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Hidden in the backwater of all the 3D hoopla at CES 2010 was the Panasonic 152" Viera Plasma 4K (4096 x 2160) display that has been showcased for the last couple of years. Arguably, the big Viera display was the most striking TV image at the show. There may have been other such Ultra High Definition TV (UHDTV) direct view displays at the LVCC complex this year, but I didn't see them. But NHD's idea of UHDTV promises to be even better!

From the start of serious HDTV research in the late 1970's, Japan's NHK has been "pushing the envelope" of ever increasing television picture resolution – not just related to displays, but on a system level – creation, transmission/distribution and display. Their early studies are essentially the foundation for our present day HDTV standards. Now NHK is moving their UHDTV system out of the labs to the field prototype level – and gaining increasingly world wide interest, having been demonstrated at several international technical venues over the past five years.

UHDTV (as defined by NHK et al) is essentially high definition high definition, i.e. it is to HDTV as HDTV is to SDTV. UHDTV is described as sixteen times the picture resolution as HDTV (4X vertical and 4X horizontal) for a total of 7680 X 4320 square pixels progressively displayed in a 16x9 aspect ratio at a 60Hz frame rate. The audio is specified up to 24 channels with a "theater" mix of front, rear, side and LFE feeds.

Now there is word from a consortium of UHDTV stakeholders of a unique UHDTV broadcast demonstration to be held in New York City sometime this coming fall. For one hour, four major network local affiliates will each simultaneously broadcast the same program material that will be produced in UHDTV. However, each of these stations will transmit only one-fourth of the picture resolution. At the program source, a special temporal "slicer and splitter" system will direct every fourth pixel stream to a separate broadcast facility for encoding and transmission. In this manner the existing broadcast infrastructure including MPEG2 encoding can be used with no changes. Thus the program will be fully compatible with existing ATSC HDTV receivers tuned to any one of the broadcast of cable channels carrying the program.

Each special UHDTV receiver used in the demonstration will have four separate tuners, each tuned to one of the respective transmitters (or cable channels or a combination of both). Special timing pulses generated by the source temporal splitter will enable the receivers' separate encoders to concatenate the individual decoded streams thus reproducing the full UHDTV display signal.

Other than to showcase UHDTV, this will be an interesting but academic exercise. Any deferential phase anomaly among or between separate transmission facilities will no doubt cause objectionable resolution change artifacts on the UHDTV displays. The total bandwidth devoured for the sake of compatibility is clearly unacceptable for any practical application. But the pictures should be breathtakingly beautiful! Suddenly it's 1984 again (or, perhaps, 1934).

Announcements are expected from the consortium regarding this unique UHDTV demo in special press releases on April 1. Stay tuned.


Posted by Ed Milbourn, March 29, 2010 8:38 AM

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About Ed Milbourn

After graduating from Purdue University with degrees in Electrical Engineering and Industrial Education in 1961 and 1963 respectively, Ed Milbourn joined the RCA Home Entertainment Division in 1963. During his thirty-eight year career with RCA (later GE and Thomson multimedia), Mr. Milbourn held the positions of Field Service Engineer, Manager of Technical Training and Manager of Sales Training. In 1987, he joined Thomson's Product Management group as Manager of Advanced Television Systems Planning, with responsibilities including Digital Television and High Definition Television Product Management. Mr. Milbourn retired from Thomson multimedia in December 2001, and is now a Consumer Electronics Industry consultant.