UHD at IBC: Beyond the Buzz (Part One)

Will Ultra HD and 4K become a broadcast reality? That was one of the consistent themes at IBC as manufacturers and end users alike struggle with just how UHD becomes a reality within broadcast plants and in living rooms, what it means to product development, and how it can avoid the infamous burnout that 3D suffered when the industry tried to drive a format that could have used another year or two to mature before potential deployment.

The production of 4K material is only one aspect of the UHD challenge. The bigger one is how, exactly, broadcasters are going to deliver it to homes.

At IBC the DVB provided an update on its plans to make UHD broadcasts an over-the-air reality. David Wood, chair of the DVB UHD and 3D TV committees, says that a specification for phase one delivery of UHD signals, which would allow for an 8-bit, 60 frames per second service to get on air, is available today.

“Phase 1 receivers can be made right now,” he explains. “And phase two will have more features and should be suitable in 2017 or 2018. It will have options like higher frame rates of up to 120Hz, an option of higher dynamic range with more sparkle, and the possibility of advanced sound systems.”

Making the delivery of UHD a reality will be a major milestone for the format and allow broadcasters to do more than simply talk about UHD. It will also open the floodgates on further developments with respect to production tools and workflows.

“UHD1 is certainly a matter of some interest from our customers here,” says Martin Holmes, Snell, VP of technology. “Right now they are wrestling with the idea of using four 3Gbps SDIs for one UHD channel or whether there is a better way. And how does IP fit into that environment?”
The myriad ways in which UHD can be approached include everything from pure UHD productions, a mix of 4K and upconverted 1080p, or even simply upconverting a complete 1080p production. Holmes adds another wrinkle to the mix: acquiring in 4K and then down converting the 4K signal to pristine 1080p HD with the use of a brickwall filter. In turn a 1080p signal is broadcast with the UHD set then upconverting the over sampled 1080p signal to UHD.

“It would make for some very pretty pictures,” he explains.

More and more production tools at the show are 4K capable. In terms of Snell’s current product line, the new Kahuna vision mixer is 4K compliant. “The new Kahuna and our Maverick panel are beautiful tools for operators,” he adds.

The potential for expanded dynamic range was also a topic of discussion when it came to 4K chatter at the show.

“I certainly think expanded dynamic range is something we will adopt,” says Holmes. “The question is if someone is watching, say, CNN, do they care? Often vendors who are involved with expanded dynamic range are pushing it as something that is better than reality with colors that aren’t real.”

Graphics, of course, are one area where more vibrant colors would be something that would benefit everyone.

“If we can expand the color range we would have even nicer graphic images,” says

Dr. Stephan Würmlin Stadler, VP of Sports at Vizrt. “UHD is not only about more pixels but also higher frame rates and that is something that sports would benefit quite a bit from.”

Dr. Stadler says that the Vizrt Viz Engines support all 4K formats and simply need to use two video and graphics cards to make it a reality. The 3.7 release of the Viz Engine supports 4K workflows.

While much of the industry discusses the when of 4K the great thing about the sports production community is that there is a healthy does of not only real-world tests and productions but also real-world use cases within HD broadcasts. EVS replay servers, for example, can handle 4K instant replay playback via quad HD transport and is currently being used by U.S. broadcasters to provide high resolution “zoom” capability within HD broadcasts.

“It gives 4K visibility in the market and allows for better HD productions at the end of the day,” says Nicolas Bourdon, SVP marketing, EVS. “Technology wise 4K is a non-event for us because bandwidth on our servers is increasing. We also can make our XT3 servers compatible with 4K via a software upgrade.”

Look for part two of the UHD at IBC report in the coming days.

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