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The year ahead: 4K in 2014

All year 4K has been the watercooler topic across the industry. But how far off is the widespread adoption of 4K as a consumer technology? Will 2014 be the year that Ultra HD takes off or cools off?

4k in the home
How fast is the UK and Europe is going to adopt 4K? The answer depends largely on who you listen to. Most camera manufacturers are nothing short of bullish, but the reality is that 4K acquisition technology has raced ahead of the rest of the market – a trend which is set to continue in 2014.
History tells us that the tipping point for broadcast technology comes at a point when consumers can receive it in the home in meaningful numbers, says Michael Inouye, senior analyst at ABI research. In fact, most technology analysts agree that this is still some way off. “By 2018, 6% of households in Western Europe will have 4K sets,” says Inouye.
The rate determining step will be how fast the price of 4K sets falls – rather than how much content is available, which at the moment is not very much, he adds.
ABI predicts that despite high profile events such as the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and Sochi Winter Olympics their impact on 4K adoption will be minimal. “It’s simply too early,” says Inouye.
Supporting technologies like HEVC and HDMI 2.0 will also need time to establish solid footholds. The lack of domestic penetration is having an impact on broadcasters too, making them cautious.
BSkyB chief engineer Chris Johns has said that Sky will not rush into Ultra HD until it can be sure it can deliver a lot more to consumers than at present.

4k cameras
Barry Bassett, md at hire company VMI, notes that from an acquisition viewpoint 4K adoption has been rapid.
“Those who are choosing to shoot 4K are doing so for the same reasons that people took to HD – that is to be able to pan and scan.”
 Lenses are no longer a stumbling block, adds Bassett, as Canon have a range of 4K cinema zooms and quality lenses such as Arri master primes, Cooke S4 and Angenieux Optimo zooms all deliver 4K.
“I suppose the real problem for the industry is that everyone is offering a 4K solution, but as yet no commissioners are showing any tangible excitement about actually commissioning anything in this new medium.”
Eben Clancy, director of post production for Timeline Television, adds that it’s no surprise that 4K is being driven very much by acquistion technology.  “If you are buying a new camera it’s difficult to buy one that’s not 4K. The great thing about it for post is you can zoom in four times and still have a full res HD picture.”

4k post
But the real issues with 4K in post boil down to data, says Clancy.
“The amount of data creates bandwidth issues which are difficult to handle with an HD infrastructure. Post houses have been editing everything in full res HD because there is no conform, producing a much more streamlined workflow, but with 4K they will have to return to offline/online workflows. The reality is that programme makers won’t be able to edit in full res 4K for a long time. Avid doesn’t work natively in 4K yet, nor is there a decently-priced 4K monitor.”
So we won’t see seamless 4K workflows next year, says Clancy.
“By the time the industry has caught up with 4K the talk will be of 8k and beyond. And while there will be a higher definition format at some point, I don’t know if it will be 4K.”

4k creativity
What a lot of people haven’t taken on board is that 4K is simply a 4096 x 2160 pixel sampling grid, argues digital camera consultant Peter Wilson.
“What you get in terms of an image at the end of the day depends on a whole range of factors from the lens you use to your sensor’s performance to your skill as a director or DP.”
Genres where 4K is expected to impact most rapidly are sport and natural history, as was the case with HD. One of the big creative issues next year will be managing depth of field in 4K, says Wilson.
“There will be a lot of thinking about whether the industry needs a smaller 4K sensor to capture sport with a wider depth of field, or larger lenses, which will be heavy and expensive.
You could see the issues with Sony’s 4K live rugby trial, which was shot wide to capture action on the pitch and people in the stands. For sport you need a wide depth of field, but that’s not easy with large format chip cameras. The backgrounds ended up being softer than you’d expect.”
“Overall, my feeling is that there will be a bit of a 3D thing with 4K … a big buzz which will continue next year which will then die down as little 4K content emerges. But I definitely expect it to return at a later date.”

Posted 20 December 2013 by David Wood

The year ahead: File based in 2014

File-based media will be introduced as the standard form of delivery to broadcasters in 2014. But the debate continues over whether the industry will be ready to meet the October deadline for the introduction of AS-11

1/10/14 deadline
“The Digital Production Partnership’s (DPP) self-imposed deadline where file-based content delivery becomes the preferred exchange format for almost all major UK broadcasters is less than a year away and still most facilities and production companies are a long way from finalising their DPP adoption strategies. So says Bruce Devlin, CTO at AmberFin, a company that has developed an area of specialism in the creation and support of DPP-compliant file-based workflows. One reason is that many leading industry manufacturers have yet to build AS-11 into their deliverables.
Another is that leading post houses predict that the costs of implementing AS-11 delivery will probably be more than the cost of HDCAM SR tape, the current standard delivery format.
The big hurdle for 2014 for the DPP will be getting the manufacturers on board, agrees Nativ’s Jon Folland, who argues that manufacturers have never been keen on supporting standards for the simple reason that in a standardised world they can be more easily switched for a different solution. Says Folland: “To my mind the deadline is a bit unrealistic.
If companies don’t have a budget to buy the right software they will just wait and see what happens before committing. I expect many post houses and software vendors will wait until the last minute before jumping aboard.”

Could it fail?
There is no guarantee that AS-11 will be a rip-roaring success. In the past new standards have failed  for a variety of reasons. If they were not fit for purpose in the first place it’s likely they will be superseded by better solutions. There are also are a whole range of other non-technical factors that can have a huge impact on whether or not a technology standard is widely adopted – which is, of course, the ambition.
Sometimes they fail simply because people are too busy to take them on board. Sometimes the financial cost of switching to the new standard is too great for companies to bear.
The unexpected departure of key personnel responsible for driving forward standards adoption can also have a huge impact. But one of the most powerful reasons that standards don’t take root is that manufacturers don’t like them much. They are much more interested in locking clients into their software and proprietary technology. So for standards to work they have to offer manufacturers clear benefits and few disadvantages.

QC dilemma
Another issue which needs to be sorted out next year is where the responsibility for QC in the new world of file-based deliverables will reside.
Many post houses are concerned that some broadcasters – notably Channel 5 – will pass both the responsibility and cost of QC to post houses and programme makers, a cost which has traditionally been an itemised part of a programme budget.
At a UK Screen event dedicated to workflow and automation last month, DPP technical standards lead Kevin Burrows confirmed that in future producers and post houses would be taking the lead in performing QC checks at the point of delivery, with broadcasters taking a back seat. By next October the aim is that broadcasters will only carry out spot checks.

Case against
Loft London md James Gibson admits to being a leading DPP naysayer. “I think AS-11 is a bit of con which doesn’t do what it’s designed to do. Based on the AVC Intra–adopted standard for HD, it’s not full HD. So a lot of people don’t want to adopt it – not a good start.”
AS-11 has created issues rather than solved them, insists Gibson. “It’s a mezzanine file so people will send in AS-11 and broadcasters will transcode it to something else for playout, which to my mind defeats the purpose. The long and short of it is we’ll all end up using  tape, LTO and hard drives throughout 2014 and beyond,” says Gibson. Loft London has its own delivery platform Cubix delivering files to a global market but AS-11 only addresses the UK. “It’s a step forward but we need to standardise by looking to the EBU or [international standards body] SMPTE.” For Gibson, AS-11 is a standard “created by frame sniffers and guys with pens in their top pockets”. “The question is, is there really a burning need for it?”
What there is a need for, he admits, is standardisation of formats within sectors such as a SMPTE-recommended archive, distribution and playout format. “The singular file format from post to preservation isn’t the way forward, but standards led by industry rather than committee designed to answer the needs of specific sectors should be encouraged.”

Posted 20 December 2013 by David Wood

The year ahead: Cloud based technology in 2014

Cloud-based technology will increasingly move centre stage in 2014, allowing producers and creatives to save time and money. We look at how the cloud is expected to impact production in 2014

Cloud pluses
In 2014, media companies in film, television and advertising will continue to adopt cloud solutions to make their businesses more efficient and productive. 
That’s the view of Sohonet’s director of product management Ben Dair. “People are not just talking about the cloud, they are embracing it – from vfx company Milk, to Clear Cast and Factory to mention a few,” he says.
The principle attraction of the cloud remains its ability to access storage as a service at a low cost. The alternative is the traditional capital expenditure route of spending huge amounts in one go on storage infrastructure which you own and manage yourself.
The growing use of the cloud is part of a general trend away from owning technology to renting it, using networks that are managed by somebody else. So far, whilst the cloud has had a huge impact in data management there has been less penetration in the broadcast media and entertainment market.
Nativ’s ceo Jon Folland says that part of the problem is that public cloud networks were built with data and email in mind rather than video.
“Compared to other industries when you look upstream to production and post you are talking about moving very large files, which public cloud networks were not designed to do.”

“While lots of cloud services like Zencoda and Amazon look low cost, the problem is that they are islands of functionality,” says Folland. “It’s hard to take parts of a business process and put them in the cloud because of the cost of getting them there and the cost of retrieving them.”
It only works financially if you host everything in the cloud, suggests Folland. But doing this exposes your business to other risks, such as a lack of transparency over costs, which continues to discourage media users. “Media businesses like the fact that the cloud doesn’t involve much cap ex, but the downside is you don’t know your future costs.”
“These can vary because the cloud is a utility – like a power company – and the people who use it and may grow to rely on it are unable to control how much it will cost in the future.”
This is a state of affairs which any self-respecting finance director instinctively doesn’t like, says Folland. “FDs don’t want spiky costs.”


Plus there’s the humungous issue of reliability and security when using cloud-based environments.
These have been thrown into sharp relief by events this year such as the rising tide of public concern over phone hacking and data security.
The big issue for the cloud in 2014 is whether content owners will be happy to host business critical activities there? In 2013 the answer has largely been no.
For Aframe’s David Peto a greater understanding of the cloud on the part of broadcast customers would be a big step forward. All clouds are not equal, he stresses. “The story of the Night Before Christmas provides a cautionary tale for those considering using generalist cloud providers to run their video workflow. When Amazon US went down on Christmas Eve 2012, it took Netflix with it – forcing it off the air for two days. That was expensive.”

Signiant’s European md Greg Hoskin predicts that in 2014 we’ll see more discussion of the nuances of public versus private versus hybrid cloud approaches.
“There will continue to be plenty of examination of ‘cloud washed’ versus ‘cloud formed’ approaches,” says Hoskin, whose company offers Media Shuttle, a cloud-based distribution service for media.
Its USP is it allows companies to keep their content on their own networks. “The cloud’s notable benefit of allowing anywhere, anytime access is often made unreliable when cloud solutions are entirely hosted in the cloud – when the cloud goes down, so does the business,” says Hoskin.
“However the hybrid SaaS (software as a service) model now being adopted more widely allows the broadcaster/production company or post house to keep full control over their data using an on-site resource to store the content in their preferred location. On top of this, a simple cloud delivered control layer gives them full management and visibility over users and permissions.”
In 2014 the best we can hope for is for the confusion about cloud-based technology to give way to a better understanding of different types of cloud services and the ends to which they are best suited.

Posted 20 December 2013 by David Wood
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