Rio 2016 Olympics: “8K is cinematic broadcasting” says OBS’ Salamouris

The opening and closing ceremony, swimming, canoe slalom, rugby sevens, gymnastics, beach volleyball, diving, athletics, judo and football are among sports to be captured in 8K from Rio by the Olympics Broadcasting Services (OBS) team. Speaking to SVG Europe Sotiris Salamouris, chief technology officer, OBS said the aim was to learn as much about editorial language as it was to prove out the technology.

“As a result of this experiment we will have the capability to be screen agnostic from mobiles to very big screens,” he said. “8K gives us the opportunity to explore how close sports broadcasting can come to a cinematic experience. On the one hand we want to test technical quality and resolution but the idea is to explore how the editorial language changes with 8K. There is not a single approach which is why we want to test 8K on many different sports events.”

He confirmed that OBS plans to produce close to 120 hours in 8K from two mobile units. SHC-1 is an Ikegami-built video truck and there is a separate audio truck handling discrete signals for 22.2 channel audio. An ENG camera crew will also be deployed. While the live 8K broadcast will launch the test transmissions for NHK’s domestic Super Hi-Vision system, OBS has built a theatre at the IBC for broadcasters to view the live 8K feeds on a 350-inch screen.

The multi-cam production is based on the Ikegami SHK-810, light enough now to be hand held, with slow motion feeds up-converted from 4K for replays. “Again the idea is to produce as close as possible a full live 8K production,” said Salamouris. “4K up-converted is pretty close to 8K and it will give us another tool to assess how a live programme might be cut.” Graphics (data, results and timing) are added to the 8K video after being up-converted to the 8K format.

The production is forced to work with 16 x HD SDI signals around the trucks. “It’s a bespoke arrangement, predominantly SDI-based, and using twice the 3G capacity,” said Salamouris. “SDI has its limitations we all know but there are extensions – 12G even 24G coming for routing 8K. In the end we will probably have a mixed world where both IP and SDI signals will co-exist.”

“NHK/OBS are basically doing 8K as a 8 x 3G signal connection which is quite strange – because while this is bleeding edge it is like going back to being in an analogue truck,” said Kevin Salvidge, European Regional Development Manager, Leader Electronics. Leader’s monitors are being used to check the individual RGB of each camera signal.

Live coverage will not include the Hybrid Log-Gamma high dynamic range (HDR) standard developed by NHK and BBC. “We need to remain on SDR and 709 colour gamut for many practical reasons not least that the BBC and NHK proposition is very recent and challenging to deliver in a 4K environment, let alone an 8K one,” said Salvidge.

However, OBS and NHK plan to test one 8K camera featuring HDR/WCG function for the coverage of the Opening Ceremony. NBC will also experiment with this technology during the Opening Ceremony with a selection of 4K HDR cameras.

The Ikegami cameras record the media onto a Panasonic P2 solid-state AVC-Intra recorder with 16 P2 cards for post production of an 8K summary reel. This will also be shown in the IBC Super Hi-Vision theatre. Since memory devices have limited capacity, LTO (Linear Tape Open) which is capable of preserving a large amount of data will also be used as an ultimate device to store the 8K material.

SAM’s Danny Peters, Director of Creative Services, said the company is working closely with companies including NHK that use a Quantel Rio 8K 60P for sporting events like the Olympics. “This year, SAM will continue to help NHK with its productions by adding 8K 120fps support on the Quantel Rio,” said Peters.

“Tests so far have proved 8Ks value in capturing wide scenes with an amazing level of detail,” said Salamouris. “Combine this with a relatively short viewing distance and viewing angle of 100 degrees on consumer TVs and you can feel the immersive experience. This is still an experimental period but technically it is very close to an applicable technology. We will see it soon in the coming years.”

Analysts Futuresource Consulting says that since the consumer side of the business is still sorting 4K UHD out, it believes the jump to 8K is a bridge too far at this moment. “The demand curve for 8K will follow a similar pattern to 4K. That is, starting out in ultra high end niches like CAD/CAM, simulation, military and medical where there is a genuine requirement for picture quality,” Futuresource analyst Chris Mcintyre-Brown stated.

“Adoption beyond these verticals will be ‘pushed’ down by the panel industry as production switches to 8K. Given only 1% of the market was 4K in 2015, this is some way off.”

For Futuresource’s Adam Cox, the prognosis is equally sceptical. “From a video production perspective, 8K is a long way away except within the world of digital cinema,” he says. Hitachi Kokusai launched an 8K system camera at NAB (created for the NHK trials), but the list price of $600K means that very few companies are going to be able to experiment in the short to medium term. Simply put, there are no even relatively inexpensive ways to acquire 8K content at the moment.”

For an alternative point of view take a look back in history at a precedent for when broadcasters chose to leapfrog resolution standards. While the US was first to launch into HD in 1998 Europe’s broadcasters opted to sit back a few years and wait to implement an arguably greater step change in quality over PAL than 720p with 1080i. The 8K production ecosystem is being rounded out, screens are coming to market and content is coming, albeit in limited from the Olympics. As IP is implemented then a move to 8K production should be relatively straightforward.

Virtual Reality Olympics

Following a first test of a 180-degree VR experience at the Lillehammer 2016 Winter Youth Olympic Games, OBS will continue exploring VR possibilities in Rio. It plans to live stream in VR at least one event a day during the Games. These include Athletics Artistic Gymnastics, Mens semi final Basketball, Beach Volleyball, Fencing and the opening and closing ceremony.

“We are offering this as an end to end production of white label content to rights holders,” explains Salamouris. It will deploy four rigs with eight cameras and produce three 360-degree live streams which will be viewer selectable as well as a curated 360-degree view.

Once more the focus for OBS is on editorial presentation. “The language for VR is under development. The experience is unique and there’s a big momentum and interest coming from many different areas, but we don’t know what will be the best way to offer this to a sports audience.

“We want to position cameras close to the actual action so viewers have an opportunity to be in an immersive environment where the action is happening and also we will place cameras in positions where it might be called ‘best seat in the house.”

The Lillehammer test enabled OBS to better understand the positioning of the VR cameras (i.e. as close as possible to the field of play to increase the feeling of “being there”) and refine its production plans for Rio 2016. Adds OBS, “We do not pretend that our VR coverage in Rio will be as mature as our standard coverage, but we are endeavouring to offer a completely different type of opportunity and experience and for an event like the Olympic Games where it’s all about experience, providing an opportunity for people around the world to have a sense of being there is of extraordinary value.”

The multilateral HD production of the games is expected to yield over 7000 hours of coverage and will include feeds from 14 cablecams (a Games record), two drones (used for example over water slalom events rather than in stadia) and point of view action cams on equipment (such as sailing vessels). There are even plans to include POV cams on athletes, such as canoe slalomists.


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