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OB in 2016: Has the 4K future arrived?

Blog
08 February 2016

2015 saw new 4K tech come online and all outside broadcast operators are now gearing up for the UHD future but there are still problems to iron out. Jon Creamer reports 

2016 looks like the year when live 4K production will come fully into the mainstream.

BT Sport has already launched its UHD channel and with Sky’s new Q Box on the way, the demand for content will leap considerably.

All OB facilities providers are gearing up to meet that demand armed with the kit now available to make it happen.


Back in the day
Because 4K live production has moved on considerably in the past year. 12 months ago, there was little kit designed specifically to deal with capturing live sport and events in 4K with solutions cobbled together from 4K cinematography.

“Previously the most widely used solution was to use the single sensor Sony PMW-F55 with a fibre converter. While this ‘worked’ it wasn’t ideal as it gave a shallow depth of field that’s not desirable for sports production,” says Duncan Payne, sales manager at WTS Broadcast.

The solutions available were all rather “awkward” says Adam Berger, general manager of CTV OB. “With cameras like the Sony F55 and F65 you’re taking a digital cinematography camera with all the baggage that comes with that – the lenses, additional people to make sure it all works, technology to get it to interface to an OB truck.” And although it was a workflow that worked “it wasn’t good for sport. The lenses being used were shallow depth of field lenses. You needed a focus puller and it’s difficult to put a focus puller on a golf course or at a cricket match.”

But the latter half of 2015 saw the launch of a whole range of kit from major manufacturers that was dedicated to making 4K live production a much smoother experience.



“We’re now seeing the next generation of cameras come through,” says David O’Carroll, head of technology at Presteigne Broadcast Hire. The Sony HDC-4300 and Grass Valley’s LDX Universe, cameras with 2/3” sensors both came to the market in 2015. “This single development has made the acquisition stage much simpler,” says WTS Broadcast’s Payne. And the lenses have also launched to back those cameras up, Fujinon launched its UHD 4k 2/3 inch 80:1 box and 22:1 ENG lens and Canon has similarly brought its own UHD lenses to the party. “Now we’re getting to a point where the acquisition tools are comparable to what people were used to in an HD world,” says Presteigne’s O’Carroll.

Timeline was first out of the trap with most of this new technology when it launched its UHD truck for BT Sport’s new UHD channel back in June last year. Its truck, billed as the first purpose built Ultra HD 4K outside broadcast unit in Europe, ended up taking on the very first of much of this technology as it rolled off the production line. And it’s come online with surprisingly few hiccups, says Timeline’s head of operations, Nick Buckley who says that running a UHD OB has now “become commonplace. We’ve done 40 now. There are no major issues and they happen just like any other OB now.” And the new gear, despite having serial number 001 stamped on it, “worked pretty much right out of the box. Certainly the Sony 4300s did. And Fujinon delivered some amazing lenses right on time. Snell [SAM] too with the vision mixer.”



But there’s still a way to go. NEP Visions, after the fire that engulfed its Bracknell base in November, has had to speed up its upgrade plans as some equipment was lost. “For very apparent reasons we’ve had to accelerate our equipment purchase and replacement schedules rather rapidly so 4K is obviously a very important element of that,” says Brian Clark, sales director at Visions. “The key is making it future proof but there’s still a lot to thrash out - record mediums, archive, workflows, small cameras, radio cameras - all that stuff is still not 100% firmed up.”

Which way now?
Many others buying into the 4K world similarly find themselves “at a slightly awkward juncture,” as Richard Yeowart, md of Arena puts it. “We’re rolling out three UHD trucks next year, the first one will be ready in March and we have been waiting for the technology to settle. Even now we’ve been surprised how much we’re having to push the envelope to get the solutions we want in place.”  And much is still to be decided upon, “it’s not 100% clear right now which HDR version will make it into the mass market” for instance.

And there are plenty of other unanswered questions when it comes to live 4K. “The areas with ground to cover is on EVS and editing and super slow-mos,” says Timeline’s Buckley. “We haven’t really got a good super slow-mo system yet. In the HD world you’re used to being able to turn them around on EVS and get a fantastic quick slow-mo. You can’t really do that on 4K yet, the cameras can’t run that fast but I’m sure that’ll come over the 12 to 24 months.” EVS video server technology is also an issue with such a massive amount of extra data to crunch. “When you go to 4K, suddenly the machine loses functionality.”

All these technologies will catch up, but it could be a while yet. And, says Presteigne’s O’Carroll, “we’re beginning to see more of the less glamorous things come along now - the waveform monitors, the LUT boxes that will support 50P, monitors that are able to support wider colour spaces - those are only just beginning to come to market but quite a long way behind cameras and lenses.”

Looking backwards
But making sure you’re ready for the 4K revolution is only one part of the story for OB providers. “As a facilities provider for various companies we’ve got to react but you’ve also got to double check back compatibility,” says NEP’s Clark. “As we step into 4K you’ve got make sure you can still transmit in HD and you’ve still got to consider SD and at the moment you’re considering SD, in some parts of Europe you still have to consider Pal or the equivalent. There are a lot of elements to this that complicate the picture.”

UHD will become more and more available but “legacy is very important,” says Arena’s Yeowart. “There will be a massive spread in the next few years with people quite happily enjoying the content in SD and others wanting to have UHD. We’ve got to cater for both ends of the market. Legacy viewers don’t want the quality of the coverage to be compromised in any way so you need to come up with a truck design that allows us to simulcast in different outputs without the viewer getting upset. Even now we’re waiting for one or two solutions to come to market.”

The IP future
Moving the extra amounts of data around that 4K production involves is also an issue that needs to be solved. “The other difficulty is the signal path for 4K is a quad feed,” says CTV’s Berger who is currently upgrading to 4K. “The development of 4K over IP is something we’re looking at and seeing how that develops further and whether it’s practical in a live environment.”

Because while QuadHD is currently the most prevalent solution for moving the extra data around. It’s a short-term solution at best. “Ultimately IP seems the big next step, particularly in an OB environment where the last thing any OB truck owner wants is a heavier truck,” says WTS Broadcast’s Payne. “QuadHD can add up to 80% to the video cabling, conceivably QuadHD could add anything up to half a tonne of additional weight on to a major OB truck.”

Richard Yeowart at Arena is soon to come to market with his new 4K capable trucks that will jump over QuadHD. “We’re calling it UHD 2.0. We’re trying to miss out the standard dynamic range QuadHD version of it because we don’t think that will be very long lived. If we get the IP infrastructure right then it’s almost beyond Ultra HD because IP infrastructure will support everything up to 8k.” But it’s a big leap. “I’ve been doing this job for 25 years now and this is the hardest push we’ve had in terms of technology change. Everyone got very excited when we went to HD and all of a sudden we’re throwing all those bits of copper out of the window and everything is going down IP and fibre.”

Remote production
While 4K live production is the revolution that is happening right now, there’s another on the horizon. Whereas traditionally large teams and huge quantities of kit are sent to an event with the various camera feeds mixed and just a single broadcast feed sent back to base, the promise of remote production is that all camera feeds would be pumped back to network centre with production decisions made there. Fewer personnel and less kit would need to be sent out into the field. “It’s definitely a very hot topic in the costs that it drives,” says Presteigne’s O’Carroll. “It allows you to use a control room multiple times a day from different locations and that’s a very attractive proposition.”

The sticking point so far is simply the vast amounts of data that would need to be pumped back to a network centre and the costs that would entail. Newer compression codecs will mean more data can be pushed down smaller pipes but right now “You’ve got to save a lot of money on the production process when you consider what you have to pay in connectivity,” says Timeline’s Buckley.

And in the UK, geography means the costs savings of not sending as much crew and kit acroos the country would not be all that huge, says CTV’s Berger. There’s also the issue of “the reliability and the resilience of telecoms network in the UK which is not as powerful as America or the Far East”

And with UHD on the horizon, connectivity costs become an even bigger hurdle. “It’s a massive amount of bandwidth if you’re working in Ultra HD HDR and trying to send those 30 feeds back,” says Arena’s Yeowart. The problems are not insurmountable though and productions are already being run in this way. “If it’s pretty basic coverage and you’re doing six or seven camera coverage at a Football League ground and you’re having to do blanket coverage of the whole league then I can see the value in that,” says Berger.

For big events though, it’s not necessarily the tech that’s the sticking point, more the desire of the production team to buy in. “It’s whether there’s a will from the production people to be 300 miles away from their talent and the match,” says Berger. “That’s a change of production culture.” The drive for remote production will have to come from the rights holders at the top, not the technology.

MOTO GP for BT Sport

Timeline Television and BT Sport designed and built the first purpose built Ultra HD 4K outside broadcast unit in Europe.

The unit was built to provide content for the new BT Sport Ultra HD channel that started in August. The first UHD broadcast was the Community Shield and UHD events to be covered include UEFA Champions League, Barclays Premier League, FA Cup and Aviva Premiership Rugby.   

The unit contains the worlds first Sony 4300 2/3 inch UHD 4K cameras, Sony UHD 4K PWS-4400 server, the worlds first Fujinon UHD 4k 2/3 inch 80:1 box and 22:1 ENG lenses, Snell Kahuna UHD 4K vision mixer and Sirius router, Axon signal processing equipment & Axon Cerebrum control system,  EVS XT3 UHD 4K servers, Grass Valley Kaleido-Modular-X multiviewers & Belden cable.

“One of the key things we needed for a sports based UHD service was 2/3 inch chip cameras and corresponding lenses, both the long box lenses and the shorter lenses,” says Andy Beale, chief engineer at BT Sport. “We worked with Fuji testing their early lenses all the way through our test programme through early 2015. We’ve used the lenses on a wide range of sports on football on rugby and on the MotoGP. The picture they give is fantastic. We couldn’t deliver a genuine UHD experience without this next generation of glass. MotoGP at Silverstone was the first time we’d covered really fast moving content. We were nervous before we got there about possible motion blur artifacts but in fact the picture quality and the motion representation that the HDC 4300 gave us was phenomenal. The picture was movie quality pristine sharp and in focus.


Ikegami’s 8K truck for NHK

While the world gears up for broadcasting live events in 4K, over in Japan the ability to transmit those same events in 8K is currently in development.

Back in September, Ikegami completed what it describes as the world’s first 8K OB production vehicle.

The new vehicle is designed to operate as a complete mobile 8K broadcast production facility complete with 22.2 channel surround sound.

In Japan, the road map for 8K broadcasting announced by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications has decided that trial broadcast transmissions will be starting in 2016 at the Summer Olympics in Rio De Janeiro. Regular 8K broadcast services are planned to begin in 2018.

The 8K OB vehicle was delivered to NHK in September 2015. It can handle up to 10 8K cameras such as the Ikegami SHV-8000 and SHK-810, which can be connected to a 16 inputs, 4 outputs, 1 mix/effects switcher.




NEP: Remote cloud production

DutchView Infostrada, part of the NEP group, launched its IP-based video production platform Cloud Production late last year.

On 22 November the TV show Carlo’s TV Café was broadcast on RTL4, a leading Dutch commercial TV channel, using remote-controlled Cloud Production. NEP are billing it as the first live broadcast to be televised using cloud-based technology. The day afer, Voetbal Inside was broadcast on RTL7 and was produced in the same way.

Cloud Production centralises resources so that they can be shared more efficiently and used across productions. The technology and teams can be used across multiple productions every day, “It was quite exciting to be the first shows ever to be aired live in the Cloud,” said Mark de Vink, Business Manager at RTL Netherlands Productions. “Cloud Production is more efficient than any other solution. We only use the resources that are strictly necessary for the duration of the recording. Because of centralised resources we need significantly fewer crew members on location, which also greatly reduces travel and accommodation costs.”

The studio location and all essential parts of Cloud Production were connected via IP network connections. All connections used DutchView Infostrada’s own fibre optic network to connect to its data centre in Hilversum, where the technology was housed. NEP say the new Cloud Production suite gives the same control over the production process as with traditional productions. Depending on the type of production, the director can either direct from a location near the studio or from the new central directing, audio and shading suites.

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