Conference Papers

Museums and the Web: An International Conference
Los Angeles, CA, March 16 - 19, 1997

Junji Matsuzaki

Enhancement of the Museum Environment by HDTV

NHK Engineering Services, Inc.
1-10-3 Kinuta , Setagaya-ku
Tokyo 157, Japan
March 17, 1997
In recent years, many Japanese museums have been exploring the possibilities of improving a museum environment, using digital HDTV technology. Both the HDTV display and the digital image and data storage system which include 3D HDTV, provide today's museums with a face lift. By improving the museum environment with HDTV technology, the visitor is able to experience art in a new dimension.

1 HDTV Broadcasting Service

NHK, the Japan Broadcasting Corporation, and other broadcasters provide a satellite HDTV broadcasting service fourteen hours a day in Japan, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. There are about 350,000 households currently receiving broadcasts using an HDTV receiver and this figure is increasing by about 30,000 a month. HDTV programs can also be watched using a conventional NTSC TV set, which has a converter to change an HDTV signal to a standard NTSC one. There are about 400,000 receivers of this type in Japan.

The same technical standard has been adopted both in the U. S. and Japan for HDTV equipment such as cameras, VCRs and screens for program production. The price of HD equipment used to cost about five times as much as that of NTSC equipment. However, thanks to the recent development in HDTV broadcasting in Japan, HDTV equipment now costs only 20 to 30 % more than NTSC equipment. A new HDTV camera can be operated both in HDTV and NTSC modes.

2 HDTV Art Gallery

2.1 The Gifu Fine Arts Museum

The world's first HDTV art gallery was opened at the Gifu Museum of Fine Arts in 1989. At that museum, still HDTV pictures of all the paintings were taken using an HDTV scanner, and then stored as a high definition data base in an HD disc system. This HD gallery system was designed and implemented by NHK Engineering Services, Inc. (NHK-ES).

The main benefits of an HDTV system are that it provides a high resolution picture, wide aspect ratio of the screen, high fidelity color quality and high fidelity audio. These features are essential in presenting fine arts electronically. A conventional TV picture has 525 scanning lines and 400,000 pixels. This is not good enough to present the details and convey a true-to-life representation of the art. On the other hand, an HDTV picture has 1,125 scanning lines and two million pixels, and this is sufficient to present even the most intricate details of the works, thereby permitting visitors to appreciate the art more fully. The HD system is also a good means to display text. Because, even very detailed images, such as large amounts of written information retain their visibility when viewed on!! an HDTV screen. In the Gifu Fine Arts Museum, a database of the museum collection was made with HDTV digital technology. Visitors and curators can access the data stored in the HD gallery system.

The HDTV gallery in the Gifu Fine Arts Museum is the first electronic art gallery. It is not possible to truly experience fine arts by conventional NTSC pictures. The HDTV gallery gives the visitors a new emotional experience. The visitors to the Gifu Museum almost doubled in the year the HD gallery was installed compared to the previous year.

The Gifu Fine Arts Museum and NHK-ES made an HDTV gallery exhibit at the Canberra Art Museum in Australia, from December 1996 to February 1997. There, masterpieces of the Gifu Museum collection such as the paintings of Odilon Redon were shown on a large screen.

2.2 The guideline for the HD still picture gallery

After the success in Gifu, many other museums and art galleries followed suit and began to introduce an HDTV gallery system. So far, about 150 facilities have installed an HD gallery system.

In order to make a success of implementing an HD gallery system, the acquisition of ample HD programs is essential. Baring this in mind, a guideline for program production has been determined so that museums are able to exchange HD programs with each other.

The guideline was decided as follows:

Firstly, although the current system uses both MO and CD-ROM as storage media, a new medium may become available in the future. The guideline tries to define certain conditions so as to assure the compatibility between the different storage media.

Secondly, the guideline specifies that the JPEG algorithm be used for image compression so as to minimize playback time while increasing the number of pictures that can be stored on a disc.

Thirdly, the guideline takes into account the need for a wide variety of program designs and specifies the screen effects and playback control commands.

In this still picture presentation system, a disc with a diameter of twelve centimeters is capable of recording 2,000 pictures at HD quality of 1,920 by 1080 pixels.

Now museums find it far easier than ever before to exchange HD gallery programs among themselves. This makes it possible for museums to put on exhibit with a variety of art objects.

3 HD Interactive Applications

HDTV facilities cannot attract people only by picture quality alone. People watch programs and contents, not picture quality. To maximize the number of visitors and have as many return visitors as possible is one of the important requirements for the museum operation.

3.1 The HD Interactive System at the Saga City Library

The HD Interactive system designed by NHK-ES, which was introduced in the Saga City Library in Japan in August 1996, attracted more than 40,000 participants in eight months. The population of Saga city is about 170,000 and the number of children in the elementary schools is about 20,000.

The HD interactive system is used to present a kind of quiz program with a large screen HD display and 40 PCs in front of each seat in a room of the library. The quizzes are presented using HDTV pictures which were filmed in the Fukuoka City Zoo. The participants answer the questions in the quizzes on their PCs. The program starts every 30 minutes, and following its opening, children waited in line to participate in the program during their school summer holidays. Half a year has passed, and still most seats are full for weekends, and children often have to wait for the next show.

There are two reasons for the success of this HD interactive system. One is that the content of the program shown to the participants is different each time. There are 120 questions in total, and eight questions are chosen by a computer for one show. The sequence of the questions is carefully designed so that the participants, regardless of their age, are satisfied with the story of the program. As there are about 300,000 possible different sequences of the story from only 120 independent questions, even frequent visitors are satisfied with the questions and stories they have not seen before.

The second reason that the system has gained a number of frequent visitors is that there is an element of challenge. Each visitor is provided with a card, with which they can accumulate points when they hit the right answer. Many children have been motivated to participate dozens of times in order to get as high a score as possible. This achieves the twofold aim of both simultaneously educating and entertaining them.

Saga city does not have a zoo and this was the main reason the City wanted to have an HDTV Zoo for children. Now the Saga City Library is planni ng to take children who have gained a high score to the Fukuoka Zoo.

3.2 Real time view of the stars in a remote area

At the Kitanomaru Science and Technology Museum in Tokyo, an HDTV theater with a 200-inch screen demonstrates a real time telescope view from the Hands on Universe Foundation Observatory in California. Thanks to the time difference, visitors on Saturday afternoon can enjoy the actual view of the night stars in California. The telescope is manipulated remotely from the museum in Tokyo. The picture is sent over the Internet. The theater is equipped with an Onyx computer and a scientist from a famous institution gives a talk and demonstration such as a real time simulation of the collision of galaxies. The collision conditions are decided by a visitor. The system was designed by NHK-ES.

3.3 3D Art Appreciation System

NHK Science & Technical Research Laboratories have developed a three dimensional HD interactive system. In this system, HD pictures are taken in every direction around an object with an angle of 0.2 degrees between each shot. People can see any part of a piece of precious fine art such as pottery by rotating a control ball, either horizontally or vertically with their hands. They can appreciate 3D HD images on a screen as if they were handling a real object.

4 Data base and the Internet

t the Tokyo National Museum, 200,000 pictures are converted to digital data. From a picture film, four types of digital data are stored; 500 by 625 (about 300,000 pixels), 1,000 by 1,250 (about 1.2 million pixels), 2,000 by 2,500 (5 million pixels) and 4,000 by 5,000 (20 million pixels). Each picture has both non compressed data and compressed JPEG data. Some of the 500 by 625 and 1,000 by 1,250 pixel data are accessible over the Internet.

At the University of Tokyo, a digital data base is being constructed for the six million objects which the University has for the purpose of research. This was demonstrated at the Digital Museum Exhibition in February 1997, in Tokyo. The concept of this digital data base project is to make an open museum. In open museums data is available over networks. People can access information and data from anyplace and at any time. Also, the Digital Museum is planning to provide multi-lingual information.

A CD-ROM about this digital museum is available. This disc provides information concerning various objects in the University's collection and additional information can be obtained over the Internet through a link to the University from the disc.

It should be noted that in this digital museum project all the letters and characters that exist and have existed in history are coded. The total number of characters are about 60,000. By doing so, historical documents written in languages whose spoken form has already disappeared are preserved for posterity.

5 Conclusion

HDTV technology will be the leading medium in the 21st century. Technology is progressing rapidly. In the U.S., digital HDTV terrestrial broadcasting is planned. This assures that the mainstream of the future video technology will be HDTV.

When implementing an HDTV system in museums to enhance the environment, it is very important to have a clear purpose for its introduction. If you introduce an HDTV system just for the reason that it is HDTV, the system may fail in a short period of time. The system has to be designed to make full use of HDTV's features. A constant supply of interesting and up-to-date program is essential.

At this moment, HDTV pictures cannot be sent over the Internet. However, the demand for a higher picture quality is strong. And progress in compression technology and the development of network infrastructure will make it possible to employ an HD quality image data base for a broad range of applications. It is important to implement an HD quality data base from the beginning, especially in acquiring image data for more than several thousands of objects. One curator said that he would never need to take pictures of a huge number of items again. Making a data base is extremely laborious and time consuming.

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Last modified: February 28, 1997
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