The televised future is definitely digital — and smart. At least, this is the conclusion you could draw from the works-in-progress unveiled by Japan’s public broadcaster, Nippon Hoso Kyokai (NHK), when it recently opened its research and development (R&D) center to the public.
Since the annual event was held last year, NHK and Japan’s major commercial broadcasters have begun high-definition digital terrestrial television in Tokyo and two other cities. Together with digital HDTV satellite broadcasting, launched in 2000, the switch to digital for Japan’s television industry is now well underway and many of the technologies demonstrated by NHK Science and Technical Research Laboratories are pushing the idea of anytime, anywhere access to digital broadcasting.
Inside the home, the ‘anytime’ concept is anchored around a technology that NHK calls Integrated Services Television. The system ties together digital terrestrial and satellite broadcasting with hard-disk drive-based home servers and on-demand content available across broadband connections. In this future scenario, viewers will be able to enjoy either live or recorded programming, the latter from servers in the home or at the broadcaster.
The ‘anywhere’ part of the concept was demonstrated with a cell phone capable of receiving digital terrestrial television. This was the first time a telephone compatible with digital broadcasts was demonstrated in Japan.
A key part of NHK’s future plans is the addition of metadata to video content that will allow viewers not only to call up missed programs but also specify only those parts in which they are interested. For example, a viewer could watch a baseball game but choose to see only the home runs, scan through a week’s news for only political items or watch a drama but only the scenes with a favourite actor or actress. NHK, which is working on adding MPEG7 XML metadata to video programs, demonstrated three technologies capable of inserting metadata at real time into broadcasts. The demonstration used a baseball game.
A voice recognition system analysed and transcribed the commentary. A second facial recognition system scanned the broadcast pictures and identified when one of four baseball players was shown on-screen, while a scene recognition system tried to determine what plays were taking place in the game by looking at the sequence of camera shots.
Engineers have been working for several years on a successor to today’s high-definition television that offers about 16 times the resolution of current broadcasts. The system, called Super Hi-Vision, offers a 16:9 aspect ratio picture with 4320 horizontal lines or roughly 4 times the number of lines and 16 times the resolution of current high-definition television. It also has a 22.2 channel audio system.
If such broadcasts are to be enjoyed in the home, new televisions will certainly be required. On that front, NHK is already researching tech- nologies that go beyond current liquid crystal display (LCD) and plasma display panel (PDP) screens. These new technologies include a Field Emission Display (FED) and flexible LCD panels that are less than a millimetre thick.
Televisions of the future might also be watching you.
NHK Engineers had developed a system that did away with the remote control by monitoring the movement of a users’ eyes combined with on-screen selections and prompts, senior research engineer at NHK, Kenichi Aoshima, said. Whether the systems and technologies under development become a part of broadcasting is yet to be seen. However, NHK’s R&D labs have been instrumental in the development of technologies now being used around the world.