to go around corners and curves. Most people say it is more 3D than 3D. With 3D you are aware that your brain has to work. Here you just sit in front of the screen and relax.

“I think when people see it, they will say this is the next really big format,” he added.

The participants began planning this trial roughly two years ago, and in the coming weeks, they aim to not only dazzle viewers with an early look at Super Hi-Vision, but demonstrate for the first time NHK’s new 8K broadcast camera, as well as the ability to transmit 8K—a staggering amount of picture information—over IP networks.

The introduction of NHK’s new 8K camera is notable because earlier Super Hi-Vision camera models were very large and cumbersome to move. Plyming said that in contrast, the new cameras offer 8K resolution in a body that is “exactly the same size as our normal broadcast cameras.”

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At the Olympics, the opening and closing ceremonies, as well as track and field, swimming, cycling and basketball will receive some Super Hi-Vision coverage from four venues, including the Olympic Stadium, Aquatics Centre, Basketball Arena and Velopark. Guests can see these images at public viewing sites in Glasgow, Bradford, and London in the UK; and two sites in Tokyo and one in Fukushima, Japan. The images will be transmitted from the BBC Television Centre in London.

Following this trial, Super Hi-Vision will still not be ready for primetime. Plyming said it might be as far as "10-20 years away." NHK has reported that it aims to begin experimental Super Hi-Vision broadcasting in Japan during 2020.