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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


UIT/J.M. Ferré

  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 Europe."

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 programme exchange."

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.



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