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Why The Push For 4K Production?

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Any new technology trend has its believers and detractors, and 4K (or strictly speaking UHD in a television context) is no different. By Tim Felstead, Head of Product Marketing, SAM.

There's the now-familiar argument as to whether viewers at home will actually benefit from 4K given the screen sizes upon which so much content is now viewed. This is on top of the questions of compression and whether we should be looking at better pixels rather than just more pixels? However, with TV set manufacturers pushing the market forwards, and consumers responding, there's no doubt that 4K is becoming a differentiator and is being used by many as a marketing tool.

In developed markets at least, viewers are now firmly in the driving seat when it comes to where, when and how they consume content. As a result, broadcasters have to compete with other media owners capitalising on the OTT space, monetising content in new ways. This includes SVOD (Subscription Video On Demand) providers like Netflix and Amazon.

From a media owner's perspective, the single biggest benefit of 4K is to make their content look better, and therefore garner a greater number of loyal viewers for that content, plus of course preserve its longevity for future sales. As OTT providers take on traditional broadcasters in an increasingly aggressive way, we've seen them invest first in exclusive deals, then in original commissioned content and more recently they've been upping the ante by making 4K their default format.

From a traditional broadcaster's perspective, the drive towards 4K is slightly different. As their offering leans more towards timed content, or 'appointment TV', being able to draw in viewers with the best quality content and encouraging them to engage with linear (scheduled) broadcasts is where the benefits of 4K come in. For a broadcaster, being able to draw in viewers is directly linked to their ability to sell advertising, and becoming more common these days, sponsorship around particular content. In addition, it's important that any investment is future proof.

BT Sport is a perfect example of how 4K can open up opportunities for a relatively new market entrant. Not only did it buy sports rights for the Barclays Premier League and Aviva Rugby Premiership, it decided to launch a 4K channel: BT Ultra HD. It also broadcast the Moto GP at Silverstone in 4K last year. A SAM Kahuna 9600 switcher and a Sirius 800 series router provided the truck's 4K production backbone for the event. This is the first purpose-designed 4K truck in Europe, built by Timeline to service BT Sport's new 4K channel.

Canadian broadcaster Rogers Media has recently announced a market-defining 4K and HDR broadcasting services with a focus on live sports broadcasting. At the heart of the installation is SAM's Kahuna 9600 switcher, Morpheus automation and ICE Channel-in-a-Box (CiaB) units, along with main and backup 4K sQ servers.

In Spain, we worked closely with MediaPro late last year to produce the first 4K version of "El Clasico" – the famous Barcelona FC and Real Madrid football match. The game was produced simultaneously in HD and 4K, the latter supported by a new mobile production vehicle equipped specifically for 4K with SAM's Kahuna 9600 enterprise level production switcher.

The most recent and interesting phenomenon we've seen is an increasing interest from companies wanting to actually broadcast as opposed to only produce in 4K for the future. We've seen BT Sport take a lead plus there are some satellite broadcasters that have the capability to handle 4K delivery to home, and added to this there have been some announcements in the press about plans for supporting 4K set-top boxes. This ramp up of 4K playout demand goes hand in hand with the increasing availability of content produced in 4K.

At SAM we have a commercial advantage in that we have market-leading technologies across the production, post production and playout spaces. We're supplying 8K editing systems to clients in Japan; in-fact, we have just been asked to supply an 8K 120P system and we are already working with customers in high dynamic range and high frame rate. We are in the process of passing that knowledge and capability throughout our product portfolio, making 4K, HDR, HFR and of course wider colour gamut products available to our customers.

So what about HDR? The market's not quite there yet on the display front, but HDR TV sets are being introduced and this will mean we will soon see a growth in, and an appetite for, watching content in HDR. While HDR is not without its issues at present, we are a firm believer in the benefits of HDR in combination with 4K.

Image: Tim Felstead.

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