FutureSport Dives into Ultra HD Challenges

Experts taking part in a panel discussion at FutureSport 2014 tackled the challenges and opportunities related to 4K production. And in many ways much of the work to date will be on display next week when the first World Cup match is produced in 4K/Ultra HD in Rio. “We’ve been doing a lot of preparation for 4K to prove to FIFA that it is ready,” says Hugo Gaggioni, Sony, CTO. “The Confederations Cup last summer was the acid test to show that we have a complete workflow that has also been used for ESPN’s XGames, at Wimbledon, fashion shows, and even the [cannonization] of two popes at the Vatican.”

There is little doubt that Sony and Canon are at the forefront of driving the 4K transition, especially in terms of acquisition. Chuck Westfall, Canon U.S.A., technical advisor/professional, engineering and solutions division, points out that the company has been involved with 4K capture since 2012 and that stepping stones, like the use of 4K within HD broadcasts for super zoom, are exciting. And developments like adding dual-pixel CMOS autofocus technology only makes 4K acquisition that much better. And then there are the lenses.

“When designing a lens you need to know what the end use is going to be and top of mind is using lenses that have adequate opticals for 4K,” he adds. “We have a good catalog of optical choices including many types of Cine-Servo lenses that were on display at NAB.”

The challenge with lensing, adds Gaggioni, is that current 4K cameras make use of Super 35 sensors that offer a very shallow depth of field and, more importantly, require adapters to make use of lenses designed for 2/3-inch sensors.

“With adaptors they can become equally functional to conventional HD studio cameras but with a larger MTF (Modulation Transfer Function) and perceived resolution thanks to super sampling,” he says. “But we will soon see cameras that are natively 4K and with 2/3-inch sensors.”

Adds Westfall: “One thing we have to remember is that when we are talking sports we need the right tool for the job and that means deeper depth of field and coming back to the 2/3-inch sensor and lenses. So there is another show that needs to drop.”

While Sony and Canon dominate the realm of high-end 4K Blackmagic Design is looking to open it up those with high-end ambitions and low-end budgets.

Bob Caniglia, Blackmagic Design, senior regional manager, Eastern North America, pointed out just how cost-effective 4K options are by pointing out that Blackmagic’s new 2ME production switcher costs less money than the company’s original HD switcher. And the new 4K camera, which makes use of a large Super 35mm sensor, costs less than $3,000.

“The idea is that 4K is not just for broadcast but for theaters and other live events,” he says.

Acquiring in 4K is only part of the battle and Westfall says filling the gaps between what Canon and Sony can do on the acquisition side with what needs to happen on the display side is the big question.

“ATSC 3.0 is a definite missing link to make a lot of this happen,” he says of the next-generation over-the-air transmission scheme that he says also will need to deliver multiple resolutions simultaneously.

“The physical layer is being worked and it will take several years for consensus on a standard but audiences aren’t going to wait for that,” he adds. “It will be interesting to see how the ATSC comes to grip with that.”

Much of the emphasis in the 4K market, particularly on the consumer electronics side, has focused squarely on the increased resolution. But increasingly professional content creators are discussing additional next-generation developments like increased frame rates (which would reduce motion blur) and increased dynamic range (which would increase color accuracy, contrast, and more).

“High dynamic range is nothing new but we need to figure out a way to maintain costs,” adds Gaggioni. “But expanded color gamut is as important as frame rate and dynamic range.”

And Dolby, for example, is looking to make it easier to deliver images with expanded dynamic range to consumers. J.C. Morizur, Dolby, senior director of broadcast solutions, says that Dolby has spent the past seven years working to understand what it takes to deliver a consumer experience that has “faster, more pixels, and more dynamic range and color gamut.”

He says that while doing things like increasing darkness to light ratio in an image is not easy to do it has much less impact on the transmission of live TV images than higher frame rates and additional resolution.

“We will have a service up and running early next year,” he adds. “And [the improvements] are something that consumers can see from anywhere when looking at a TV set and they don’t need to have an expert set it up. From the consumer standpoint the next-generation experience has to be disruptive enough that they can see the difference [easily] and it is not just marginal. And having a huge dynamic range will make a difference for both 4K and HD.”

When 4K and Ultra HD will become fully baked in terms of a lens to consumer screen workflow remains to be seen but steps are being taken every day. Korea currently has an UltraHD channel on air that is packing a 36 Mbps signal inside a 6 MHz channel and in Japan tests of satellite delivery of both 4K and 8K (the latter requiring 92 Mbps) are also on going.

“In the late 1990s TV stations were saying they would never do HD news and this is similar because someone will do [Ultra HD] and then the rest will follow suit,” says Caniglia. “But the leap is expensive.”

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