In many ways IBC2013 was a quiet show. Yes it boasted record visitor numbers, but few things happened out in Amsterdam that hadn’t been predicted beforehand: namely HEVC-powered 4K is on the horizon, the second screen is increasingly important to broadcasters’ plans, and higher frame-rate imaging is moving closer and closer to mainstream acceptance. Andy Stout looks back on five days in Amsterdam
4K: on the cusp?
On the showfloor and in the Conference that supports the event, 4K dominated proceedings. This year’s IBC was when it finally moved from an ‘if’ proposition to a ‘when’ one in the minds of everyone, not just the format’s proponents.
“Our co-production partners insist on 4K,” said Mark Harrison, controller of production at BBC North. “One just senses a momentum towards 4K that I also felt when HDTV was emerging, and I have to say I did not feel towards 3D. Today’s 4K enthusiasm is running ahead of our capability to broadcast it.”
The show floor was packed with new 4K products and upgrades of existing kit at all stages in the production chain, all designed to close that gap between enthusiasm and capability. The format is starting to make its presence felt in all the niche areas that will help build a complete workflow too, such as the ultra slo-mo units and video servers that the all-important sport production workflows require. And in the conference all that manufacturing effort was definitely supported by the will to establish HEVC-encoded 4K services into the home as soon as is technically feasible. HEVC was looking up to the task too, all the more impressive given that we’re only in the first or second generation iterations of the codec.
So, when will large-scale broadcasts begin? Well, possibly not as quickly as hoped; nobody denies that 4K will be used (indeed, is being used) for drama and documentary shooting, but live production is going to remain a challenge for a few years yet to come. FIFA and Sony revealed that next year’s World Cup Final from Rio (and maybe other matches) would be broadcast in 4K, and there will be broadcasts next year from the Winter Olympics in Sochi in the format too, albeit only to cinema audiences and public viewing areas. The feeling coming out of the Conference was that the World Cup may be too early for anything more than limited transmissions of the Final into cinemas too, and that the Rio Olympics in 2016 is possibly the real target to shoot for with regards to any 4K broadcasts into the home.
However, talking to some of the people high up and off the record, there are even still debates whether the base line spec for the 2018 World Cup will be moving as far forward as to 1080p. Which makes Sony and others stating that they are actively working on solutions for a domestic 8K Super Hi-Vision broadcast of the Tokyo 2020 games perhaps seem optimistic.
Companion screens multiply
There is plenty of innovation on the cards though. HBS chief executive Francis Tellier told IBC delegates about some of the multimedia packages it was preparing for the World Cup. “For the first time football fans will be able to choose their perspectives,” he said. “There will also be a set of video clips and different angles available as well as an interactive camera plan that allows viewers to switch between an Ultramotion and a Steadicam.” This sort of technology isn’t new – in Europe, several broadcasters have pioneered such services – but they have so far been limited to pay-TV providers like BSkyB. Rolling them out to all and sundry is a big step. According to the Cisco Video Networking Index, by 2017 some two-thirds of all internet traffic will be video and there will be as many as 1.9 billion machine-to-machine connected devices. All of which is going to put one hell of a strain on things. And, when you learn that broadband in India, for instance, is defined as anything over 256k, you get the sense of how lumpy the global picture truly is.
Looking to the future
With the products on the showfloor being a case of evolution not revolution (ARRI’s documentary-style Amira camcorder was probably the talk of the show, while Avid had an intriguing modular control surface on display for its audio line) it was up to the Future Zone to really push the boundaries.
It’s already looking like the 4K future is going to have to be lived at 60fps (sport demands it, but it’s certainly going to stretch HEVC) but according to goHDR it should be lived at 20 f-stops as well. Whether High Dynamic Range imaging will truly “bring a revolution in imaging equivalent in impact to the change from black and white to colour” as it claims is debatable, but there’s no denying that the results are impressive.
Spun out of Warwick University’s Digital Technology department, goHDR aims to capture footage at 20 f-stops and 30fps. Rather than the currently popular technique of tone-mapping, which merges a series of single exposures into a single image, it uses a patented approach which compresses the light and colour information separately. It was even at IBC with a free app that allowed Future Zone visitors to watch a live HDR video stream.
BBC R&D was making the case for higher framerates too with a series of demos, but it was its IP Studio that really caught the eye. Basically it investigates how data can replace SDI and HD-SDI links in live production environments, which is all interesting enough, but it’s also doing something fairly revolutionary under the hood too.
Rather than the usual clip-based model, the team behind it have developed what they call ‘grains’, which see events, and frames or sections of video and audio all treated as individually identifiable elements.”These data allow complex queries to be constructed.,” explains a BBC white paper on the subject. “As an example, a user might want to view what was recorded from each camera when a particular line of dialogue was spoken. This could be achieved by: querying a database to find a particular (speech recognition) event grain; finding its corresponding source; finding related sources; and finding video grains with matching timestamps.”
Given a fast UI it could be a powerful tool indeed. Definitely one to keep an eye on...