LONDON (Reuters) – A lucky few Britons are getting a chance to watch Olympic broadcasts of unprecedented quality showcasing a technology that its creators are hailing “the future of television.”
Japan’s public broadcaster NHK is using London 2012 to test “Super Hi-Vision” TV, which offers images 16 times the resolution of existing HDTV, in a partnership with the BBC and the Games’ own Olympic Broadcast Service.
The sceptics may think the claims are hyperbole but broadcasters have often used the Games to pioneer developments that seemed ambitious but soon became commonplace in households around the globe.
The BBC is showing Olympic action in “Super Hi-Vision” to audiences in theatres in London and two other British cities, while screenings are also planned in the U.S. capital Washington and the Japanese cities of Tokyo and Fukushima during the Games.
“We are in the middle of broadcasting history,” said Matthew Postgate, head of RD at the BBC.
Its backers say the technology is as close to being at the event as it has been able to achieve so far, allowing viewers “immersion” in the event.
That term was particularly apt at a showing on Monday night of swimming finals alongside highlights from the opening ceremony at the BBC’s Broadcasting House in central London.
The clarity of the images and the sound quality gave an additional poignancy to director Danny Boyle’s spectacular show and captured the drama of American teenager Missy Franklin’s backstroke gold medal which was shown live.
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Fans at the Olympic Park in east London will also be able to experience the technology on a mammoth 145 inch screen installed by Japan’s Panasonic, a Games sponsor.
It is a far cry from 1948 when London last hosted the Games and the BBC became the first broadcaster to beam pictures direct to homes.
Colour television was the innovation when Tokyo staged the Games in 1964 and pictures were relayed to the United States by satellite for the first time that same year.
Fast forward 20 years and NHK was experimenting at the Los Angeles Games with HDTV, now becoming more and more popular with ordinary viewers.
NHK has sent a crew of 60 and the world’s only three Super Hi-Vision cameras to London. There they will work with 40 RD engineers from the BBC, said Tim Plyming, who is heading the project for the publically-funded British broadcaster.
He readily admits that it will take several years to commercialise a technology at present best suited to large auditorium-style screens.
“People are getting a rare glimpse of an RD project in action,” he said.
However, Plyming believes it will catch on more quickly than HDTV did. This summer’s pioneering work should prove a catalyst for its development, he argues, adding that media executives who are in London for the Games will like what they see.
“It will happen faster in Japan,” he said. “In 10 years’ you could see the beginnings of a service there.”
In the meantime, he said it could also be developed for big screen broadcasts from pop festivals or to show sports events like English Premier League football games to fans gathered in cities on the other side of the globe.
Plyming speaks about the technology with an infectious enthusiasm and is convinced it will be part of London’s much vaunted legacy.
“When the history of broadcast innovation is written, I wanted it to be London that used it first,” he said.