To launch our new site, displayfocus.co.uk, London Olympics Super Hi-Vision project director Tim Plyming exclusively reveals more details about the BBC’s Super Hi-Vision Olympic plans and why the 2012 games will be the first truly digital television Olympics.
What is Super Hi-Vision?
Super Hi-Vision (also called 8K or Ultra High Definition) is a picture and audio format that delivers image quality that of 16 times the resolution of current HD standards (7680 x 4320) and 22.2 channel audio. It has been created by NHK and BBC engineers and several demos have been shown to the public over the past several years. In 2003, NHK engineers used an array 16 HD projectors to provide the first glimpse of ultra high definition picture quality. Technology has moved on considerably since then and, in 2011, Sharp displayed an 85” 8K LCD monitor to audiences at IBC. During the same conference, a live Super Hi-Vision feed was transmitted between Amsterdam and London. The goal is to make Super Hi-Vision a domestic reality by 2020.
One of the greatest challenges with Super Hi-Vision broadcasting is the large volume of data transfer required. Future Super Hi-Vision broadcast will rely on IP rather than satellite and cable infrastructures as will be the case for the London Olympics trial. Compression techniques have been created to considerably reduce the mammoth data required to deliver the pin sharp picture quality.
At the recent International Solid-State Circuits Conference, NHK, Shizuoka University and the Research Institute of Electronics showed off a new Super Hi-Vision CMOS (Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor) sensor (33MP) capable of recording footage at 120 frames per second (pictured)
The London Olympics Super Hi-Vision trial will be the biggest deployment of Super Hi-Vision yet and will give many members of the public the chance to see Super Hi-Vision for the first time. 50 foot screens will be constructed in London, Bradford and Glasgow which will show pre-games programming for five days from July 23rd.
During the games, between July 28th and August 12th, Olympic shows will be screened every hour from 12-6pm.
So people will be able to watch the London Olympic Super Hi-Vision coverage on their 8K screens in the future, Panasonic will be archiving the coverage on a specially built system called the P2 Tower, which will allow for two hours of Super Hi-Vision recording with AVC-Intracompression to 17 X 2 P2 cards.
We recently spoke to Tim Plyming, Project Executive, Digital & Editor Live Sites in the BBC’s London 2012 Olympic team. Tim is also project director for the Ultra HDTV (Super Hi-Vision) project. We started by asking him what the most up-to-date information was about the Super Hi-Vision London Olympics trial.
Tim Plyming: We are constructing three very large cinema screens. One of those will be situated in one of the many TV studios at the BBC HQ Pacific Quay in Glasgow. Another venue will be the main cinema space of the National Media Museum in Bradford. This is great because it is part of the BBC North footprint. Finally we will be in the BBC London Broadcasting House which is a great venue because was the first purpose built recording studio in the world.
Display Focus: I understand you will only have access to three Super Hi-Vision cameras. How will you create a dynamic experience for the viewers?
Tim Plyming: The experience is quite different from television in that these will be locked off shots with no loss of definition. With sports in Super Hi-Vision, you rip out a seat in the stadium, put a camera in and then you see everything in the same way as you would if you were sitting in that seat.
The great thing is your eyes can essentially do the editing. You are confronted with a wall of image with no loss of definition. If you want to watch the coaches or the warming up session you can watch that, or if you want to watch someone picking their nose in the stand on the other side you can do that as well. It is the same as if you went up to Arsenal – it is exactly the same experience.
Display Focus: Many people who have seen Super Hi-Vision have said it is better than 3D. Have you encountered similar feedback?
Tim Plyming: A lot of people come out saying it is more 3D than 3D. The definition around the side of the objects is so sharp that your brain feels as if it is looking at reality. It’s a much more natural experience in some ways to 3D – you are not aware that you aware watching an illusion and you are not wearing glasses.
Display Focus: What are the technical challenges behind this project?
Tim Plyming: 8K prototype projectors are being shipped over from Japan of which NHK and the BBC will operate together. There is something like eight of these projectors in the world so it is amazing that audiences in the UK will get to see three of them. There is going to be a Super Hi-Vision screen in Washington, USA but it won’t be open to the public. It will be shown to opinion formers in the US. One part of this story is the amazing picture quality and getting cameras into the Olympic venues, the other half is the transmission of the data both uncompressed to BBC TV centre and then compressed to the USA and to Japan using high bandwidth Internet for the first time since our test transmission.
Display Focus: What volumes of data are we talking about?
Tim Plyming: It is unimaginable to send this over the air in terms of contribution feeds. We will be sending it from the venues to Television Centre at 20 gigabits per second uncompressed. We will then do some channel management and compression at Television Centre. From there the signal will be sent to the public screens at just under a gigabyte per second. If we had not been offered the use of the JANET network, I am not sure we would be able to do this. It would be an unimaginable cost for us sending it round via satellite or cable.
Display Focus: What will you show in Super Hi-Vision and how will you manage the viewings?
Tim Plyming: From Monday July 23rd to the closing ceremony of Sunday August 12th we will be running a screening from midday to 18.00. These screenings will run on the hour in a similar way to the Super Hi-Vision screenings at IBC last year. Each session will feature 45 minutes of content. A number of those screenings will be a live shot from a venue but we will also gather highlight content from the day before to offer packaged highlights. We want people to know what it feels like to be at four of the Olympic venues.
We will be moving the cameras around. They are currently planned to be in the Olympic stadium, the Velodrome, the Aquatic Centre and the Basketball arena. We will also be moving the cameras outside of the Olympic venues. The whole of London is going to be dressed in Olympic dressing so we will aim to give people a sense of what London feels like too.
We are hoping to take the closing ceremony live. We are still looking at the detail for the opening ceremony but the closing ceremony will be an extraordinary music event and we hope to use more than one camera for that.
Display Focus: Will you be using the full 22.2 audio spec?
Tim Plyming: Yes and for all of it. There are hundreds and hundreds of microphone positions in every venue and the NHK engineers are looking into which ones will be used to bring the 22.2 sound together.
Display Focus: Will the BBC R&D My eDirector project be deployed as part of your coverage?
Tim Plyming: We have followed My eDirector – it is an amazing bit of technology. It some ways 2012 will be a big metadata Olympics. We are using metadata to create content particularly for our digital services to create content on the fly. My eDirector is a sort of version of metadata creation from the information that makes up the picture. We are not deploying it as a main part of what we are doing. We continue to monitor that project but it is not going to be front of project of what the BBC is doing right now. As we are not the host broadcasters, we will not be introducing a completely new piece of broadcast technology.
Display Focus: How will the emphasis on metadata improve the experience for the audience?
Tim Plyming: The goal of the BBC is to provide up to 24 live HD streams so the audiences can see different events on demand. We will accompany that with an unimaginable amount of metadata that frankly was only previously available to our commentary team. For the first time ever, we are releasing all of that content and putting all it into the experience for people with smartphones, tablets or through connected television.
Regarding the streams the one thing that we are can commit to do in put them in the IT environment for the first time. We have always known that in some ways, IT becomes a really broadcast critical path of what we are doing. We run out of channels fairly quickly and then start to rely on IT in a way that certainly wasn’t true of Beijing. This commitment will create the first ever truly digital Olympics.
Display Focus: What importance will you place on connected TV for your output?
Tim Plyming: We recognise a lot of people will be purchasing connected TVs. Some audiences will get connected TV without realising it so the challenge is getting people to connect their TVs. Connected TV and gaming devices will be a hugely important part of what we are doing. To take the kind of data we are putting onto the online experience into the connected TV environment and allow the audience to be able to navigate through all of those streams is very exciting when it comes to connected TV. We will see the launch of some really great services but connected TV will expand as a really big story for the Olympics. Connected TV is really important and is a real priority area for BBC thinking at the moment.
Display Focus: Does the BBC regard 4K as a stepping stone to Super Hi-Vision?
Tim Plyming: I don’t know what the formal BBC line is around 4K but I will tell you what I personally think. My feeling is that 4K will be a staging post through to 8K. Whether that is the domestic environment or the large screen environment is something I think we are yet to see. I think what will happen is as audiences see 4K and 8K they will demand it a lot sooner than some people are predicting. The 4K experience on a large screen is really exciting. That ability to bring people closer to the HD content is very exciting. It is one of those things that lots of different factors are going to determine.