How much future proofing can broadcasters actually do when technology change continues apace, asks Will Strauss.

I was at ITV this week discussing HD. I spoke with several people about the broadcaster's plan to take some of its shows to HD (see Broadcast magazine for more).

We talked about all the usual stuff; resolution, data, changes to the production process, lenses, depth of field etc. We also talked about the importance of future proofing.

It must be unnerving for technology bosses at broadcasters and facilities. Clearly there is a need to adopt the latest or next high resolution format. But with technology change happening so quickly how do they know when to join the race?

Should they take the risk of being hares, grabbing all the technology right now? Or tortoises, waiting cautiously, doing things in their own time?

Driven by the consumer

With consumer demand for bigger and better screens in the home, and requirements for larger public displays and digital signage - in places such as airports or stations - there could be a thirst for this current high definition standard to become obsolete before it has even been adopted fully.

So, broadcasters have to be aware of any impending change - especially if it is driven by the consumer.

And, even though there is still no terrestrial HD in this country, already we can already read about the next generation of HD television: Super Hi-Vision. Japanese broadcaster NHK is behind it and it promises to deliver a resolution of 7680 x 4320 or roughly 16 times that of the current HD.

The BBC caught up with researchers at NHK for an update on Super Hi-Vision in January. The news wasn't all positive. Gerry Block on says:

  • Though progress on the actual technology is moving forward steadily, the practical application of the Super Hi-Vision resolution in the home may be limited. Researchers seem concerned that it takes a display of at least 60-inches to be able to see the benefits of the resolution, which is odd considering the same could be said for 1080p.

According to a story on, there may even be further downsides.

  • ”Masuru Kanazawa, a research engineer at NHK's Science and Technical Research Laboratory, told delegates at the BBC's Festival of Technology that the format might not be suitable for the average viewer. "It will depend on the viewing situation," he told delegates at the two-day conference. Watching fast-moving images at close quarters could "make people feel sick.”

Which doesn't sound ideal. And it's probably pie in the sky stuff.

But just because it doesn't seem plausible now, doesn't mean it won't happen.

Seven year itch

I can remember chairing a conference session on HD back in 2001 when the whole panel said they thought there would never be terrestrial HD (there might be), they all worried that costs would be too prohibitive (they aren't) and widespread adoption was unlikely (it is).

Seven years later broadcasters are clambering on board the HD gravy train.

But by the time that technology is bedded in - sometime during or after DTT switchover - the UK might be faced with another choice.

Apparently NHK hopes to ratify the Super Hi-Vision technology as a broadcast standard by 2015, with potential rollout estimated for 2025. Which might sound like ages away, but it's not. Not if the current move to HD is anything to go by.

Maybe those hares that set off early in search of HD might find that they are better placed to adopt an ever higher definition form of television. The tortoises - who were more cautious about HD and who are still slowly trying to catch up - might find themselves at the finishing line just as a new HD race begins.

But then again, HD was trialled in the 1960s and I still don't own an HD TV set so don't lose any sleep over it just yet.

Is Will talking cobblers? Or does he have a point? Have your say below.