The best thing I saw at IBC

I cannot show you the best thing I saw at the IBC show in Amsterdam last week, because you had to be there.

I am referring to the 15-minute Super Hi-Vision demos of 60P 8K images on a 25-foot screen by the NHK.

The screening was a moment of pure cinema.

When the lights went off, the first image shown was a live feed from a camera facing Amsterdam's Central Station, a couple of miles away. I could hear a collective gasp from the small audience. The wide-angle image was incredibly sharp, I have never seen anything quite like it. I could see individual faces in a crowd of hundreds of people. The quality greatly surpassed the similar screenings proposed by the NHK 2 years ago, which showed great resolution with little latitude.

We were then shown images of hundreds of marathon runners, a figure skater on the ice, and a short documentary of a fun Japanese ritual celebration involving men sliding down hills atop huge logs. Time and again, I marveled at the image sharpness.

Upon reflection, I realize that the sense of enduring wonder I felt came from an image whose resolution matched and indeed surpassed my own visual acuity. Once you cross that perceptual threshold, once the resolution of the screen is finer than that of your eye, you enter into a new world of the image. The ultra-real sensation was heightened by the 60 frame per second frame rate. I can say that I have seen the future of video.

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After the screening I met Kazuyuki Arai from the Program Engineering Division of NHK. He agreed to pose for a photo, giving a sense of the scale of the humongous Ikegami camera and behemoth Canon zoom used to create these wondrous images.

Arai next to SHV camera - (click for closer view)

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Kohji Mitani, a Senior Engineer and one of the system's inventors, was kind enough to give me an explanation of the camera sensor system, pulling out a folded piece of paper to show me the details.

Mitani's folded paper - (click for closer view)

A few key specs of Super Hi-Vision (or SHV):

  • Bayer pattern image geometry

    (twice as many Green pixels as Red and Blue)

  • 4 sensors: Red Green1 Green2 & Blue

    The second Green sensor increases apparent resolution because it's diagonally offset by half a pixel from the first. This approach also allows for bigger pixels, and hence more sensitivity. Ingenious.

  • 8.3 Million pixels per sensor
  • 7680 by 4320 pixels image

    which we could call 8K for short (with the usual provisos about pixel count)

  • 16x HD

    The SHV system has 16 times more resolution than HD TV

  • Designed for a 100 degree viewing angle

    The SHV system is aiming to be much more immersive than the 50 degree design of HDTV

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Monsieur Mitani went on to tell me that research on Super Hi-Vision started in 1995. Speaking with him and others, it appears that NHK is shooting for the following SHV deployment schedule:

- 2012 some coverage of the London Olympics

- 2015 some test broadcasts for Japanese television (with a compressed signal of about 60 Megabits/second).

- 2020 goal of regular broadcasts via satellite...

This truly inspiring glimpse of the future of the image was indeed the best thing I saw at IBC.

Domo Arigato NHK!

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