Beyond HD – Super Hi Vision, a new approach to live events

A protype NHK UHDTV camera

A protype NHK UHDTV camera (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On Friday, I had the privilege of watching the opening ceremony of the Olympics in the BBC’s Pacific Quay Studio B over the first ever live transmission of an event using Super Hi Vision, the high resolution broadcast technology created by NHK, the national broadcaster of Japan.

Super Hi Vision is the first entry in a class called Ultra High Definition Television, which has a resolution of 7680 × 4320, which is 16 times the resolution of HDTV. Along with that is a 22.2 channel sound system (HDTV is in 5.1)

The transmission was presented on a 350″ screen at Pacific Quay. Screenings took place in several other locations in the UK, the US and Japan.

Because there are only a handful of SHV cameras in existence and because they are very large and very heavy (think 1950s TV cameras) the visual nature of the transmission was very different from the “run and gun” steadicam approach we’ve all become familiar with. Instead we were treated to long wideshots and slow pans and zooms – which was just perfect.

The pictures produced by this technology have been compared to looking through a window, and although that is a bit of marketing hyperbole, it’s not too far off the mark. Because of the high quality, the large screen, the immersive sound mix and the slight camera moves, there were many moments when it felt just like being in a seat in the Olympic arena. As a matter of fact, there was a moment when the camera began a pan and I had a bit of a sense of vertigo – my brain was telling me that I was moving, not the camera.

Under the hood, there was something almost as remarkable as the quality of the picture – the transmission was done not over satellite or dedicated vision circuits, but over the internet. A special part of the internet to be sure, the JANET network used by academia, but the internet all the same. The media stream was carried as H.264 using around 320Mb.

It’s amazing to think that we have come far enough that IP-based technology is now the only choice when you want to deliver truly high quality media in real time.

This is just the beginning for this technology and I’ll address some of the more interesting ways it can be used in live event production in future posts.