Better, sharper, clearer

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 30 March, 2012, 12:00am


If you think high-definition and 3-D televisions are impressive, you ain't seen nothing yet. With help from Japan's national broadcaster, NHK, the BBC is to film the London 2012 summer Olympics in Super Hi-Vision, a brand new system that's 16 times more detailed than standard high-definition television.

Only three cameras exist, and just one permanent cinema - all in Japan - but that's not stopped two of the world's most popular and innovative state broadcasters from hatching an ambitious plan to film not only the sporting event in Super Hi-Vision, but to show it live in seven makeshift cinemas around the world.

It's going to be some spectacle for lucky ticket holders, who are promised live broadcasts in Super Hi-Vision of the opening and closing ceremonies. The BBC's outside broadcast trucks will be doing the rounds of other Olympic venues, too, for daily edited packages of content including swimming, cycling and basketball.

'This is the closest thing to being there,' says Tim Plyming, project executive, digital & editor live sites, BBC London 2012. 'It will be a great experience to see it live, but we will also have it captured in perpetuity in Super Hi-Vision.'

Currently under construction, three 100-seat cinemas in Glasgow, Bradford and London are being fitted with 15-metre-wide screens, each with a remarkable 22.2 surround sound system. The images will also be piped to Washington, Tokyo and Osaka as well as a private VIP viewing room - complete with 152-inch plasma screen - at London 2012's International Broadcast Centre.

I watched an American football game in Super Hi-Vision on a recent trip to NHK's headquarters in Tokyo. The image is so detailed, so immersive and fills a viewer's field of vision so completely that it's almost too real. The shot is so wide the cameras don't need to move. For some events the camera won't be moved at all, giving viewers a real sense of being at the actual event; viewers see exactly what they would have if they were there.

Your eyes do the editing by focusing on whatever part of the shot you want, which plays to the way we use our eyes in real life. It's one reason why watching a 3-D movie, which tries to create a full-screen immersive experience, can be a little strange because it tells you what to look at and, as such, goes against human evolution.

'When I show 3-D to BBC producers, 50 per cent like it, 50 per cent aren't sure, but everyone that's seen Super Hi-Vision gets it and thinks it's amazing,' says Plyming.

To put it in perspective, consider that a regular HDTV shows a picture that's equivalent to a two megapixel still digital photograph - the reserve of budget smartphones - while Super Hi-Vision's 7680 x 4320 pixel image equates to 32 megapixels.

The surround sound is an equally big leap into the future; the BBC will be using a straight-from-the-labs 22.2 microphone that picks up ambient sound in exquisite detail. It's then piped through 22 separate speakers and two 10-metre-long subwoofers slung under the screen.

The BBC thinks the technology will catch on quickly. 'Following London 2012 there is going to be a lot of interest in Super Hi-Vision for the next 10 years from those broadcasting live events,' says Plyming. 'Sports will be captured in Super Hi-Vision, and then it's onto the domestic environment. There are going to be some very big television screens.'

It's not the first time the Olympics have heralded a new era in television technology. The 1984 games in Los Angeles were the first to be filmed in high-definition, but no one outside the production staff saw the results, since HD-ready televisions weren't available until after the turn of the century. NHK hopes Tokyo will win the right to stage the event in 2020 (against Madrid, Istanbul, Baku and Doha), by which time it should have a Super Hi-Vision channel operating.

That ambition will only be realised if NHK can come up with some compression technology to get the massive bandwidth picture into homes, and we wonder how many Super Hi-Vision televisions or projectors will exist in Japanese living rooms by then (Sharp recently unveiled an 85-inch SHV TV). Either way, NHK is convinced this is the future writ large.