It was a year of rapid change in broadcast technology as core systems were overhauled, the cloud became viable and TV got connected - but 3D’s march was slower.
The speed of development in broadcast technology in one year shows how what was once the big thing can quickly appear outdated.
Which is why, in the face of file-based operations, IP, the cloud, second/multi-screen connectivity and apps, the initial hype over stereoscopic 3D seems to have calmed down.
Despite Sky 3D taking the lead and the BBC producing stereoscopic test coverage of Wimbledon this year (right), doubts about the long-term future of 3D grew.
A survey by Informa Telecoms & Media predicted that while 11 million households would have 3D technology by 2016, only 42% were likely to watch 3D TV shows regularly.
Cinema audiences and film producers also seem doubtful about 3D becoming the norm, regardless of the success of Avatar and the evangelical pronouncements of James Cameron.
The Cameron Pace Group (CPG) does see 3D TV as viable, however, and announced in July that it would increase its broadcast operations in the UK. Cameron’s big rival, Steve Schklair, chief executive and founder of 3D fi rm 3ality, is also looking towards TV as well as films.
At IBC 2011, he launched alignment and spacing tools under the banner of 3ality Technica, formed by the merger of 3ality and rig designer Element Technica in August.
Schklair also highlighted the need to move to a single TV production chain for both 3D and 2D, instead of having separate trucks for each.
“There’s no business case for that,” he says. “The sports guys say the coverage is so different it can’t be, but my answer is that it won’t exist at all under the economics of two separate broadcasts.”
The march of new technologies, and data production in particular, was graphically illustrated by the dramatic fall in demand for Super 16mm film.
This can be partly traced back to the BBC stating in 2006 that it would no longer accept S16 material for HD services. But the overall industry turn towards digital cameras has been decisive, as shown by the recent closure of fi lm processing facility iLab.
Spooks was a last bastion of 16mm but with the series now ended, the film format’s grip is looser still.
James Welland, the director of photography on the MI5 drama, laments the situation but is realistic: “S16 is familiar and I like it but I can’t see it being more than a niche product in the future.”
Core post-production systems continued to evolve. The now umbrella branding of Avid produced both Media Composer 6 and Pro Tools 10.
The digital audio workstation system tightened its hold on London’s sound houses, with installations at, among others, Rain and Unit, whose chief executive, Adam Luckwell, comments that Pro Tools is now “almost the industry standard”.
A sign that digital post technology has been with us for a while was given in major overhauls for established systems.
Filmlight launched version 4.3 of Baselight, adding 3D functions. Assimilate, one of the first DI manufacturers, went back to the drawing board for Scratch Six rather than make an incremental improvement.
Its vice president of marketing Steve Bannerman says the first DI systems gave more power and flexibility by creating digital workflows.
The second phase was the effect this has had on post production. Now, he says, the next level is bringing full DI capability to the set by allowing the DoP and digital image technician (DIT) to work together using the latest colour correction and metadata tools to prepare material on location.
The cloud has been floating in the background for a couple of years in both the consumer electronics and professional spheres but in this year of austerity and cutbacks, the idea of storing material on a remote platform looked more viable and attractive to the TV market.
Forbidden Technologies was among the companies promoting the technology through its FORscene editing. There is still caution, however.
In his keynote speech at IBC, John Smith, chief executive of BBC Worldwide, declared that “ultimately, everything will be available in the cloud”. But he said there were still fundamentals to establish, including a standard file format and un-hackable security.
The Digital Production Partnership (DPP) glossed over the cloud and hard-disk archives in its report Reluctant Revolution: Breaking Down the Barriers to Digital Production in Television, to the chagrin of companies such as Aframe and Object Matrix.
The DPP sees cost and time savings in file-based operation, plus greater fl exibility, all making for a “competitive advantage”. But when the DPP unveiled its outline plans at the beginning of 2011, there was general disappointment at their sketchiness.
There was little progress on the hot topic of loudness, for example.
Simon Pegg, research and development director at Eyeheight, which manufactures loudness processing for Final Cut Pro and transmission systems, says: “People are using the current loudness standards in subtly different ways and there is nothing new in the DPP document. The industry doesn’t yet have an answer on how best to deal with the problem.”
The final parts of the EBU’s PLOUD recommendations were published in March and were followed by an updated version of the ITU BS.1770 specs, the original of which formed the basis of EBU R128.
Myriad meters, monitors and processors are now on the market to deal with the problem of loudness but uncertainty about this whole subject remains.
Both the EBU and ITU suggest dealing with it during the mix but many prefer either to have a final limiting/correction at the transmission point or automated metadata-controlled processing in IP or DVB ASI transport streams, a method supported by a Linear Acoustic-Cobalt Digital technology partnership.
The reach of IP in broadcast technology continued to grow, moving further into areas that at one time relied on traditional wired circuits.
Intercom has been moving towards this technology over the past 10 years, with the all-conquering app now a possible player in this vital area.
At IBC, Trilogy Communications introduced the Intercom Anywhere concept app for Android or Windows-capable PCs, tablets and smartphones, which gives remote access to a broadcast centre communication system.
Barry Spencer, general manager of broadcast at Trilogy, says the idea is still evolving and while the company is not saying it will replace existing methods, it is another option.
The term ‘second screen’ became commonplace this year, as manufacturers, producers and broadcasters looked to connect TV sets with smartphones and tablets.
Last month, Anthony Rose, the man behind the iPlayer, released Zeebox - a potentially game-changing service for PC and iPad to exploit these developments and turn the solitary TV-watching experience into a social jamboree.
The second-screen electronic programme guide uses Facebook and Twitter to guide people’s viewing choices by what their friends and the wider world are watching and tweeting about. Shazam, Umami and Yahoo’s IntoNow are now working on similar ideas.
Timeline: A year in production
Panasonic, Sony and JVC all release single-body 3D camcorders at NAB in a bid to make the acquisition of 3D images easier and more affordable
Wimbledon shot in 3D for the first time
Panasonic, Samsung and Sony join forces with glasses manufacturer Xpand to launch a range of 3D glasses in an effort to speed up adoption of 3D technology
3D production technology firm 3ality Digital acquires its “primary competitor”, stereo rig manufacturer Element Technica
Sony launches its first shoulder-mount 3D camcorder
Filmlight launches a new version of its flagship grading system Baselight (v4.3), including a major upgrade of its stereoscopic toolset October
ESPN launches an augmented reality presentation tool for its Premier League coverage
Canon’s C300 launches, threatening to muscle in on territory previously owned by the Sony PMW F3 and the Arri Alexa
Avid releases Media Composer 6, with the software rebuilt as a 64-bit application to improve performance
iPlayer creator Anthony Rose launches Zeebox, a second-screen app for social TV viewing