The Numbers GameEurope weighs merits of high-def formats 9/19/2004 08:00:00 PM Eastern
The European Broadcast Union (EBU) sent mixed signals last week during
IBC 2004, when it released findings calling for European broadcasters to get
behind one HDTV standard: 720-line progressive at 50 frames per second
(720p/50). The problem: There isn't a lot of 720p equipment around, says Peter
MacAvock, executive director of the DVB (Digital Video Broadcast) office.
The report was submitted to the DVB as a recommendation, but sparks flew
when fans of the 1080i format (and sellers of 1080i equipment) worried that the
EBU's report was the final word on the matter. (Ironically, EBU had canvassed
vendors at the show prior to the announcement to ensure 720 support.)
As a result, Phil Laven, director of the EBU's technical department,
publicly stated at IBC that the EBU had not endorsed the report, despite tests
showing that viewers favored 720.
The goal of the tests was to see if viewers noticed any significant
difference between 720-line progressive or 1080-line interlace. Watching on 36-
to 50-inch TV sets, viewers deemed the 720p format the best choice for these
sizes. It offered greater bandwidth efficiency, and the extra resolution of
1080i wasn't required, since the sets weren't large enough to need the
The monitors were all 720p native. Even if the signal was 1080i, it
would be converted to 720p for viewing. "We realize the natural preference for
progressive displays," says Laven, "and we'll be making more detailed
Says BBC Director of Technology Peter Weitzel, "You really can't tell
the difference unless the screen is larger than 50 inches."
One of Laven's colleagues, Sony's John Ive, made it clear where Sony
stands. "720p will be a detour, not a migration," he said, citing the
International Telecommunications Union's (ITU) endorsement of 1080i as the
industry's common image format. Japanese broadcasters have selected 1080i as
For Tim Shepard, Tanberg director of strategic development, the 720p
displays make that format the logical choice: "1080i isn't needed in that
case." Thomson Grass Valley will need to develop more products to accommodate
720p/50, according to Jeff Rosica, vice president of strategic marketing and
technology, but the French-based manufacturer believes the decision is a good
one. "We'll be looking to integrate 720p/50 across our product line as quickly
as possible," he adds.
There is another option emerging, though a currently unrealistic one:
1080-line progressive. The processing power required for 1080p is too intense
for encoders and decoders, Shepard notes. Also, most manufacturers haven't
spent R&D dollars working on 1080p gear unless it's acquisition gear for
shooting major films on video at 1080p/24 frames per second.
One manufacturer, Panasonic, says it will have 1080p HD gear for its P2
format by 2008. Says DVB's MacAvock: "1080p is great, but it's overkill for a
set under 50-inches."