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A Look at Television Past and Future

David Trzcinski

by David Trzcinski

Why do you own a television? As a consumer, why would you buy another?

While a transformational wave continues to sweep over the television industry, providing more flexible communication channels in combination with greater information capacity, we can leverage some recent history to get a possible glimpse into television's future. For a brief review, let's journey back roughly 20 years to recognize the impact of a "big swap."

It was not so long ago that we all had our single-standard (NTSC, PAL, or SECAM) purpose-built television receivers, originally CRT-based but later yielding to thinner flat-panel displays, enabling larger screens that could still fit through home doorways.

TIn the early 1970s, NHK began research on high-definition television, and by the mid-1970s an 1125/60 HDTV production standard had the potential to replace all three existing standards with a single standard worldwide. Further, as documented in the RAND report on "Development on High Definition Television," backed by the ATSC (Advanced Television Systems Committee), the U.S. Department of State urged at a 1986 CCIR (Consultative Committee on International Radio) meeting that the 1125/60 standard be adopted as a worldwide standard. However, opposition from European countries prevented the recommendation from being adopted. After the meeting, European countries expedited the "Eureka" program for the purpose of developing a competing European 1250/50 standard.

During this period, other applications such as home PCs and video games began attaching to and leveraging the home-TV screen. In the 1980s, computers drove display resolutions higher – greater than 1 Mpixel for graphics and greater than 72 dots-per-inch (dpi) for text. Similarly, silicon-based imagers for video and digital still cameras dropped in cost and enabled much higher resolution toward replacing film. This electronic-imaging evolution created both the opportunity and demand for a new end-to-end motion-imaging system to produce and distribute higher-resolution television.

In the telecommunication and computer industries, a transformation in networks was also occurring and was accelerated not only by technology advancements, but deregulation and breaking up of monopolies. Communication is all about bandwidth efficiency and seems obvious in retrospect, but a "big swap" from wired to wireless telephones and wireless to wired television was at a tipping point, since a video channel uses much more bandwidth than a voice channel and wired networks provide this greater bandwidth at a lower cost. At the Columbia Business School during a speech for a Columbia Institute for Tele-Information's (CITI) program in 2010, Reed Hundt (who headed the FCC from 1993 to 1997), said, "[We] decided in 1994 that the Internet should be the common medium in the U.S. and broadcast should not be."

In the early 1990s, Japan had shown the world its fully operational HD-MAC system, and Europe had followed by defining its HD system, with both parties extending analog systems designed for direct-satellite broadcast. The HD wave was coming and couldn't be stopped. Support for the 1125/60 system in the U.S. weakened since the European opposition made adoption on a single worldwide standard unlikely, continuing technology advances provided alternatives, and terrestrial broadcast, not satellite, was predominant nationally.

In the U.S., questions were being debated such as: Why do we need HD? How will Japanese and European standards impact the U.S. economy? What will the HD transformation cost? Why are we so behind Asia and Europe in HD? These questions indicated a sense of urgency and also outlined challenges that representatives from the computer, television, media production, and telecommunication industries needed to resolve. These entities were aided by academic labs and government agencies that were motivated by a goal of future global TV compatibility. It sounds like – "let's create world peace" – but, of course, economic competitive-ness was at stake. For their part, these industry leaders, including satellite, cable, and broadcast network executives, were facing the challenge of transforming their businesses to grow in the future without going out of business in the process.

After months of meetings during which these industry giants presented their often-competing traditional business models and argued passionately about their visions of the future, I recall a defining moment for the U.S. television industry when a colleague pronounced boldly, "I WANT MY DTV!" Next-generation television, as a progressive standard, is primarily about converting to an all-digital system, which then provides the mechanisms for compatibility with existing standards and the new higher-resolution 16:9 formats to nearer emulate and harmonize with cinema.

From this early group, a digital-image architecture was described by setting the conditions for image systems that are:

Open: The modules and interfaces forming the architecture are fully defined and in the public domain.
Interoperable: Images and related equipment may move freely across application and industry boundaries.

Such systems would be based on a hierarchy that is:

Scalable: Supports a wide range of image capabilities.
Extensible: Future proof to the extent possible.
Compatible: Supports existing television practices and standards when possible.

For further details, the reader is encouraged to refer to "Report of the Task Force on Digital Image Architecture," in the December 1992 SMPTE Journal.

For further details, the reader is encouraged to refer to "Report of the Task Force on Digital Image Architecture." in the December 1992 SMPTE Journal.

Future Viewing

Fast-forward 20 years to 2012 and a digital-image architecture is apparent, with HDTV now being positioned as "2K", and recent ITU standards describing "4K" and "8K" ultra-high-definition television, bringing us to this ID issue on television. This issue's cover depicts the relative steps in the evolving scalable, extensible, and compatible architecture with increasing information capacity. The borders on the cover depict the slightly larger 2048 (2K) Digital Cinema Initiative (DCI) and 4096 (4K) DCI specifications. The table associates central system parameters for the reader's comparison. (The "viewing distance in the picture diagonals" table column may come in handy for estimating display sizes while holiday shopping.)

Television Format reference ITU-R Rec., Horizontal & Vertical Spatial Resolution Pixels Mpixel Temporal Resolution in Hz Color Space Approx. Horizontal Field of View in Degrees Approx. Horizontal 'Acuity' in Pixels per Degree Approx. Viewing Distance in Picture Heights Approx. Viewing Distance in Picture Diagonals
SDTV NTSC BT.601 
704 x 480
0.34 29.97p
59.94i
xW= 0.3127
yW= 0.3290 (D65)
xR=0.63 
yR=0.34 
xG=0.31
yG=0.595 
xB=0.155 
yB=0.07 
SMPTE RP145
11 64 7 4.2
SDTV PAL
SECAM
BT.601 
704 x 576
0.41 25p
50i
xW= 0.3127
yW= 0.3290 (D65)
xR=0.64 
yR=0.33 
xG=0.29 
yG=0.60 
xB=0.15 
yB=0.06 
EBU Tech.3213
11 64 7 4.2
HDTV   BT.709 
1280 x 720
0.92 60p
59.94p
50p
30p
29.97p
25p
24p
23.976p
xW= 0.3127
yW= 0.3290 (D65)
xR=0.64
yR=0.33
xG=0.30
yG=0.60 
xB=0.15 
yB=0.06
20 64 5 2.5
HDTV 2K BT.709 
1920 x 1080
2.1 60p
59.94p
50p
30p
29.97p
25p
24p
23.976p
59.94i
50i
xW= 0.3127
yW= 0.3290 (D65)
xR=0.64
yR=0.33
xG=0.30
yG=0.60
xB=0.15
yB=0.06
30 64 3.3 1.6
UHDTV 4K
QFHD
BT.2020 
3840 x 2160
8.3 120p 
60p
59.94p
50p
30p
29.97p
25p
24p
23.976p
xW= 0.3127
yW= 0.3290 (D65)
xR=0.708
yR=0.292
xG=0.170
yG=0.797
xB=0.131 
yB=0.046
55 70 1.7 0.8
UHDTV 8K
SHV
BT.2020 
7680 x 4320
33 120p
60p
59.94p 
50p 
30p
29.97p
25p
24p
23.976p
xW= 0.3127
yW= 0.3290 (D65)
xR=0.708
yR=0.292
xG=0.170
yG=0.797
xB=0.131 
yB=0.046
100 77 0.75 0.4

Since 1995, NHK has persisted to lead the development of next-generation television beyond HDTV. NHK continues to be an important contributor to UHDTV standards and is currently developing television toward the year 2020. For this issue, Takayuki Yamashita and his colleagues describe some of the new ITU Rec. BT.2020 system parameters derived from human-factor studies to elevate a consumer's sensory experience of "being there."

Beyond UHDTV, what could the future bring … holographic television? V. Michael Bove of MIT's Media Lab provides an update in this issue on a next-gen holographic system as well as a new guided-wave modulator that strives to address consumer-television constraints, so we can all one day own a holo-TV.

In a Washington D.C. airport, fresh from one of the many 1991 Digital Image Architecture Task Force meetings, an MIT professor and I were sharing a plane back to Boston, recounting the day's events. After discussing digital-coding transforms and the robustness of the latest transmission methods for terrestrial broadcast, he asked me simply, "So what is going to replace my 13-in. color portable TV that I carry from room to room to watch a ball game?" Neither of us had the definitive answer. Today, the answer is clear. It is as portable as a magazine, wireless, has high-resolution color, and is battery powered. Recent market numbers point to the iPad introduction as driving the explosion in streaming television. Could it be that we consumers will experience HDTV and UHDTV Over-the-Top (OTT) broadband Internet first on a handheld display? When it comes to a television purchase this year, will a new 84-in. 4K UHDTV as covered in last month's ID magazine, or perhaps a smartphone or a tablet, be on your holiday list? It's a choice that would have been difficult to comprehend just a few years ago.

In any event, during the colder, darker winter months, television viewing is up, and this is traditionally a great time to find holiday deals. My sincere appreciation to the contributors of this special television issue who considered the marketing aspects of the television industry, including industry veterans Bob Raikes and Pete Putman. Raikes covers the IFA show and the European TV market, while Putman describes the outlook for the U.S. market. ID's own Jenny Donelan takes a look at the retail land-scape for consumers this holiday season. I hope you enjoy this collection of articles on television technology, which continues to converge with digital telecommunications and computing.•


David Trzcinski is president of Precision Consulting, based in Londonderry, NH. His company provides market development, product development, program delivery, and general management services focused on profitable client solutions for manufacturers of electronic imaging and telecommunications systems. Currently, David is a Senior Manager in Broadcast Engineering at Avid Technology, which creates the technology that people use to make the most listened to, most watched, and most loved media in the world. He is a member of SID, SMPTE, OSA and IEEE, and can be reached at davidtrzcinski@gmail.com.