Sony remains bullish on 4K HDR after successful Sony Open tests

The Sony Open returned to the Waialae Golf Course in Honolulu last month and, once again, served as a proving ground for Sony’s latest technology. In previous tournaments, the production team tested nascent HD technologies and took burgeoning 3D workflows for a ride. This year, the focus was fully on 4K HDR.

“We used live 4K cameras and high dynamic range on one hole to see how this would look with golf [and to demonstrate] the benefits of using 4K or HD and being able to have a true-to-life proof of concept that we could take back and look at,” said Rob Willox, director of marketing, Sony Electronics. “It was a very comprehensive effort: shooting, switching, recording, and postproduction was all done on Sony 4K and HDR.”

In addition to the multiple HD cameras that covered the golf tournament for Golf Channel, Sony stationed three HDC-4300 4K/HD camera systems with ⅔-in. 4K image sensors on the 17th hole to capture the action in 4K resolution. A fourth 4300 camera recorded action on a live studio set, feeding 4K content to an in-studio 75-in. monitor and playing back to a studio audience; a fifth 4300 was on hand as a spare.

Throughout the broadcast, the 4300s were used in a dual role, matching images with the HDC-2500 cameras used for the rest of the broadcast while simultaneously recording 4K HDR images to separate servers as part of Sony’s ongoing research in HDR production. The 4300s were flanked by three Sony F55 cameras recording in 4K RAW, which were converted to HD for the main broadcast.

According to Willox, by capturing 4K content with both the 4300s and the F55s, Sony will be able to comprehensively show the capabilities of 4K and HDR for sports production at NAB 2016.

“Golf lends itself really well to HDR,” said Willox. “[The golfers] had some vibrant outfits — whether it’s orange pants or green or red or yellow matching up against the caddies, who are generally dressed in white; then you have the green roughs and the fairways and putting greens. You have the backdrop of the white clouds and the blue sky, and HDR, with its colour range, really handles all those colours extraordinarily well, giving it a very natural look.”

NEP’s NCPIV and NCPXIV units were on hand to cover the Sony Open. In addition to the Sony 4300 and F55 cameras, Sony also tested a 4K production switcher, portable wireless server, and Catalyst production suite. The company has two technicians from Japan and three from the U.S. onsite, along with a small marketing team.

“The footprint that we took up to do 4K was really no larger than the footprint we would have taken up to do HD,” Willox points out. “We just needed more storage from a camera, switcher, storage standpoint. It would have been the same size whether it was HD or 4K, and the same crew requirement, for that matter.”

Unlike the 3D tests performed four and five years ago at the Sony Open, 4K does not require an entirely separate production technology, team and truck to create a true 4K broadcast. And, although transmission of 4K content to the home continues to be a challenge, Sony remains bullish on the future of 4K sports broadcasts.

“I think [one] thing that we really wanted to see come out is that, with a relatively normal effort, a 4K HDR production was produced,” said John Studdert, VP, US sales and marketing, Sony Electronics. “Going forward, whether it’s the next year or two or three years, a lot of customers will have to do a dual broadcast. This was a good proof of concept for that, and we learned a lot.”

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