Europe unites over UHDTV

The European broadcasting industry has reached agreement over technology and deployment of ultra HDTV (UHDTV) after a meeting in Geneva. Broadcasters, pay-TV operators and consumer electronics firms have decided to collaborate over a roadmap for UHDTV rollout under the banner of the Forum for Advanced Media in Europe (FAME) led by the EBU and the Digital Interoperability Forum (DIF), which is an equivalent body for pay-TV operators. Members of both groups as well as CE makers have agreed to share knowledge and experience within FAME, which previously did a similar job for HDTV.

“We have served Europe well in past years by helping to make HDTV successful, and we will hope to do the same for UHDTV now,” said Sheila Cassells, executive director of DIF and co-chair of FAME. Europe has been encouraged by the success of its HbbTV hybrid broadcast initiative and is hoping to repeat this for UHDTV and establish early leadership in the field. FAME hopes to build on earlier work by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) on the baseline technical parameters for UHDTV, enshrined in standard ITU-R BT.2020.

One objective is to avoid the situation that occurred in the early days of HD deployment in the mid noughties when a number of TV sets that were described as “HD-capable” subsequently turned out not to be compatible with HD services, or at any rate failed to deliver the expected high quality pictures. FAME has also emphasised that UHDTV must provide significant enhancements over HDTV.

This will involve not just delivering higher resolutions but also corresponding increases in frame rate and colour depth. If the resolution alone is increased, it will expose deficiencies in quality resulting from insufficient frame rate, in the case of fast-moving action, or colour depth when there is a lot of fine image detail. Just having more pixels will not be enough, insisted Stephan Heimbecher from DTH operator Sky Deutschland, who co-chaired the discussions on UHDTV in Geneva. “They will need to be ‘better and faster’ pixels,” said Heimbecher. “UHDTV must represent a step change in the viewing experience for it to be a success. It therefore has to include more than just a resolution increase. We need to consider higher frame rates, better colours and higher dynamic range, too.”

This will involve a compromise because increases in frame rate and colour depth will require yet more bandwidth, potentially eight or 10 times more than full HD at 1080p at 50fps.