Ultra High-Definition TV

14 09 2010

Is your HDTV going to be obsolete soon?  Probably not, but researchers in Japan are already pushing the boundaries far beyond what is normal now.  That’s not really a surprise, because they’ve been ahead of America for a while when it comes to high-definition television.  The Japanese have had high-def TV for many years, even having an analog transmission for HD back in the late ’80s.   So obviously they’ve beaten the rest of the world to it.

A couple of years ago I heard that only 10 percent of households in the U.S. had high-def TVs.  I’m sure it’s higher now, but probably not yet a majority.  Probably fewer people have true 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound systems.  While most of us are trying to catch up to that, the bar has already been raised for the future.  NHK researchers have announced Ultra High Definition Television (UHDTV), which blows away what we consider top-of-the-line in America.  It’s also known as Super Hi-Vision, Ultra High Definition Video (UHDV), and UHD.

Super Hi-Vision uses a crazy-good resolution of 7,680 x 4,320 pixels, at 60 frames per second.  The sound setup is getting upgraded, too.  The new standard features 22.2-channel surround sound.  (That’s not a typo!)  The speaker setup is composed of 9 speakers above ear level, 10 speakers at ear level, and 5 speakers lower than ear level, including stereo subwoofers.  (Imagine trying to convince your wife to allow that in the living room!)

For comparison, the top standard in the U.S. right now is 1080p, which has a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels.  And our top sound standard is 7.1 audio (although 10.2 has been invented, but I haven’t heard of commercial uses of it yet).  I have a feeling that the latest emerging media standard of Blu-Ray isn’t sufficient for this task.  An uncompressed 20 minute broadcast would require about 4 TB of storage, although there is a compression scheme designed for it.

One benefit of 4320p is that it can accurately scale images of 480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i, 1080p, and 2160p, so there will be less picture distortion when viewing lower-resolution media on it.  That’s a big deal, which you may know about if you’ve watched a lower-res video on an HDTV and thought it looked worse than on a normal TV.

This is still a few years away, though, because the current infrastructure and technology is not capable of handling it.  But it has been demonstrated already — in 2005, a live UHDTV program was streamed uncompressed over 161 miles using a fiber optic network (at 24 Gbit/s speeds!).   It’s estimated to be ready for in-home use between 2016 and 2020, though I suspect only in Japan at first.  But that kind of technology could make it worth going to the movies more often, if they had a setup that awesome, which most consumers couldn’t afford.




2 responses

15 10 2010

I wondering though… will our eyes even be able to tell that much of a difference? I mean, 1080p looks life-like already! I can’t imagine it being more fine that that, but I’m sure it’s possible.

And I wonder how 3D TV fits into all this…

15 10 2010

My eyesight is better than 1080p! 🙂

If you think about it, 320×200 looked life-like — that’s the resolution of older TVs. Sure, the quality wasn’t quite as sharp and detailed, but no one was thinking “those people on that show look fake”. The same principle applies to audio — many people think their stereo sounds fine, and it might, but when you listen to higher quality equipment, you hear things you never heard before, and your eyes / ears are opened.

The main area that higher video resolutions help is when we get bigger TVs. 1080p looks great on today’s normal TVs, but as the screen gets bigger and bigger, the resolution is important. Also, some movies are shot in resolutions above 1080p, even some older ones.

Another factor for image quality is the amount of compression required for the broadcast to fit onto a DVD or Blu-ray. It’ll be nice when we don’t have compression artifacts anymore — in video and audio.

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