The shift to digital capture took several steps forward in 2012, with Ultra-HD now on the horizon.
Digital acquisition moves up a gear
With the HD equipment market swamped with competitively priced products, a new wave of premium tech is the best way for manufacturers to maintain margin.
Ultra-HD, at four times HD resolution, is the response.
Having started the year with just one mainstream choice – the Red (original and Epic versions) – producers can now future-proof productions in 4K with JVC’s handheld GY-HMQ10, Canon’s EOS C500 and the F5 and F55 from Sony (launching in January), while the full 8K power of Sony’s cine camera F65 is to be unleashed in forthcoming upgrades.
For-A debuted a 4K variable-rate camera and even minicam-maker GoPro unveiled a 4K version of its Hero3.
Professional 4K displays are almost non-existent, with monitoring in post confined to expensive Barco projectors.
For high-end TV work, though, Arri still dominates.
This year, it added the Alexa Plus 4:3, aimed at anamorphic (widescreen) photography, to its roster.
Arguably the biggest splash came from video processing specialist Blackmagic Design.
Its Digital Cinema Camera made waves at NAB 2012 with a sleek, Apple-inspired design, LCD touch-screen control and 2.5K resolution, with a pricetag of just £2,000. However, with shipments delayed it remains to be seen how users will take to it in practice.
Cloud begins to break
Hosting all or part of a production in the cloud is inevitable, but it is not going to happen overnight.
“The workflow has to be bulletproof,” says Dana Ruzicka, vice president of segment and product marketing at Avid. “Broadcasters see the cost benefit, but are cautious because of reliability and security concerns.”
Avid got its cloud platform, Interplay Sphere, out of the door in September, as did Adobe, with collaborative post using Adobe Anywhere.
Aframe launched its cloud production service in the US this year and says two US networks are testing it to ease the pressures on their fast-turnaround edits.
Quantel’s QTube is being evaluated by ESPN, while Forbidden Technologies’ browser-based editor FORscene was used by NBC staff in New York to cut 3,500 hours of London 2012 content, uploaded to the cloud and outputted to its NBC Olympics TouTube channel.
Live HD on the move
The number of systems enabling live HD signals to be sent over mobile networks exploded in 2012.
Most combine 3G and 4G, Wi-Fi, ethernet and satellite links to achieve maximum bandwidth, and the main application is news gathering, where it can offer a more fleet-of-foot and cheaper alternative to satellite vans.
LiveU is the market leader and Telegraph Media Group is its latest client, with reporters equipped with camcorders and backpacks housing the LU70 receiver/transmitter.
Dutch developer Mobile Viewpoint’s technology was used to support the BBC’s coverage of the Olympic torch relay.
Off the back of that, it devised a product that combines an extendable antenna with off-the-shelf USB modems.
Remote production speeds ahead
Advances in low-latency transport of video over IP are making cost-effective remote live production feasible.
The BBC sent 24 streams of Olympics coverage over fibre up to Salford for online packaging, and Sky Sports assigned NEP Visions to help it send Sky Sports News’ coverage of the Games back to Osterley from a five-camera flypack at a temporary studio overlooking the Olympic Park.
Scandinavian transport specialists T-VIPs and Nevion, whose merger will be ratified next month, hope to dominate the market.
“We’re involved in multiple projects where service providers are moving into the live broadcast space and rolling out a point of presence at many sports stadia,” says Geir Bryn-Jensen, chief executive of the merged entity.
Sky director of broadcast operations Darren Long is exploring remote production of graphics or logging for F1.
“Whether a truck is in the TV compound or 100 miles away doesn’t matter so long as the intercoms work and quality is maintained. But if you remove too much, it may work against you,” he says.
“I see the technology growing with advances in network reliability, but I wouldn’t want our directors to lose that sense of being there.”
UK sets the standard for file-based delivery
The UK is way ahead of the rest of Europe in terms of file-based programme delivery thanks to the cross-broadcaster Digital Production Partnership (DPP).
In January, the BBC, ITV and Channel 4, together with Sky, Channel 5, S4C and UKTV, agreed the UK’s first common format, structure and wrapper to enable TV programme delivery by digital file.
Emmerdale became the first major production to adopt the AS-11 standard in October, while Sunset + Vine’s America’s Cup programming for C4 was the first to use its metadata application.
With technical guidelines based on MPEG4 for live production on release, tests will build throughout 2013, including on Coronation Street and Deal Or No Deal, ahead of near universal delivery in 2014.
Envy is among the facilities piloting with broadcasters. “We are assessing various systems to enable us to achieve AS-11 delivery, including automated QC/FPA analysis and metadata insertion for final delivery,” says senior engineer Adam Davies.
On your marks, get 4K-ready
Even if 4K services are several years down the track, content including documentaries is being commissioned at 4K (by Sky 3D and 3Net) for the enhanced resolution required for 3D TV and Imax distribution.
Sony is releasing a new XAVC codec designed to go beyond HD, 4K video cards from Blackmagic and AJA are coming on stream, and 4K finishing tools from Nucoda and FilmLight are in the works to compete with the Mistika and Quantel systems already in use.
Ultra-HD will likely be a big feature of the trend-setting Consumer Electronics Show in January, where Samsung and Sony are among those showcasing 4K screens.
The next step in broadcast transmission quality from HD 720p/1080i was supposed to be 1080p at 50/60 frames a second. But with the final draft of the High Efficiency Video Codec to be ratified in February, new encoding technologies should make 4K satellite delivery to the home commercially viable.
Striking up the Ka-Band
The reliability of live cellular transmission is only going to increase with the rollout of 4G networks in 2013, potentially undermining traditional SNG, which uses vehicles or BGAN terminals.
While providers like SIS Live say they may add backpacks to supplement SNG coverage, they are also investing in Ka-band, a satellite frequency that requires smaller antenna for greater bandwidth – and at lower cost.
Eutelsat, Avanti and ViaSat have launched satellites targeted at Ka-band in specific regions, while Inmarsat is behind a $1.2bn (£750m) global launch planned for 2013.
New operators could emerge to take advantage of lower entry costs, but SIS Live opened the country’s first Ka-band teleport at Salford in July in a bid to stay one step ahead.
3D waits in the wings
The biggest development in 3D is still a work in progress.
While production may get a boost with the Titan 3D, a lightweight twin-lens camera debuted by Meduza Systems in October, the industry is looking for glasses-free displays to give renewed impetus to 3D TV.
Leading the pack is the encoding and viewing technology from Dolby and Philips, which is likely to be commercially available at the end of 2013.
“Broadcasters will need to be convinced of cases that support the need for a 4K service to the home,” says Dolby director of broadcast imaging Roland Vlaicu.
“One such could be higher-resolution 3D using passive glasses [full HD to both eyes] or autostereoscopic 3D.”
One of the emerging technologies behind some auto-stereoscopic displays is light field, which Envy senior engineer Adam Davies believes has “the potential to revolutionise motion and 3D capture”.