IBC displays the screens of tomorrow

IBC 2012 – AMSTERDAM. Delegates to this year’s IBC expo in Amsterdam have been able to sample a variety of future displays and file formats, among them an improved Super Hi-Vision.

The NHK-backed Super Hi-Vision is a project familiar to RAI attendees and one the Japanese broadcaster and its industry partners have been been working on since the beginning of the Millennium.

The year-to-year advances have been plain to see. The Sharp prototype 85″ 8K LCD displays clearly performed much better than the ones shown only last year.

A further improvement on show this year was the doubling of Ultra High Definition (UHD) or Super Hi-Vision (SHV)’s frame rate. The side-by-side demo in the show’s Future Zone was so obvious, from completely blurred fast-moving pans on one screen to a very watchable version shot with the 120 frames per second version from NHK’s 8K camera.

UHDTV was ratified by the ITU earlier this year in both the original 60 fps and the 120 fps variety. The demo at this year’s Future Zone, next to hall 8, makes clear that 120 frames per second is an acceptable starting point.

Actual UHDTV services are not expected to arrive for almost another decade. Recently a number of reports suggested that it will arrive sooner, but those reports are talking of a lower resolution service, which only offers one quarter the (spatial) resolution of Super Hi-Vision’s full resolution of 8K by 4K (7680 × 4320, or 4320P).

4K (3840 x 2160 pixels) is also known as Quad HD, as the Digital Cinema industry tries to conquer the 4K moniker as the designation for its slightly wider version of 2160P, 4096 by 2160 pixels, with a reduced vertical resolution if the image is even wider, as is the case with many motion pictures.

4K is all over the show this year, with SES showing a live feed via one of its Astra satellites, on one of the new Sony LCD TV sets that launched at IFA in Berlin last week. SES’s primary competitor Eutelsat is also showing a 4K satellite feed of the same demo reel with the colourful sailboats but on a Mitsubishi commercial 4K LCD display.

2012 has been on the roadmaps of a number of TV manufacturers for the launch of their first 4K LCD television sets. Besides Sony, Toshiba, LG, and Samsung launched their initial consumer displays, as did China’s Haier and Hisense and Turkey’s Vitek.

This is six years after the first prototype 4K LCD TV was shown at CES. So, the arrival of 4K shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Later that year at IBC, ASTRO demonstrated a pre-production version of its broadcast monitor based on the same 56″ LCD panel by AU-Optronic that was in that first 4K TV. It had started shipping by IBC 2007.

Most commercial 4K displays have been using several improved generations of that panel ever since. But the first commercially available 4K TV sets were launched only last week at IFA in Berlin.

Encoding specialist Ateme is showing its state-of-the art non-real-time compression of 4K on the newly launched Toshiba 4K TV, very much still a lab project the demonstration compares MPEG 4 AVC, or H.264 encoding at 22 Mbit/s (for comparison the SES live feed of the same demo material used 50 Mbit/s) to 13 Mbit/s compression of the new HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding) or H.265 encoder, with both image halves having a similar quality. This level of compression is still quite some time away from implementation with each encode taking hundreds of passes, this can not yet be done in real-time, but it shows that over time the efficiency claims of the new compression standard (30-40% in SD, 40-50% and around 50% in 4K resolution, or even a bit higher when compressing animated material) are not exaggerated.

A few booths down the line in Hall 1, Ericsson is also showing HEVC encoding and decoding, but live and in real-time, a world first. The product is aimed at mobile applications, the encoder can be placed at the content provider or the mobile network operator, or basically anywhere in or connected to the network. The demo still shows many artifacts as many (de-)coding tools are being added and optimised to allow for product delivery at or following the ratification of the HEVC standard scheduled for the end of this year.

The EBU is also demonstrating the path forward at this year’s IBC, comparing HD to 4K and 8K.