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NAB 2013: Pure Hi Res Poker (Pt 1)

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With the NAB Show in Las Vegas wrapped up for another year, George Jarret reports back from the front line on the big stories of 2013, and reveals what the industry really thinks of 4K...
NAB proved without doubt that Ultra HD, or broadcaster 4K, is the next big thing. Over 200 exhibitors said so, and surely they cannot be wrong?
There are cautionary factors, the biggest being that America and Western Europe continue to leave much of the rest of the world frustrated, infuriated, and behind. There are progression elements, and these include the fact that Live 4K sport will need to crack vision mixing, and the likelihood that the first public services will be OTT, which bares no transmission costs.
The key factor with broadcasters is that they can bring 4K into their production side without worrying about putting a signal on air: the superior quality of 4K production gives huge postproduction advantages, better HD to screen now, and the security of knowing there are years of content exploitation ahead at better resolutions. Better still, H.265 (HEVC) has arrived to assist in the delivery of 4K services (and much more besides), and it gives a timely boost to DVB-S2 on the satellite side.
The award for the best 4K booth demonstrations at NAB could have been shared by Quantel, Ericsson and Harmonic, and key to many of these, as far as broadcasters were concerned, was the 60p element.
Canon and Adobe (to follow) were the awesome twosome this time, with Blackmagic, Harris, Sony and Grass Valley close behind in terms of footfall. The most obvious shake down was the battle for the editing market. The biggest question hanging over a single market sector was the issue of bandwidth in the exploitation of the cloud, and it is the reason the film and TV industries have been the slowest to trust in the cloud. NAB may have broken the back of that doubt, partly due to the desire amongst bigger media players to virtualise their play out services and cut costs.

Panasonic Toughens Up
Panasonic had a glut of new stuff. It is opening up a solutions side; it introduced Micro P2 cards; it had designed a silicon chip called DYNA; and, it is working on a Varicam III camera. It also previewed the HPX-270, a Micro P2 hand-held capable of 200Mb/s.
Since P2 appeared people have wanted to use SD cards, but these stall at 50Mb/s and cannot be password protected. Micro P2 looks like an SD card, but has a double strip of connectors.
“This will write to 200 Mb/s and it has password protection,” said Nigel Wilkes, group manager with Panasonic UK. “If someone forgets the password, the only people who can unlock that card are our service staff.”
The camera lays down passwords. The card costs will be about €200 for 32 Gb/s and €300 for 64 Gb/s. – around a 40% reduction compared to the existing cards. DYNA lets Panasonic complete its AVC INTRA story – and AVC ULTRA 200 brings in 4:4:4 at 1080p and takes Panasonic into Ultra HD. This is uncompressed, so the DYNA chip will be used to get the data onto a card. The chip also introduces dual recording – two masters or one master, one proxy. There are new field and desk VTRs.
Panasonic looked at creating a 4K Varicam, but after last year’s mock up decided to avoid the crowded movie camera top end. “If you drop down to the 1080p/2K level, that is where there is a requirement,” said Wilkes. “ Expect a ‘traditional’ Varicam, 1080p resolution, 120 fps, with AVC Ultra, and maybe 400 Mb/s.
Panasonic is working hard to make all its cameras wireless. “This is whether you are viewing straight off the camera, or having a copy of your footage go to the cloud. The big thing about cloud storage is whether or not you have the bandwidth,” said Wilkes.
Signs of a solution side have emerged via group company Tough Books, producer of rugged laptops. Tough Pad looks like an ipad, but has all the connectivity you could desire. The 8-inch version costs $800, and there is a 20-inch full 4K touchpad costing around $3,500. The small one is waterproof and it can be dropped onto concrete from the top of a bus. Both will find plenty of new applications supporting production and rental, and everyone who saw them left with the immense desire to own one.

Sony’s focus on a 4K full house
The huge influence of the CES on NAB with regard to 4K was evident in the shape of a prototype 56-inch 4K OLED reference monitor based on a consumer panel and new electronics. Sony also had a DCI compliant 30-inch 4K OLED with professional aura. No doubt clients will get to look at the big screen, and the facility guys will scrutinise content using the smaller panel.
“The whole idea behind our journey with OLED is to replace the great heritage we had with Trinitron. Customers have been watching the progress of OLED, and the thing they have fed back, apart from size, is viewing angle,” said Bill Drummond, strategic marketing manager with Sony Professional Solutions Europe.
“We have now improved the viewing angle by 50%, which effectively means there is no colour shift. We have done that for the BVM E and F series, and for the PVM series as well (Grade 2, but upgraded).”
The other bigger launch was the HXR-IFRS, a 4K recording interface for the NEX-FS700. This could now become a budget movie camera or play a B roll alongside an F55 say. The camera will need a firmware upgrade. Also new was a 50/60p digital triax camera system, for switching quickly between triax and fibre on the road.
Sony’s big push for NAB was 4K live sports production, an initiative fronted by Mark Grinyer, head of live production business development - 3D & sports, Sony Professional Solutions Europe.
“We’ve done a lot of experimental work, working out the down converters, cut outs, etc. The US has proven that live 4K sports work with things like NASCAR shot with F65s,” said Grinyer. “In terms of where we are today we have already demonstrated the X8000S running in 4K mode just using Quad. So effectively if you have the ME option to split the MEs up within, you can then build quite a good mixer.”
This is a quarter of usual size, but it proves that the path works through the mixer. That said, it does very little beyond proving a point, and Sony will have to get its software team to upgrade the switcher functions to full spec.
Benefitting from techniques developed for 3D, the SR-1000 will record 4K in/out.
“The F55 is the Sony 4K camera that’s hot at the moment, and we have created a module that sits on the back,” said Grinyer. “It means it can be used across a range of applications – ENG, music promos, and for live. The clever bit for 4K live is that the configuration sitting on the back of the camera takes the signal down into the truck. There is a little processor that sits between the camera and CCU. The operator never sees the hit box, but it gives you HD and 4K outputs.”
Single sensors in live sporting environments have left Sony quite a bit to learn about lens configurations and operational efficiencies. “Production need to see what it is going to look like,” said Grinyer. "It is not as difficult as 3D. We have got to remember that when you are talking about using the Quad signal it is actually four times 60 or 50p, it is not down below that. A lot of people have not got to the 60p or 50p production models yet. It will be an interesting year because it is the switcher that makes production. It needs to be a long-term burn."
Read the article in the online edition of Regional Film & Video here.
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