NHK tries to up high-definition TV format ante

Kyodo

NHK might bring forward its schedule for conducting experimental broadcasts of a new ultra-high-definition TV standard to 2016, sources said Saturday.

The broadcaster is shooting to have a full-scale service under way before the 2020 Summer Olympics, which could be held in Tokyo. But commercialization hinges on clearing high technological hurdles, as well as securing commitments from other broadcasters to produce a broad range of programs in the new format.

The government is keen on advancing the schedule because a new superior indigenous technology could boost the prospects of Japan’s ailing electronics makers, which are rapidly losing ground to competitors from South Korea and other countries.

The Super Hi-Vision format under development by NHK produces vivid images of around 33 million pixels per frame — some 16 times higher than the existing HDTV standard — as well as better sound quality.

NHK, which is funded by viewership fees, is looking to start testing on channel BS17, the sources said.

This is a frequency band for satellite broadcasting used to serve areas where terrestrial broadcasts can’t reach. But the channel will no longer be used for this purpose by March 2015.

The Olympics are often used to trigger demand for new TV technology. NHK gave the public a glimpse of the new high-vision format during the London Summer Games. Tokyo is currently competing with Madrid and Istanbul to host the 2020 Olympics.

Key technological hurdles for testing the new standard include devising an efficient compression method for the massive volume of video and audio data that need to be transmitted, as well as developing recording systems capable of handling the programs.

Backing from commercial broadcasters is also deemed critical to supplying a wide selection of programs, but these companies are said to be cautious about upgrading because of the huge investment it would entail.

In South Korea, TV sets have been released for the new “4K” standard, which offers around four times the pixels in current HDTV images, and an initiative has been launched to test terrestrial broadcasts of the 4K standard.

Experts say harmonizing Super Hi-vision and 4K may pose potential problems both in devising new TV sets and producing programs.