Beyond HD

One of the things that I haven't mentioned yet here (or anywhere else) is that I work for the BBC's science and technology R&D department, BBC Research. Up until recently I didn't have a reason to, because the project I was working on was unlikely to be of interest to a wider audience. Recently I moved to the "Beyond HD" project though, which I think is tremendously exciting: a once-per-generation opportunity to take a step back and ask "OK, what's next?"

The rationale behind the project is simple: technology-wise, HD is a done deal. OK, so there are still plenty of questions to be answered about how people actually watch HD media - the extent to which HDTV will be available on terrestrial television is currently a very political matter, for example, and the HD-DVD vs Blu-ray war is still raging. But the fundamental parameters of the technology itself, the resolutions, frame rates, scanning formats, colourimetry etc, have been thoroughly standardised.

In ten or twenty years time though, I think that HD will be starting to show its age. People will start to get dissatisfied with it. (Some people are yet to be satisfied by "HD" televisions today, but that's another story...) Technology will have moved on, and the quality of the experience people have when they "watch television" could be much higher in consequence. How the quality should be improved is the main thing we're looking at. Hollywood is undergoing something of a renaissance in "3D" filmmaking at the moment - if that takes off in a big way, perhaps people will want to be able to watch 3D television in their homes. If TV screens continue to grow, perhaps the resolution of TV will need to increase. If you increase the resolution, you need to increase the frame rate too if you want to stop moving objects from blurring or juddering. Is wide-screen TV the right width? Would it be better if it had the same aspect ratio as most films do? And what about haptics, smellovision, and a huge range of other wacky, leftfield possibilities?

Obviously some things are going to be higher priorities for research than others, but the great (and hardest) thing about starting a blue-sky research project is that you have to consider all the possibilities, at least briefly. It's going to be very interesting, and I hope to find the time to write about it here.

(As a sidenote, I expect that the concept of "watching TV" will be a very diffuse one in a decade or so: people will want "content" to be available to them in whatever format suits them at the time they want to enjoy it. We're starting to see that now, with audio and video podcasts, mobile TV, Internet video-on-demand services, the Slingbox, and so forth. But lots of other people, including some of my colleagues at the BBC, are working on that. I'm assuming that in a decade or so people will still want to crash on the sofa and veg out in front of a screen, or get their friends or family together and watch something fun/informative/important. The question which we're trying to answer is, how will advances in technology let us make that experience better?)

  • Posted: 13/03/07 11:33PM
  • Category: BBC

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