IBC 2016: The rate of change in so many aspects of our industry is mind-boggling, says Duncan Payne

Technology changes are inevitable, driven by manufacturers trying to find the next big thing. With so much going on it was definitely an IBC to be in “receive” mode.

Starting with kit, three of the major camera manufacturers have all chosen to partner with the on-set storage specialist Codex for their most recent developments.

Arri was the first and its Alexa continues to be the go-to camera for most DoPs. Those four magic letters on the side of what is far from the newest camera in Amsterdam ensure that the demand for the Alexa is still as strong as ever.

The recent-ish launch of the Alexa SXT camera allows you to get even more from the existing block, and I really like that Arri will upgrade all existing Alexas to the SXT with a software mod, rather than asking their loyal clients to buy a whole new camera.

Alexa SXT

It’s still not a 4K block, but when the HDR pictures look as good as they do, does anyone care?

Well, Netflix clearly does, and as recent reports indicate that they are the single largest commissioner of new content globally who also continue to mandate 4K as a minimum acquisition resolution, Arri will have to release a new block soon. My best guess would be that they will bypass 4K and go straight to 6K or higher, but I’ve been wrong before. 

PL and EF mounts

Canon had pre-announced its new C700 a week before IBC, and the crowds around the camera were a pretty good indication that it might be a success.

The Super 35 format camera records both internal 4K ProRes and XF-AVC, and the camera also has a Codex processor board in-built. Their Codex recorder fits nicely on the back of the camera and can then record uncompressed RAW at 120 fps.

It ships at the end of the year, and looks good. It is also available in either PL or EF mount from the factory, and can be swapped back by the Canon factory if a client needs the other mount fitting. Oddly, it seems that the PL mount loses you a stop of light; 14 stops compared to the EF version’s 15 stops.

The third Codex collaboration is with Panasonic, and its newest Varicam configuration, the snappily name Pure.

Panasonic Varicam pure

The Pure utilises the Codex technology and will also record 120 fps of RAW, this time V-RAW, Panasonic’s Varicam variant of RAW. Of the three companies, Panasonic has the least heritage when it comes to top-end drama, but the pictures and feel of the camera felt good to this untrained eye, and it will be interesting to see who prevails.

It does seem clear though that Codex is perceived to be the best placed to help them succeed in this market. The company has been in the top-end drama and feature film space for so long now, and having spent time with them at IBC, they understand what is required of a manufacturer and are meeting that need. 

Another Panasonic product that caught my eye was a new outdoor PTZ camera. This camera has the insides of the almost ubiquitous AW-HE130 PTZ model, but is fitted with a rain cover and wind screen wipers to cope with the British summer. 

4K camcorder

Sony meanwhile launched the only shoulder mount 4K camcorder at the show, the PXW-Z450. Single CMOS sensor, 2/3-inch mount, but contrary to most single sensor cameras the depth of field resembles the traditional three sensor look with a deep depth of field.

They’ve used one of the three sensors in the HDC-4300 4K studio camera and as it’s only a 2/3-inch sensor, still gives a depth of field that a jobbing news cameraman would appreciate.

Both Cooke and Zeiss had some good product releases. Cooke announced its multi-mounts mod which allows the Classic and Panchro primes to switch mounts between PL, EF, E and MFT.

There has been a move in recent years for a cameraman to buy a lens, but rent the camera, such is the relentless release of new camera models. But what lens mount does a cameraman choose? This new functionality from Cooke solves the problem.

The ability to switch mounts is also available at Zeiss. The 21-100x zoom lens sits perfectly on the Sony FS7, and with no need for a speed-booster due to the interchangeable mount, it should do well. It’s a little more expensive than the FS7, which is exactly as it should be. This lens will still be in use in 10 years’ time, which is more than can be said for any camera bought today.

The big lens market is interesting with Canon and Fujinon battling it out for the new round of purchasing on 4K box lenses. The supply of these lenses has been the determining factor of who buys what with demand outstripping supply in the build up to the summer sporting bonanza.

Now we are in to run rate football season it seems to have calmed down somewhat. Fujinon is currently winning the numbers race with the 107x lens currently the longest on the market. Whether the market needs anything longer than this is debatable.

PTZ cameras

Ross Video continue to develop innovative solutions and I like their plan. In a time when almost all of the leading traditional broadcast manufacturers have cut their head count, Ross has put well-connected, well-informed people on the ground who, in my experience, will answer a phone call and solve a problem.

The purchase of Abekas was announced at the show and that will solve a missing link of not having any storage capability. This will no doubt be incorporated in to their portfolio soon.

Ross’s Carbonite Solo is a fabulous little mixer and the company has just introduced some budget PTZ cameras named Pivotcam, and this bundle should do well.

Ross Pivot

As well as the clever server technology, Abekas also had a very neat little product clearly designed with the likes of Shaun Ryder in mind. With only two buttons, the Aircleaner will either garble the audio or blur the video. I think even I could write the instruction manual for this product.    

Newtek also had some really clever development of its portfolio, all based around the firm’s open NDI protocol. The transition from SDI to IP is inevitable, and they, perhaps more than any other company I saw over IBC, have recognised the opportunities that this can bring.

It’s far more than a Tricaster company now, and its Video Mix Engine and totally scalable production model is impressive.

In the same area, SAM (Snell Advanced Media) made a huge statement this year by having a hall all of its own.

The hall was filled with some impressive technology displays, and SAM’s Kahuna mixer is getting rave reviews, particularly as we are on the cusp of the SDI – IP transition.

The mixer seems to be so powerful, and do so much of the up/down/cross conversion before the signal even leaves the mixer that the OB techs love it.

Replay market

SAM is also attempting the broadcast equivalent of the third rail – selling an instant replay system in a sector which, more than any other segment of the industry, is dominated by one player: EVS.

The term “EVS op” falls in to the Sellotape and Hoover group of brand names that have become common nouns, and it’ll be a tough ask to gain any traction in the sports instant replay sector. That said, SAM has added to its sales team (in line with what Ross has done and others haven’t ), merged two technically savvy companies and has a true broadcast pedigree, so I wish the company luck with its Livetouch 4K.

Moving to more post oriented product, Editshare have had some recent successes to boast about and there is certainly some momentum around its product. The ability to work with so many intermediaries and standards make its offering appealing. It’s certainly the case now that they are winning some sizeable projects on the strength of the product and support rather than just being able to deliver to a budget price.

Returning to cameras, Ikegami has a new spring in its step, and was showing off their 8K studio camera which has been involved with many of the tests NHK were showing in the Future Zone at IBC. More likely to find some immediate traction is the 4K UHK-430 studio camera.

Ikegami has taken the unusual step of joining both the Aims technology group and the Aspen initiative, and you can request your flavour of protocol at point of purchase. The data coming from the camera head is uncompressed 444 and gives some stunning pictures. The recent successes for Ikegami have almost exclusively been centred on Northern soap operas, so let’s see if there are any more takers in a live production sector currently dominated by Sony.

Dolby had some hugely impressive audio developments around immersive sports audio, and the company’s ability to stream many audio streams without taking up valuable bandwidth was really impressive.

The demonstration suite was incredible with the operator removing all but the stadium sound to put you actually in the sports arena.

The ability to send multiple commentary feeds down one signal could prove a huge bonus on large sporting events too, with the receiver able to select the audio feed or language required for a particular broadcast. There is also a road-map to give this control to the viewer at home, which would be an amazing option.  

VR dominates

As far as an IBC theme, without doubt VR has captured the attention, and the stand space of many exhibitors. I would say that this, more than HDR, HFR, IP or the pixel race was the dominant theme.

Shooting high quality VR isn’t easy; it requires great skill and experience, and the video stitching requires a great deal of care and IT grunt. Badly produced VR may give the impression that the technology isn’t ready and may knock the market’s confidence in it.

I saw a lot of VR at IBC and most of it was just OK. The resolution is the most immediately disappointing part as we are used to pin sharp HD/4K images and VR technology can’t deliver this yet.

The best example I experienced was the Sony Playstation offering. The headset gave it a huge advantage as it was a quality (it launches next month) gaming headset which fitted well and put your eyes in the optimum position to view the content.

The demonstration of a Premier League game was impressive and the additional functionality of the handset and the immersive feeling that it gave was extraordinary. And most importantly there seems a path to make some money from the technology.

Nokia Ozo

One commonly overlooked factor around VR is the audio, and Sennheiser had a clever quad-directional mic which was used on set with Nokia’s Ozo camera and gave an extra dimension of immersiveness. 

The Ozo is stealing a march on most of the competition. There has been a lot ground work done with extensive testing around some Champions League games last year and the Olympics.

It is imperative though that there is a clear business model for VR or it could come and go as fast as 3D.