SVG Europe Sit-Down: Sony Professional Europe’s Norbert Paquet on HDR challenges and a “very busy summer of sport”
The introduction of the HDC-4800 Super Motion camera system and the opening of an IP Live Studio at its Digital Motion Picture Centre in Pinewood Studios have been among the headline developments of a hugely eventful first half of the year for Sony Professional Europe. And over the next few months, things are likely to get even busier with the company’s HD and 4K camera products due to be used at a number of the summer’s major sport events.
These developments proved to be integral strands of SVG Europe’s recent conversation with Sony Professional Europe stategic marketing manager Norbert Paquet – although time was also found to discuss the remaining obstacles surrounding the introduction of HDR and a few hints about what to expect at IBC 2016…
How would you characterise 2016 to date in terms of overall activity levels for Sony’s professional broadcast interests?
It’s been very busy! We kicked off the year with a successful NAB and the launch of the HDC-4800 Super Motion camera system, as well as the PXW-Z450 – the world’s first 4K XDCAM shoulder camcorder. 2016 has also seen the introduction of our omni-media network production system, Media Backbone Hive, and the next generation of our media storage solution, Optical Disk Archive.
We’ve also stepped up our commitment to driving the future of IP once more, with the opening of our IP Live Studio at the Digital Motion Picture Centre in Pinewood Studios. The studio will demonstrate the full IP ecosystem, giving broadcasters and production companies the opportunity to get hands-on with a working IP Live production system. Not only that, it will also provide a landmark educational resource and a practical tool to aid literacy in IP technologies and processes.
Exciting projects with our customers have characterised the year so far, with significant investment in the HDC-4300 in particular. Euro Media Group, one of Europe’s leading broadcast service providers, has signed a four-year contract to enhance its broadcast camera fleet with our HDC-2500 and HDC-4300 cameras.
Sky News UK has invested in a full ecosystem of XDCAM products and solutions in addition to HDC-4300 cameras, including PXW-X400 shoulder camcorders, PXW-X200 handy camcorders and PXW-X70 palm camcorders, as well as PWS-100RX1 live streaming receivers.
What has been the most significant product launch of the year with relevance to sports broadcast – and why?
It has to be the HDC-4800! It offers a new approach to high frame rate production, bringing together innovative technologies for more efficient workflows and simpler operation. The BPU-4800, which integrates the replay server, enables up to four hours of Ultra High Frame rate 4K (8x super motion content) recording, as well as instant replay that can be broadcast on air immediately. The system has familiar ergonomics and commands for both camera and server operators, removing the need for dedicated specialists. Last but not least, this camera system is HDR and IP ready, so it’s fully future-proofed.
To what extent do you think we are now seeing a consensus emerge around the suggestion that 4K with HDR is the best route for the industry to take?
Since Sony started talking about 4K, it’s always come down to three factors: Resolution, Frame Rate and Dynamic Range. We strongly believe that our industry has the chance to combine these three factors to enhance the viewing experience. However, it represents several challenges from an IP and transmission point of view.
To give an example, we worked with Sky Germany and TVN on the SuperCup final to build an end-to-end production and distribution workflow for HDR. More recently, the French Tennis Federation and Euro Media trialled an end-to-end HDR live production workflow for the French Open.
What are the greatest challenges still remaining to be overcome in terms of allowing mass adoption of 4K with HDR?
While 4K and HDR offer an unprecedented user experience, there are several challenges to overcome. From a production side, while 4K and HDR uptake will continue to rise, HD and SDR production will remain the primary format for broadcasters for now. It’s important that workflows for HDR and 4K can be handled the same crew, and with the same tools for both HD and 4K.
However, while the resolution handling is simple, 4K and HDR provides some further challenges. Camera exposure in SDR and HDR is fundamentally different, so from an initial light source SDR will be over-exposed from HDR if the signal is simply transposed. The HDC-4300’s BPU processing allows a live output of both SDR and HDR signals, enabling smart mapping of HDR tones to SDR, in all live HDR workflows.
One of the key aspects of HDR is to keep the full gradation of the tones (colours and dynamic range). The current transmission infrastructure using 8bit encoding would not be sufficient to reproduce HDR tones precisely, creating a “banding” effect. Fortunately, the rise of HEVC 10bit profile in the UHD transmission chain enables a proper reproduction of the full Dynamic Range. A wide adoption of HEVC 10bit encoding is key for HDR adoption.
While production and transmission problems are on the way to being solved, the last and most important element of the value chain remains the end-user display. We work very closely with our consumer colleagues to understand this value chain and ensure that overall compatibility is ensured. The current adoption curve for 4K televisions is fairly steep, thanks to widespread availability of linear channels such as BT Sport and non-linear offerings like Netflix or Amazon. These will continue to drive adoption of 4K televisions in the home.
What can you tell us about the use of Sony cameras at some of this summer’s major sports events?
This year is a busy one for sporting events. Over in the US, the NBA finals have been shot using HDC-4300 and HDC-4800 ultra-high frame rate cameras while UEFA has deployed 4K live production workflows at EURO 2016, using one AMP Visual and two Telegenic 4K OB trucks. All three are equipped with Sony’s HDC-4300 cameras and PWS-4500 servers for master recording.
Turning to the Tennis Grand slam tournaments, the French Open has been shot by Sony Cameras for both the HD international feed (using France TV’s HDC-2400s) and 4K Production (using Euro Media’s HDC-4300s).
Finally, can you give us a few hints about what we can expect to see from Sony at IBC 2016?
At IBC 2016, we will showcase and deliver a variety of forward thinking solutions under the banner of Beyond Definition. Our focus will be on the core enabling areas of:
Image: to reinforce Sony’s leadership in image acquisition, from cost effective toolsets for independent content creators to high end sports solutions and flexible solutions for drama, and film.
IP: A world connected over IP, ready today, open for tomorrow, reinforcing Sony’s leadership on IP Solutions through standardization, interoperability and openness.
Workflow: Operational efficiency means enhanced media workflows. For live sports, news or any other type of production, focus on workflow innovation will be key at IBC this year.