FutureSPORT: 4K Stole the (NAB) Show, But There’s Work To Be Done

For the latest in 4K workflows, one had to look no further than the show floor of the Las Vegas Convention Center last month. From FOR-A’s FT-ONE 4K super-slow-motion camera to Evertz’s Dreamcatcher to Sony’s breathtaking consumer displays and every workflow component in between, 4K was the star of NAB 2013.

At last week’s FutureSPORT Summit in New York City, leading manufacturers of 4K production tools discussed their products and more that are paving the way for the production format.

From left: FOR-A’s Jay Shinn, Canon USA’s Larry Thorpe, Sony’s Hugo Gaggioni, Evertz’s Vince Silvestri, and FUJIFILM’s Thom Calabro

From left: FOR-A’s Jay Shinn, Canon USA’s Larry Thorpe, Sony’s Hugo Gaggioni, Evertz’s Vince Silvestri, and FUJIFILM’s Thom Calabro

“A lot of media customers are interested in this technology,” said Jay Shinn, Northeast account manager, FOR-A. “[At NAB], they already had some knowledge of what 4K could bring to the table so they were happy to see other products emerging in 4K besides just the camera, from us as well as from other manufacturers. It was quite encouraging to see continued interest.”

However, with interest comes a barrage of questions, and inevitable comparisons to the transition to HD.

Larry Thorpe, senior fellow, Imaging Technologies & Communications Group, Professional Engineering & Solutions Division, Canon USA, noted the difference between the introduction of 4K and the launch of HD: this time, consumer products and production tools are appearing at the same time. “The products are rolling out almost simultaneously, and that did not happen with HD. There was a 10-year gap between early HD production equipment and [when] the consumer-electronics industry joined in, and that made the transition to HD long and painful.”

Of course, he continued, the transition to 4K may still be painful (and not everyone has the room or the resources for an 80-in. display), but the sheer number of products shown at NAB 2013 was encouraging.

Also encouraging is the accessibility of 4K. Although complete 4K workflows are still a way off, broadcasters are finding ways to integrate 4K technologies into HD productions.

“I think the eye-opener is when you say you can use 4K now in an HD production and augment and enhance that HD production,” said Vince Silvestri, VP of software systems, Evertz. “We showed some of the things we’re able to do with [Dreamcatcher slow-motion replay technology]: zooming, panning, scanning stuff and fit it right into your production and tell the story.”

As the major networks have demonstrated, 4K technologies can be integrated into HD workflows and will continue to be a key production tool for sports events.

“[There are] three major sporting events in the coming years: the Confederation Cup this coming June, the World Cup next July, and the Olympic Games [next winter]. All these events will be pushing 4K very aggressively,” said Hugo Gaggioni, chief technology officer, Sony Broadcast & Professional Solutions Division. “We have been developing equipment to support fully a complete production in 4K.”

When it comes to producing full end-to-end 4K workflows, however, the rules of HD may no longer apply. Producers and directors need the opportunity to experiment with 4K technologies now to see which HD techniques work and which need to be adapted. Through experimentation, creatives can also provide feedback to manufacturers for future technology iterations.

“[What you need] to do a game — whatever the game is — all in 4K with today’s restrictions is a new choreography,” said Thorpe. “My personal belief is, if you’re going to have 4K [and] have the large screens, why not open up the angle of the lens? Why do we need to zoom as much as we do today? Perhaps we don’t need to switch as fast as we do between 20 cameras; maybe we switch between seven or eight cameras.”

At several times during the FutureSPORT Summit, experimenting with 4K was likened to a science experiment. Manufacturers have long focused on their specific cogs in the 4K workflow, requiring end users to take a mix-and-match approach to integrating the format.

“All the ingredients aren’t quite there, so it is a bit of a science project — from lenses to fiber to routers to the infrastructure — to make this thing hum,” said Shinn. “I see a lot of … scientists trying to make all the pieces work together like they used to [with HD]. But it’s coming together. Within the next 12 months, I think that process will be much more commercial than it is today.”

If 4K workflows are to go mainstream, they need to be streamlined. Beautiful images aren’t enough; production teams need both speed and ease of use to tell their story.

“Speed is the most important thing,” said Silvestri. “If they’re struggling to tell the story, if the guys can’t create fast enough, then it adds a lot of friction.”

The future of 4K may be up for debate, but the panelists vehemently agreed on one thing: 4K will not face the same problems that hindered 3D.

“3D was quite unique in its shooting, in how it was seen or not seen in the home. It was always a problem because, until quite recently, you’d need active glasses. You also had a host of problems, [including] angle of view,” said Thom Calabro, director, marketing and product development, Optical Devices Division, FUJIFILM. “No, I don’t think we’re going to see the same issues with 4K as we did with 3D. I think [4K] will come; it’s certainly in Hollywood, for sure. They’ve embraced it, and I don’t think there’s any looking back.”