4K begins to hit radar screens of OB companies

By Adrian Pennington

There are contrasting views on the imminence of a 4K live production model from the outside broadcasters running the UK’s largest fleets. SIS LIVE, which supported the Super Hi-Vision BBC/NHK 8K trials during the London Games, says it has received no interest in 4K. NEP Visions, on the other hand, is actively looking at how it can accommodate 4K believing that multi-camera 4K OB production is less than three years away.

Indeed Brian Clark, Commercial & Technical Projects Director, NEP Visions UK hints that the firm is working under NDA with manufacturers to test parts of the 4K workflow and he believes that within the next three years multi-camera acquisition in 4K will be a reality.

“4K is very, very much on our radar,” says Clark. “Although the next leap in resolution was expected to be 1080p 50 we’ve reached a point where the market might skip that and go straight to 4K.”

He adds: “If you look at the HD model then as an industry we were acquiring HD long before it became a transmission requirement so it would be very naive to ignore 4K. We want to know what the limitations are for 4K, how to process the data, how much bandwidth is needed to acquire, record and store and how all of this will affect the broadcast and facility market.

Clark says 3G technology that is at the core of many OB units can handle higher-resolution formats that require more bandwidth. Atlantic [the division’s brand new 3G – 1080p 50 vehicle] is the test-bed for how Visions could achieve 4K acquisition, record and play.

“Since 4K is effectively two HD signals, manipulating it comes down to crunching data,” he says. “The entire design of Atlantic is IP-based where we are managing data not traditional HD signals down coax. All the monitoring, for example, is HDMI input, there’s not a single video feed into the truck.

“[Formats like] 4K, 6K, 8K are on a rapid technology path,” he says. “We feel we have to learn how to manipulate 1080 50p signals in the first instance. As you see the tech emerge you have to tackle it in terms of investment and think about the next big thing that broadcasters will need. We communicate very carefully with our parent company [NEP Broadcasting] to examine tech trends.”

Meanwhile SIS LIVE says it is monitoring the development of U-HD technology and any potential demand very closely.

“OBs are often challenging which puts demands on the equipment, so any 4K equipment would have to robust enough to withstand this usage,” says Phil Aspden, SIS LIVE, commercial director. “Although 4K cameras have been on the market for some time, these would need to be further developed to be as compact, portable and reliable as possible to be able to capture the range of shots we currently achieve in OB scenarios.

Aspden say all of SIS LIVE’s recent trucks have been built to be 3G capable and designed to handle HD signals [but] would still need to have the whole production and distribution infrastructure upgraded to be able to handle live 4K.

“4K will capture the imagination of audiences in the home,” he adds. “Particularly when seen on a 100-inch OLED in the living room then HD will start to look a little soft. As people trend toward larger screens that we will see improvements in production resolution but from a purely financial point of view investment in 4K is still a few years away.”

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