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What Do We Want? 4k! When Do We Want It? Er...

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EmiratesEmirates Stadium at night

Sony's announcement of its New F cameras is undoubtedly going to further ramp up the speed of the 4k bandwagon, but the live production that will really drive it into the world's living rooms is still a way off according to Andy Stout.

Back in October, Sony was one of the companies involved in a big test of 4k live production for satellite broadcaster BSkyB at the Emirates Stadium in North London.
This is important  because while 4k is already established in the cinema production chain, it will be pay-TV that drives it into the home and, apart from HBO, that invariably means sport.

But, while the move to swing 4k into a genuine live production format is obviously starting, even its most fervent supporters estimate that that is still three years or so away. More cautious industry voices tie it into Olympic and World Cup cycles, and reason that Rio is too soon, but see the potential in Russia 2018.

Six years?

That's six years. So, why the caution? There are several factors, not the least being that HD has been a fifteen-year long project that is far from over in many territories and we're not even at the stage where 1080p is common currency. True, no recent OB truck hits the road without 3Gbps (necessary for 1080p) capability nowadays, but equally true, no broadcaster yet wants to use it.

Skipping 1080p50

If we're going to skip 1080p50 and go straight to 4k, then the equipment needs to get ruggedised and reliable very quickly. Also someone needs to pay for it. There is much resentment in the OB industry, especially in the US, for being 'forced' to upgrade to HD without any financial assistance from the broadcasters. BSkyB got round the resistance to speculative upgrades by building its own 3D-capable trucks (operated by Telegenic) in the UK, and indeed Telegenic is making noises about ensuring its latest £4.5m unit is 4k-capable when it rolls off the ramp next May (albeit with manufacturer support).

The question however is that even if the likes of Sony (probable) or Grass Valley (unlikely) step up to kit out a showcase vehicle, will those pictures be seen in 4k by anyone or, as seems more likely in the near-term, simply be downresed to HD for TX? This is the point where the whole 4k project enters into wild speculation, but if pay-TV is to drive its adoption, the only company out there with significantly deep pockets (and getting deeper all the time according to recent figures) is, indeed, BSkyB.

Expensive wrinkle

However, there is a wrinkle. The change in compression codecs that 4k broadcast would require would involve a new set-top box having to be issued. BSkyB managed to launch Sky3D relatively cheaply, using existing HD consumer equipment. 4k would be a much more expensive endeavour, and that's before you get to the upgrades the broadcaster would have to make in its own production and playout facilities. Given the low take-up of 3D so far, you have to think that even Sky is going to look at the new format with some caution, even if football in 4k does look fantastic.

Tags: Technology