How Ultra-high Definition Works

By: Jessika Toothman

Ultra-high Definition Equipment

Now that we know more about what the ultra-high definition format may be able to deliver, let's take a closer look at how it could be produced. Remember that a massive number of pixels (4,000 horizontal scanning lines worth) are crammed onto a UHDTV screen, and those pixels are refreshed at a breakneck pace of 60 times per second.

That enormous volume of data requires precision handling, so a big part of the UHDTV research and development is focused on making the signals a practical size for broadcasting purposes. NHK researchers are developing ways to successfully compress the signals before transmission, creating equipment with abilities beyond what's necessary to handle typical high definition signals.


As the UHDTV technology progresses, the manner in which developers accomplish aspects such as signal recording, manipulation, transmission, projection and storage is also likely to evolve. But, here's a basic breakdown of how the current system works: An 8K video camera, with the ability to handle 8,000 x 4,000 pixels, records the scene using a 4-pickup system -- four imagers, each equipped with a prism to separate the optical signal, gather either the red, blue or one of the two green segments.

In the animation above, we get a better look at what happens next. The image data is converted into HD-SDI format and divided into 16 separate channels, each the size of a regular HD signal. HD-SDI stands for high definition serial digital interface, and it's a standard format for transmitting data into short-distance electrical signals. HD-SDI is useful in this situation because it allows the quick transmission of large amounts of uncompressed video signals between different components of the ultra-high definition system. By using it, the engineers designing the system are also helping ensure UHDTV systems remain compatible with current HDTV systems.

Next, the 16 channels are encoded and compressed, combining them for optical transmission and broadcast. Again, developers are looking to maintain compatibility by utilizing the MPEG-2 coding format that's popular for HDTV. Once the signals reach their destination, they are decoded, uncompressed and separated back into 16 channels as the process reverses itself.

The image, returned to HD-SDI format, travels along another 16 cables to where it'll be combined further and projected onto a screen. Any fluctuation or instability caused by syncing problems between the reunited channels of information or the four color segments of the projection can be triggers for motion sickness. Great care is taken to match the data streams and projected images to a tee. A number of other techniques and actions are performed for sharpening, filtering, processing and correcting the image in order to improve its resolution.

Want to own one of these high-tech wonders? While you're waiting for an ultra-high definition TV to arrive at an electronics store near you -- a long wait, to be sure -- read the links below for more information.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links


  • "A 4K Primer." DALSA. (6/19/2008)
  • "Codec." 7/20/2005. (6/20/2008),,sid7_gci211810,00.html
  • "Everything looks better when you start in 4K." DALSA. (6/17/2008)
  • "Digital Television." 8/30/2001. (6/18/2008),,sid183_ gci213899,00.html
  • Hamasaki, Kimio. et al. "22.2 Multichannel Sound System for Ultra High-Definition TV." NHK's Science and Technical Research Laboratories (Japan Broadcasting Corporation). 10/2007. (6/14/2008)
  • "HDTV." 8/30/2001. (6/18/2008),,sid183_gci213996,00.html
  • Heingartner, Douglas. "Just Like High-Definition TV, but With Higher Definition." New York Times. 6/3/2004. (6/16/2008) ex=1401595200&en=935183cee9a4bd49&ei=5007
  • "Interlaced Display." 9/21/2005. (6/19/2008),,sid9_gci212365,00.html
  • "Mbps." 8/7/2006. (6/18/2008),,sid7_gci212534,00.html
  • Nakasu, E. et al. "Technical Development towards implementation of extremely high resolution imagery system with more than 4000 scanning lines." NHK's Science and Technical Research Laboratories (Japan Broadcasting Corporation). 2006. (6/17/2008)
  • Nakayama, Y. et al. "Live Production and Transmission of Large-Scale Musical TV Program using 22.2 Multichannel Sound with Ultra High Definition Video." NHK's Science and Technical Research Laboratories (Japan Broadcasting Corporation). 2007. (6/17/2008)
  • "Pixel." 8/14/2002. (6/19/2008),,sid183_gci212793,00.html
  • "Serial Digital Interface." 1/9/2005. (6/20/2008),,sid7_gci1041262,00.html
  • Shimamoto, Hiroshi, et al. "An Ultrahigh-Definition Color Video Camera With 1.25-inch Optics and 8k x 4k Pixels." NHK's Science and Technical Research Laboratories (Japan Broadcasting Corporation). 10/2004. (6/17/2008)
  • Sugawara, Masayuki. "Research on Human Factors in Ultra-high-definition Television to determine its Specifications." NHK's Science and Technical Research Laboratories (Japan Broadcasting Corporation). October 2007. (6/17/2008)
  • "Super Hi-Vision Becomes a Permanent Exhibit at the Kyushu National Museum." NHK's Science and Technical Research Laboratories (Japan Broadcasting Corporation). Winter 2006. (6/20/2008)
  • "Ultrahigh Definition TV." NHK's Science and Technical Research Laboratories (Japan Broadcasting Corporation). (6/17/2008)
  • "UHDV." 9/21/2005. (6/18/2008),,sid9_gci932318,00.html
  • Williams, Martyn. "Researchers Craft HDTV's Successor." PC World. 5/28/2007. (6/16/2008),132289-pg,1/article.html