Executive Perspectives: Sony’s Deon LeCointe on the Road Ahead in Sports Production
HDR, slo-mo replay have captured the attention of the market
Sony Electronics heads into 2018 looking to serve up new technologies to the sports-production marketplace, but the market also continues to embrace the company’s recent innovations, particularly the high-speed and ultra-high-speed recording capabilities of the HDC-4300, HDC-4800, and HDC-P43 camera systems.
“High frame rate up to 480 frames per second [on the 4300] and also up to eight times in 4K on the 4800 are huge topics, as well as HDR, primarily 1080p HDR,” says Deon LeCointe, senior manager, IP production technology and sports solutions, Sony Electronics Professional Solutions Americas. “A lot of our customers have become accustomed to having high frame rate at every camera position with the 4300,” he adds. “With HFR at every angle, the producers have a different way of telling the story. Shots in HFR can change the dynamics of the game as it helps referees, and viewers can feel the emotions of the players and fans.”
Also generating buzz among customers is HDR, in particular HDR coupled with 1080p. That isn’t to say that there is not still interest in leveraging 4K and HDR simultaneously for various events. It is just that the current inability of broadcasters to deliver 4K signals to the home has given strength to the 1080p/HDR-production movement.
“Everyone is putting their toe in the water, and there are now two or three refined HDR workflows as we have done testing on golf, football, basketball, and even regional sports shows,” says LeCointe. “The video shaders, for example, can shade in SDR, and then the HDR tracks, which keeps it simpler for the shaders and the overall workflow. If you make it super technical and have to shade in both, HDR would never be adopted. So the techniques are firming up. The big question now is delivery to the home.”
The HDC-4800, which offers ultra-high-frame-rate recording, has also made inroads into the marketplace. It has been used on Super Bowls, the NBA Finals, and the World Series and is now part of every primetime NFL game.
“It has been a dynamic shift,” notes LeCointe. “Customers really appreciate the quality of the signal and also the fact that it integrates with the Sony environment and the rest of the infrastructure.”
Also, important to HDC-4800’s success is that a single replay operator can have access to four cameras. And, given its zoom capabilities, the replay team can dive into a 4K image and extract a high-quality and clear close-up shot of a critical play or moment.
The use of the camera on NHRA productions exemplifies its strengths.
“It is such a part of their storytelling,” LeCointe notes. “It offers the dynamic range so they can look right into the cockpit of the cars and make the drivers part of the imagery.”
A crash in October and the dramatic footage captured using the 4800 demonstrate the kind of detail that can be delivered to viewers:
Increasingly high-end cameras from Sony and other manufacturers are making use of software-based licenses that can allow a camera owner to add and disable such features as 4K, HDR, and high-speed recording as needed.
“With the 4300, they can license 4K and/or high frame rate; we want the camera to be as flexible as possible,” LeCointe explains. “Today, they can do a show in high frame rate, and then tomorrow, if they need just 4K for an entertainment show, they can do that.”
Increasingly, he adds, customers are taking advantage of the weekly option rather than going all-in with a permanent license.
“One advantage is, it allows the producer to see what it costs to do the event [in 4K] rather than getting pressured,” he explains. “It’s a safe bet from so many different aspects and is the Swiss Army knife of cameras and is essentially the same price as the last-generation Sony camera system.”
The HDC-4800, meanwhile, also has found a role in productions. LeCointe points to its use on NHL coverage as well as on NFL coverage on CBS, NBC, Fox, and ESPN.
“It’s also seeing use on entertainment shows like the Red Carpet Show at the Emmys,” he adds, “and we are hearing it will be used at the Oscars next year.”
Also making news last year was Sony’s launch of the HXC-FB80 camera, which targets those who are okay with producing in 1080p/60 and then relying on upconversion for 4K needs. LeCointe says it is important for second- and third-tier sports to have an option. “1080p is the bare minimum for the lower end of the market, and the FB80 meets that growing demand.”
The move to IP has been core to Sony’s plans, especially now that SMPTE has ratified the ST 2110 standards. According to LeCointe, the Sony team is getting a lot more questions about implementing a 2110-based system, and the still-to-be implemented standards for Networked Media Open Specifications (NMOS) protocol and device discovery will be important to getting Sony cameras and other equipment into an IP environment.
He points to Sony’s latest camera-control unit (CCU), which is based on SMPTE 2110 and Sony’s Networked Media Interface, as the way forward for the company.
“It foreshadows our catalog of products and has HDR support and leverages IP support for IP-based live production workflows,” he says. “Customers were fearful of hardware that wasn’t futureproof, but now manufacturers can start building solutions with products that will hit the market in 2018. We are working directly with SMPTE and ITU to help get 2110 to market.”
The move to IP-based workflows and transport is opening a new era of sports production, in which production teams can be more diverse geographically. The front-bench team can be located thousands of miles from the event, and those doing craft editing or high-end graphics no longer need to be onsite.
“REMI is getting a foothold in the market,” LeCointe observes. “Broadcasters can send a reduced amount of resources to a game that does not need an A-level–size team, like Olympic sports, [whose] ad revenues or viewership [is lower] but they still deserve to be covered.”