The Olympics have long been a test platform for new technology. Be it clever swimsuits or innovative sets of trainers, whatever you see at the Olympics is usually at the cutting edge. It doesn’t have to be just sports however, TV networks often use it to experiment with new kit.
Back in 1984 NHK used HDTV cameras to film the Los Angeles Olympic Games. Years later they became the TV standard, with most of the Beijing Olympics being broadcast in high definition. So what next? For the London Olympics NHK and the BBC have been working together to record in Super Hi-Vision - a new technology that uses 8k resolution cameras and 22.2 audio.
Right now there are only three Super Hi-Vision cameras in the world and Pocket-lint was among the first to witness the technology’s maiden live broadcast. We all know the question you want answering: how does it look and do you want it in your living room?
A bit of history
Super Hi-Vision started out back in 2003 where NHK demoed a piece of 30-minute test footage using an array of 16 HDTV recorders. Since then it has evolved year on year with improvements made in the cameras, sensors and frame rates, which are now sitting at 120fps for live broadcasts.
The BBC and NHK have a long history of using broadcasting innovations, working together to bring new camera technology to the viewing public. They are among the few broadcasters in the world to have a dedicated research and development department, the result of which is things like Super Hi-Vision.
It's taken until this year, however, for the 8k technology to really taken off. Beginning with the announcement of a 120fps sensor in February 2012, this was followed by manufacturers such as Sharp and Panasonic releasing details on huge 100-inch-plus 8k televisions.
The culmination of all this research? The recording of the Olympics opening ceremony using three Super Hi-Vision cameras followed by a series of live broadcasts from the UK to Japan and the US. We were lucky enough to sit in on the action from the aquatic centre.
How does it look?
This is the question everyone wants answered. The short answer is: absolutely stunning. But it's a long way off ready to be turned out to the viewing public and is not without its faults.
We sat down to watch the Olympic opening ceremony on a cinema-sized screen. The moment Super Hi-Vision fired up we could tell we were in for a treat. The first shot was a wide-angle capture of the entire Olympic stadium. Despite sitting only a few metres from the huge screen, we could make out the detail of every single person’s face as they prepared for the event.
The initial wow factor of Super Hi-Vision is absolutely stunning. More so, we would say, than when we first saw HDTV, Blu-ray or 3D. This is a resolution so high that it almost tricks your eye into thinking things are real. Couple that with incredibly accurate colour response and you get exactly what you might expect - the best picture you have ever seen.
It isn’t overly digital or over-sharpened either. Super Hi-Vision is natural and clean, making it perfect for things like sports and other broadcast material. What really completes the package however is the stunning 22.2 audio. That means you get speakers around your head from every possible angle, even directly above, as well as a pair of huge sub-woofers. For us this was what really made Super Hi-Vision special.
Try to imagine what it might sound like sitting right in the middle of the Olympic opening ceremony: this is what Super Hi-Vision offers - 22.2 live recording is the best thing we have ever heard.
How about the swimming - was it worth it? With less of a spectacle and more emphasis on actually watching the competition, we started to forget we were viewing such a high-resolution broadcast. The result was quite bizarre, while not being as exciting as the opening ceremony, it made our brain begin to act as if we were there in the crowd watching it live.
Again it was the 22.2 audio that really worked televisual magic. It captured every clap and cheer of the crowd and sent them back to the relevant position around our head. Combine that with the stunning picture and you have the ultimate live sports experience. It really felt like as if we were sitting in the aquatic centre with everyone else.
When can I get it?
Super Hi-Vision poses a few significant issues in terms of actually getting it into your living room. The first is simply the sheer data size of the format. Something 16 times the resolution of HDTVs is obviously going to carry quite a big file size.
Big enough in fact for the NHK engineers to need a bank of 16 solid state recorders and piles of 64GB drives. Then you need a hugely powerful editing station to bring all the footage together.
Once the Super Hi-Vision footage ready to send to the home, we hit the biggest hurdle of all: bandwidth. In all likelihood Super Hi-Vision would be sent to your home via cable. Using a satellite is possible, but would be hugely expensive. So if you were to go the broadband route what sort of speed would a stream require? The minimum would be 70mbps, which is a long way off from the average consumer’s home.
The combination of all this, coupled with the likely cost of a 22.2 speaker system and huge 100-inch-plus TV, is that Super Hi-Vision is still a good few years away from being widely available, probably not until 2020. Even then, expect it to be extremely expensive, with prices coming down only a few years later.
The first place that Super Hi-Vision will start to appear is likely to be in cinemas and at special screenings. You may see movies recorded in 8k and cinemas getting large audio system upgrades well before the technology becomes commercially viable in the home.
Whatever happens, the moment you get a chance to witness Super Hi-Vision, make sure you do. In fact there is the opportunity to do so right now, head over to the BBC tickets website to book yourself into an Olympics showing.
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