IBC2015: change meets opportunity

IBC2015 is officially in the books and once again it provided attendees with an overwhelming glimpse of future possibilities and current opportunities that are the result of a manufacturing community that is constantly on the hunt for audio and video tools and workflows that can create a more lifelike consumer viewing and listening experience on any device, anywhere.

The temptation in trying to recap an expansive show like IBC (or NAB for that matter) is to try to bring it down to a couple of hot trends. And there honestly was a time when that was possible. But the exhibitors at IBC, like at NAB, have become so diverse in terms of the market they serve (broadcast, digital cinema, OTT, digital signage, social media) that every year the core broadcast audience becomes a lesser focus.

Thankfully there were a few key themes that permeated the floor: capturing and delivering a more life-like audio and video experience; the move to IP-based production tools; and OTT and non-traditional distribution platforms.

Once again the industry is debating the merits over two acronyms that include the letters H and D. It is amazing to think back to the 2005 IBC, only 10 years ago, and consider that there was much debate over what HDTV could mean for the European market. In fact, at the time of the show the only HDTV service in Europe was Belgium’s Europe1080 service. Sales of HD were slow and the hope then was that the 2006 World Cup, produced in HD by FIFA and HBS, would put the format over the top.

But there was also plenty of resistance as many of the benefits of HD that were apparent elsewhere around the globe were marginal given that the PAL format had made the move to widescreen 625-line interlace broadcasts.

The debates in 2005 over whether or not viewers could tell the difference between HD and PAL, whether or not sluggish set sales meant the format was doomed to fail, and whether or not there was any financial incentive to go HD served as a bit of “past as prologue” for this year’s IBC and the debate over next-generation UHD and HDR TV services.

The interesting thing at IBC was to see how quickly HDR has grown since NAB only five months ago. At that time HDR demos were few and far between, with the most noticeable ones being at the Canon, Sony, and Dolby stands.

Five months later it seemed that one could not walk more than 50 feet (particularly in halls 1, 2, 3, and 4 that are dominated by encoder and decoder technology) without experiencing the brighter and more colorful HDR images. In addition there were compelling demonstrations of how to actually deliver it, including a demonstration in the Sony booth of MotoGP HDR content and, thanks to a new encoder developed by the BBC and NHK, can distribute a single channel to a standard dynamic range set without the full stunning quality and an HDR set with the full stunning quality.

Cameras and imaging gear also made the jump to HDR image quality. Grass Valley’s XDR (extended dynamic range camera) offers up 15 f-stops of sensitivity and there were plenty of other HDR-capable cameras on display at the show. And then Canon, for example, demonstrated an 86x UHD lens that has resolution that exceeds UHD quality.

Couple the UHD and HDR production gear with a large number of UHD and HDR encoding and decoding gear and one can expect that the next leap in technology will make NAB 2016 a true UHD/HDR showcase.

And that gets the industry back to those debates of 2005. More than ever there is a sense that the ability for TV channels and OTT services to full engage with UHD and HDR will depend on what the consumer electronics industry displays at their big confab in Las Vegas next January. UHD sets across the board need to make the move to HDR. And more importantly, larger size sets, say above 80 inches, need to come down in price to a level that makes them attractive to consumers. Because unless consumers can truly see a difference between HD and UHD (and you need an 80-inch set to easily see it) and SDR and HDR the lack of a value proposition that caused much consternation in 2005 with HD (and arguably in 2010-2013 with 3D) will be back with a vengeance.

It was pretty clear during the five days of IBC (and at the SVG Europe Sport Production Summit on the day before) that the industry is entering a fascinating time of possibilities with respect to capturing stunning images and also delivering them to the home.

It will be a few years until over-the-air broadcast lays the foundation for UHD/HDR delivery to the home and in that time cable, satellite, and OTT services will step up to the task. That, in and of itself, will change the very nature of major trade shows like NAB and IBC as it will bring in a more diverse and less traditional audience, an audience that believes in changing the game.

And by the time the game is changed the industry will most likely find itself in a place where everything is possible from an acquisition standpoint, consumers have limitless content consumption options, and the gates to becoming a part of the community, either on the creation side or delivery side, are flung wide open for those who want to become part of the industry.

There is still plenty of work to be done with respect to standards and workflows but given what we have seen in the past six months alone it looks like the manufacturers and industry standards bodies are ready to deliver solutions more quickly than ever. The end result is not only a quickening pace of change but a faster developing pace of opportunities ahead.

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