NAB 2014: 4K (and HDR) In the Air
Sure, 4K/Ultra HD TVs are being pushed on consumers, and outlets like Netflix have finally started to stream some 4K our way. But is a 4K future weighing heavily on the minds of broadcasters? As it turns out, the answer is yes: A quick stroll around the recent National Association of Broadcasters show, which took place in Las Vegas on April 7-10, provided plenty of confirmation that the idea of gearing up for 4K/Ultra HD is indeed looming large.
More after the break.
Preparing to Transmit
Camera manufacturers including Sony, JVC, Canon, Red and Blackmagic Design all showed new models at NAB designed to capture images at 4K or higher resolution. Some of these cams can also record at higher frame rates such as 60 fps. Not all are expensive, either—Blackmagic Design’s compact Production Camera 4K, which records video to removable SSDs at 3840 x 2160 UHD resolution, for example, costs only $2995.
Pre-4K preparation was also in evidence on the editing side, with both Avid (Media Composer) and Adobe (Premiere) showing solutions for incorporating 4K footage into workflows. Many smaller exhibits scattered throughout the show highlighted Apple’s relatively new Mac Pro workstation, which can chop up 4K footage with ease via the company’s Final Cut Pro software and simultaneously output data to attached storage and 4K video to a 4K monitor over a Thunderbolt 2 connection.
Best Selling Soundbars and 5.1 Surround Systems
The Rec. 2020 “spec” for Ultra HD also takes 8K resolution into account, and there were signs at NAB that some broadcasters are thinking ahead to 8K—in Japan, at least. That country’s public broadcasting entity, NHK, used the opportunity afforded by NAB to demo over-the-air transmission of its Super Hi-Vision system on a 6 MHz UHF broadcast channel. Gear highlights in the NHK booth included a compact 8K studio camera and a 22.2-channel “soundbar” integrated with an 8K-rez (7680 x 4320-pixel) flat-panel LCD. The crowded NAB showfloor wasn’t the best place to take in NHK’s sound demo, but it was intriguing enough to make me want to hear more.
Elsewhere at NAB, Dolby Labs demo’d the same Dolby Vision High Dynamic Range technology that it had previously showcased at CES. Dolby’s process uses metadata that instructs a full-array LED LCD to selectively boost the contrast range of images so that highlights and shadows pop with the same intensity that they do in real life. (That’s the theory, anyway.) Dolby Vision created a fair amount of buzz among the nerd herd at CES, but it now seems that both Hollywood and the broadcast TV community is taking an active interest in it. Academy Award winning cinematographer (Life of Pi) Claudio Miranda announced at NAB that he intends to push through an HDR pass of the upcoming Disney release Tomorrowland during post-production. And Emmanuel Lubezki, Best Cinematography Oscar winner for Gravity, also talked up his interest in using HDR technology for future projects during an NAB panel.
Dolby Vision might be getting the attention, but it isn’t the only company pushing HDR tech. Technicolor demo’d its own take on the HDR at NAB, which it hopes to have included as part of the HEVC compression standard being used for 4K/Ultra HD distribution. Technicolor’s version doesn’t appear to be substantially different from Dolby’s—at least on the post-production end—though the company is putting an emphasis on expanding the HDR treatment to legacy movies in addition to new content shot at 4K resolution.
The Last Broadcast?
Why are broadcasters giving 4K a second thought when, unlike with the DTV transition, there isn’t a government mandate to upgrade? That’s because streaming services like Netflix and Amazon are getting into the TV production game, and they’ll be delivering increasing amounts of content in 4K going forward. So it all basically comes down to competition: The CEA forecasts that by 2017 more than 50% of of 55-inch and larger LED LCD models sold will be UHDTVs, and consumers are going to expect actual UHD content to fill the pixels of those screens. If TV broadcasters want to continue grabbing eyeballs, the shows they produce are going to have to be in Ultra HD. —Zak Nugent
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