SVG Europe previews 2014 (part two)

With a Winter Olympics and a World Cup on the cards, as well as the usual full domestic slates, 2014 is undoubtedly going to be a busy year for the sport production community. There is, too, a whole host of technological innovation waiting in the wings. In the second of a two-part feature, Andy Stout looks back over the recent high-level conference sessions held by SVG Europe and SVG Americas to see what the great and the good reckon will be on the agenda as the year unfolds.

Where Exactly Are We on the 4K Roadmap?

This was one of the burning questions posed at the SVG Europe-organised FutureSport event.

Brian Clark, NEP Visions, commercial and technical projects director, observed that there was still a need for the market to “settle on a standard [for 4K], settle on the kit, and then there will be a trickle-down. But broadcasters have not decided [their plans] with regard to 4K, so one of the questions has to be ‘will I spend millions to buy the kit if I don’t know whether it has a life?’”

Keith Lane, Sky Sports, director of operations, spoke of the challenges involved in “knowing where to invest. Is 4K really the right way to go, or should it be 8K? You have to go in at the right level and at the right time, and I don’t think we are there yet.” Lane anticipates a hiatus in 4K testing while people “work to understand the standards and think about what kind of services they want to provide.”

Given that Sky is something of an 800lb gorilla in the European sports market, Lane’s words carry some serious weight and help point to a behind the scenes push towards higher framerates. David Shield, IMG Media, SVG global director of engineering and technology, expressed his belief that “the current incarnation of 4K is not suitable for sport. [4K] is on hold, I think, until a higher framerate standard is developed.”

As to the consumer end of the spectrum, earlier last year research body Futuresource reported that the domestic TV market was returning to growth during 2013, with 4K predicted to make a real impact in two years time. The company’s head of consumer electronics, Simon Bryant, observed: “Global 4K TV shipments will grow from just 62,000 units last year, to 780,000 in 2013 and 22 million units in 2017. The arrival of native 4K content and increased consumer awareness will help boost sales from 2015 onwards.”

Which is, of course, in line with current expectations that 2014’s major sporting events will be a test bed for the format rather than a full-on production theatre for them.

As a production format though, progress with 4K has been good. “We can do a 4K production,” commented Mark Grinyer, Sony, head of business development, Sports at Futuresport. “We have been doing a variety of tests. It is possible to do various framerates, because of the cameras available, [and there is movement towards] large single sensor cameras. Potentially broadcasters could do simulcasts: an SD cut, shoot 4K for HD cutout, and use the extra resolution to create panning cameras. It [will be] prevalent to do 4K and HD shoots at the same time – not like 3D, where you need two separate crews.”

Nevertheless, some are already taking a longer term view of the format. Dr. Peter Siebert, DVB Project Office, executive director, talked about the potential redesign of OB vehicles and the need to accommodate high framerates. “2016, 2017, we are talking about a second level of the DVB UHD standard, expanding the colour gamut among other developments,” he said.

And while Siebert was among those who expected the roadmap to become significantly more defined during the course of 2014, a note of caution sounded from December’s US sessions. “The question is whether any production will be done in 4K and I am dubious,” said Rob Hunter, a former ESPN executive charged with looking at developing technology opportunities. “We’re five years into 1080p and there still hasn’t been a live 1080p production even though the trucks can do it.”

The Need for Speed

There are several technologies that can be put in the ‘bubbling under’ category which might spring a surprise during the year, one of which, autostereoscopic 3D, we will know a lot more about very soon as CES 2014 opens its doors in Las Vegas. Could 2014 really herald the advances in domestic sets that could cause the currently moribund 3D market to kick off again? It will certainly muddy the waters of any likely 4K take up if it is.

Elsewhere, both high framerates (being championed by BBC research teams and others such as Andy Quested, EBU, programme manager as being “vital”) and high dynamic range imaging hold up the prospect of more work being done in the HD arena before we move on to any new format. But what is really interesting is that the sport we cover itself seems to be changing.

As SVG Americas wrote: “Two of the top teams in the AFC – the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots – are a sign of the times in the NFL today, having already run more than 1,000 plays from scrimmage through their first 14 games. That’s more plays than nearly half of the league’s teams ran all of last season.”

This reflects enormous changes in other sports as well that can be roughly characterised as ‘bigger, better, faster, more’. Rugby is becoming a quicker and quicker game as it firmly ditches its amateur past. Test cricket teams are scoring at nearly double the rate they did a couple of decades ago, the number of passing moves in soccer is skyrocketing all the time…

“It’s moving so quickly that you’ve got to retrain your crews,” commented Harold Bryant, executive producer and vice president of production for CBS Sports, which covers the NFL and SEC football. “Whether its on replays and cue-ing them tighter, or making sure your cameramen are set. Unfortunately, you can’t get some of those stories in that you want to because the game is moving so fast and we’re having to adjust in the truck.”

Even if for once the technology was to remain still for a year, it appears that the sport won’t…

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