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Loud and clear: pubcaster's huge investment in high-def technology puts it ahead of the global curve.

TOKYO

As NHK turns 80, it continues to expand its digital horizons, both in broadcast and production. As far back as 1964, when it began developing its proprietary "Hi-Vision" format, the company has been on the worldwide forefront of high-definition broadcasting--especially the terrestrial kind.

In 2000, Nippon Hoso Kyokai (NHK, or Japan Broadcasting Corp. as it translates in English) became the first Japanese-owned company to broadcast in high-def when it began programming digital content on its satellite channels. And it's led the world in digital terrestrial broadcasts, starting these at the end of 2003.

This quick draw hasn't come without costs. NHK has spent 13 billion yen ($115 million) since 2001 transitioning its terrestrial channels to digital, and another $115 million since 1998 digitizing its satellite platforms.

This doesn't include the hundreds of millions NHK has poured into developing its high definition formats, Hi-Vision and Super Hi-Vision, over the last 40 years.

This expensive drive to digitize is as much NHK's zest for ones and zeroes as it is legal necessity. The Japanese government has passed a law requiring all broadcasting in Japan to be digital by the year 2011.

Thus, NHK is preparing to fully convert its broadcasting, both terrestrial and satellite, to Hi-Vision.

The 2011 date should be easily attainable. NHK now produces and simulcasts a whopping 96% of the content on its terrestrial-based General TV channel in Hi-Vision; the figure is 42% for its terrestrial Educational TV.

Meanwhile, focusing on production of content in the Hi-Vision format--particularly its docus--has made NHK programming a more valuable commodity on the world market.

"As our policy, we produce all our co-productions in HD," says Fumino Narashima, NHK's head of international co-prods. "NHK has a duty to serve its domestic audience with excellence both in program content and picture quality. And HD is the best available TV format so far."

"The fact that NHK pioneered HDTV production has greatly contributed in establishing a unique position for NHK in the global marketplace," adds Yukihiko Amagi, executive director of Media Intl. Corp. (MICO), the independent organization which handles all NHK's sales and acquisitions. "NHK and MICO have licensed a great amount of HDTV programs to HD channels in the U.S., South Korea and China."

At home, NHK has helped establish 5.78 million digital terrestrial TV receivers as well as 10.13 million digital satellite tuners in Japanese homes.

While it's not funded by the government, NHK's complex role as a public broadcaster seems to entail some congruency with the government's agenda --that is to develop a complete digital broadcast system.

NHK terrestrial digital broadcasting standard offers a considerable range of services.

In addition to stunning images, it provides data broadcasting--on-screen information such as program notes, weather, news and current events that can be easily viewed or hidden. This sophisticated platform brightly outshines the current U.S technology and goes as far as to offer interactive games, real-time information on events in progress, and up-to-the-minute exchange rates.

Other terrestrial services include multi-programming, which lets viewers choose from several shows being broadcast simultaneously on one channel. Specialized content for differently-abled people is also planned for the near future.

In addition to developing these new services, NHK is working to build awareness for the emerging broadcast system with various forms of public demonstration. These expositions usually employ a spectacular 300-inch screen and often draw more than 1,000 viewers.

"It's often the first time for many to see Hi-Vision, and people are surprised at the quality as well as the data broadcasting features," says Koji Hara, associate director of NHK's satellite broadcast department.

Meanwhile, Japan's mountainous terrain poses a whole set of other challenges to converting channels from analog to digital.

"Now we're considering the best way to get digital terrestrial coverage to remote places," Hara says. "Some outside of NHK have suggested fiber optic cable may have to be incorporated to make sure the whole country is covered by 2011."

On the crest of culminating a 40-year march towards ubiquitous high-def broadcasting and production, NHK is already involved in creation of the next big thing--Super Hi-Vision.

Aimed to be a broadcast, production exhibition standard, Super Hi-Vision's 7,680-x-4,320 pixel resolution has been under development since 1995 and is planned to be put into use in 2025.

The resolution of the format is 16 times that of present HDTV systems and more than twice that of 70mm film.

"When you think of the future of broadcast media, the Super Hi-Vision system is definitely one of the most important projects for NHK," says senior NHK engineer Fumiyasu Suginoshita.
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Title Annotation:NHK at 80
Author:Schwartz, Rob
Publication:Variety
Geographic Code:9JAPA
Date:Oct 10, 2005
Words:764
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