HDTV — 25 years since its introduction in Europe
This year marks a quarter-century since high-definition
television (HDTV) was first demonstrated in Europe, in 1982 at the General
Assembly of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) in Killarney, Ireland. The
anniversary was celebrated in Geneva on 16 October 2007 at the headquarters of
ITU — where the crucial standards that underpin HDTV were developed.
One of the most striking effects of the digitization of
broadcasting has been the appearance of HDTV. Because enormous amounts of data
can be sent to the television set, the picture it shows can reveal a level of
clarity and detail never before experienced in the home.
The idea of HDTV originated in fundamental work at the
research laboratories of Japan’s national broadcaster Nippon Hoso Kyokai (NHK).
Senior research engineer at NHK, Yukihiro Nishida, explained the background. In
1964, "NHK Science and Technical Research Laboratories began conducting research
into future television systems. This led to the concept of high-definition
television," he said. "It involved a new generation of electronic video media
that would inspire viewers with its realistic images and sound. This idea of
creating a maximum sense of reality for viewers was our goal."
ITU’s essential role
NHK also appreciated the importance of international
cooperation on developing HDTV. "We aimed to establish a unified worldwide HDTV
standard right from the start of our project. This is why, in 1972, Japan
proposed a new study programme on high definition television to CCIR
(International Radio Consultative Committee, the forerunner of ITU’s
Radiocommunication Sector, ITU–R). With the adoption of the new study programme
in 1974, CCIR began the HDTV study," explained Mr Nishida.
Only after the introduction of digital techniques and over
20 years of study, in 1998 it was possible to unanimously approve Recommendation
ITU–R BT.709 in its current version. It is recognized today as an outstanding
achievement of ITU: a single worldwide standard for HDTV production and
programme exchange, based on an image sampling structure of 1920x1080 pixels in
what has become known as the Common Image Format (CIF).
Professor Mark Krivocheev, Honorary Chairman of ITU–R Study
Group 6 (broadcasting services) and Former Chairman of Study Group 11
(television) outlined the work that led to this success. He said that ITU–R’s
work in HDTV represented "a truly global approach, with the necessary
harmonization, which provided the creation of the worldwide foundation for
HDTV’s introduction and development".
For today and tomorrow
BR Director Valery Timofeev holds the plaque
presented by BBC, CBS, NHK, EBU, IAB, DTV, Rede-Globo and Sony, "to the
Radiocommunication Sector of the International Telecommunication Union,
ITU–R (formerly CCIR), on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the
introduction of high-definition television in Europe, in grateful
recognition of the work of ITU–R in securing the unique worldwide
Recommendation ITU–R BT.709 for high-definition television production
and international programme exchange. This recommendation enabled the
growth and the success of high-definition television technology
throughout the world."
Valery Timofeev, Director of ITU’s Radiocommunication Bureau,
highlighted "the great achievement that ITU–R has been able to accomplish". He
added that although BT.709 is the key ITU–R Recommendation underpinning HDTV,
"we should note that many supporting recommendations and reports were
developed." He mentioned in particular Recommendation ITU–R BT.601, which became
the building block of digital television systems. It too is celebrating its 25th
anniversary this year, "and is still relevant today," Mr Timofeev said (see
article in ITU News of April 2007).
Lieven Vermaele, the Technical Director of EBU, told the
meeting that "Recommendation 709 (and its successors) is one of the most
important achievements of ITU," in which the EBU Technical Committee was proud
to have been involved. He explained how his colleague, David Wood, was entrusted
with the chairmanship of the ITU Working Party (11A) that took on "the thorny
issue" of HDTV. "You may know that the breakthrough came when David was able to
lead his Working Group to agreement on a meaningful HDTV recommendation at long
last, called Recommendation 709-3," with much help from Junji Kumada, his old
friend at NHK, said Mr Vermaele.
HDTV, he added, "is the shape of television to come". He said
that the first HDTV broadcast service in Switzerland begins in December 2007,
"joining over 30 HDTV channels now available from the satellites pointing at
Andy Quested, from the British Broadcasting Corporation
(BBC), agreed that high-definition broadcasting is growing very quickly. "By the
middle of next year there should be over 20 European countries with some sort of
HDTV service, and by 2010 it is predicted that Europe will have over 120 HD
channels," he said.
Mr Quested outlined issues concerning the delivery of HDTV to
the consumer. The BBC firmly believes that "HDTV should be available to all and
public service broadcasters should have some free-to-air high-definition,
without the need to be part of a subscription service," he said. That is the
model for the future. "Free HDTV is vital across Europe, and the rest of the
world for that matter."
Laying solid foundations for the future requires vision, said
Joseph A. Flaherty, Senior Vice President, Technology, at CBS Broadcasting Inc.
in the United States, who was present at the demonstration in Ireland 25 years
ago. HDTV has elevated broadcasting to an unprecedented level, and "the
inexorable march of television technology continues to benefit the people of the
world in further narrowing the digital divide with higher quality international
ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun I. Touré also noted the potential of the
"digital dividend" arising from the switchover from analogue systems. "Progress
towards digital broadcasting is a key factor in bridging the digital divide," he
said, since the technology provides the opportunity to deliver many information
and communication services.