While it has been an annus horribilis for stereo 3D, with cancellations, cut backs and suspensions amongst the world’s broadcasters, it has been a fantastic year for Ultra HD and its 4K flavour in particular. And, with IBC2013 just round the corner, there is already a blizzard of product announcements relating to the format floating about, while out in the field the likes of Sony have been hard at work testing the technology in the heat of sports production at the Confederations Cup in Brazil and the Wimbledon Championships in London.
The smart money is still on it breaking through into the mass market in 2015 (though there will probably be any number of soft launches targeting early adopters ahead of the World Cup next summer), so where has the impetuous come from this year?
On the one hand you have manufacturers desperate to fill the vacuum that stuttering stereo 3D sales have created, and that applies both to broadcast vendors and to the CE giants. On the other you have the rapid take-up of HEVC/H.265, the new compression codec that promises 50% savings over H.264 and effectively makes 4K in current production and distribution chains possible, albeit with a couple of current gaps. And finally – on the third hand? - you have the big players in the on-demand stakes such as Netflix trying to differentiate their services from the traditional broadcasters (expect them to launch 4K downloads later this year.
It’s been a busy summer out in the field too. Sport, and the pay-TV companies that thrive on it, tends to drive the adoption of any new format and there are a few things that still need to be addressed before 4K is considered both bullet-proof and economic, hence the testing. Mixed HD and 4K productions were trialled out in Brazil with Telegenic’s 4K-capable OB truck, the idea being that uprezing HD for ‘secondary shots’ may shave production costs. In the same parsimonious spirit test have been undertaken to see if 4K lenses are really required for every camera, while elsewhere work has concentrated on helping keep focus – an important consideration given the detail in the image – colourimetry, shutter speeds, and exactly how to move the huge volumes of 4K data in and out of the EVS units.
There is plenty more to do in the area as well. Sport broadcasting leans heavily on ultra slo mo and impact angles from wireless RF cameras nowadays – all that equipment needs to be boosted up and into the 4K space, and while that will eventually happen as a consequence of technological process, Rio 2014 & Rio 2016 certainly provide definite deadlines.
As indeed does the forthcoming Super Hi-Vision 8K service that Japan’s NHK is planning on launching now as early as 2016. New developments for its annual visit to the IBC Future Zone include demonstrations of the world’s first realtime encoder running under HEVC, as well as a new single-chip compact camera that sees the cameras used for SHV becoming steadily more flexible and – importantly – more portable.
Which means that 4K probably won’t hold the mantle of ‘next gen technology in waiting’ for very long...