NHK to start Ultra-HD in 2011-12

Japanese public broadcaster NHK (HQ pictured, left) will start experimental test transmissions of its spectacular Ultra-HD system (7680 x 4320 pixel) in 2011-12. Japan switches off its analogue terrestrial transmissions on July 24 2011, and NHK will hold onto some of the frequencies permitting expansion into next-generation HDTV.

Dr Kenkichi Tanioka, director general of NHK’s science and technical research laboratories, was outlining NHK’s timetable at a major presentation in Tokyo on May 22, saying that he anticipated further testing and development taking until 2016, and implementation following on. “The biggest problem is bandwidth,” he said, but praised the co-operation agreement now in place between the BBC, NAB, RAI and the EBU, which he described as a mutual approach to the evolving technology. He admitted that precisely predicting the future for Ultra-HD was especially difficult, “but we already make possible the impossible,” he stated.

Unlike in the past when broadcasters from the USA, Europe and Japan fought each other over rival TV transmission systems (the USA’s “Grand Alliance”, EBU’s DVB and Japan’s analogue Muse and then Hi-Vision digital system are all different), there seems to be a wish from all parties to avoid costly and overlapping effort in the search for next-generation HDTV.

Dr Tanioka explained that live test transmissions will take place in London this coming September, with the signals transmitted to the giant IBC broadcasting technology convention in Amsterdam. NHK is working with the BBC to choose the best location to site the 33 million pixel Ultra-HD camera, and one location is London’s South Bank near City Hall and Tower Bridge, with a backdrop of the City of London financial district.

The prospects of Europe or the USA seeing full time transmissions of Ultra-HD in the next 20 years must still be treated with caution. But it is also a fact that huge progress has been made in this past year, and most experts recognise that the Consumer Electronics industry will be looking for the next “big thing” probably less than 10 years from now.