IBC2015 Analysis: Change Meets Opportunity

IBC2015 is officially in the books, and, once again, it provided an overwhelming glimpse of future possibilities and current opportunities, thanks to a manufacturing community constantly on the hunt for audio and video tools and workflows that can create a more lifelike consumer viewing/listening experience on any device anywhere.

The temptation in trying to recap an expansive show like IBC (or the NAB Show, for that matter) is to highlight a couple of hot trends. And there actually was a time when that was possible. But exhibitors have become so diverse in terms of the market they serve (broadcast, digital cinema, OTT, digital signage, social media) that, every year, the core broadcast audience becomes a lesser focus.

ibc2015_logoFortunately, a few key themes permeated the floor: capturing and delivering a more life-like audio and video experience, the move to IP-based production tools, and OTT and non-traditional distribution platforms.

Once again, the industry is debating the merits of two acronyms that include the letters H and D.

It is amazing to think back to IBC2005, just 10 years ago, and consider that there was much debate over what HDTV could mean for the European market. In fact, at the time of that show, the only HDTV service in Europe was Belgium’s Europe1080. Sales of HD television sets were slow, and the hope was that the 2006 World Cup, produced in HD by FIFA and HBS, would put the format over the top. There was plenty of resistance: many of the benefits of HD that were apparent elsewhere were marginal in Europe because the PAL format had made the move to widescreen 625-line interlace broadcasts.

The debates in 2005 over whether viewers could tell the difference between HD and PAL, sluggish set sales meant the format was doomed to fail, and there was financial incentive to go HD are reflected in this year’s debate over next-generation UHD and HDR services.

The interesting thing at IBC2015 was to see how quickly HDR (high-dynamic-range) imaging has grown since NAB 2015 just five months ago. HDR demos were scarce, the most noticeable being at the Canon, Sony, and Dolby stands.

It seemed that one could not walk more than 50 ft. (particularly in Halls 1, 2, 3, and 4, which were dominated by encoder/decoder technology) without experiencing the brighter and more colorful HDR images. In addition, there were compelling demos of how to deliver them. One was a demonstration in the Sony booth, where MotoGP HDR content was shown in a side-by-side demo on a non-HDR set and an HDR-set. The goal was to show how a new HDR encoder that is being jointly developed by the BBC and NHK can allow for a single broadcast to be received by either a non-HDR set (without the full range of HDR) or an HDR set (with the full range of HDR) at the same time. It is demos like that that go a long way towards showing a path forward for the industry.

Cameras and imaging gear also made the jump to HDR image quality. Grass Valley’s XDR (extended-dynamic-range) camera, for example, provides 15 f-stops of sensitivity, and there were plenty of other HDR-capable cameras on display. And Canon demonstrated an 86X UHD lens that has characteristics that the company says also makes it suited for cameras that are above 4K in resolution.

Given the UHD and HDR production gear and all the UHD and HDR encoding and decoding gear on display, the next leap in technology is likely to make NAB 2016 a true UHD/HDR showcase.

And that gets the industry back to those debates of 2005. More than ever, there is a sense that the ability of TV channels and OTT services to fully engage with UHD and HDR will depend on what the consumer-electronics industry exhibits at its big confab in Las Vegas in January. UHD sets across the board need to make the move to HDR. And, more important, larger sets — say, above 80 in. — need to come down in price to a level that makes them attractive to consumers. Unless consumers can see a difference between HD and UHD (and you need an 80-in. set to easily see it) and between SDR and HDR, the lack of a value proposition that caused such consternation in 2005 with HD (and, arguably, in 2010-13 with 3D) will be back with a vengeance.

It was fairly clear during the five days of IBC (and at the SVG Europe Sport Production Summit the day before the show started) that the industry is entering a fascinating time of possibilities with respect to capturing stunning images and delivering them to the home.

It will take a few years for over-the-air broadcast to lay the foundation for UHD/HDR delivery to the home, and, in that time, cable, satellite, and OTT services will step up to the task. That, in and of itself, will change the very nature of major trade shows like the NAB Show and IBC because it will bring in a more diverse and less traditional audience, an audience that believes in changing the game.

By the time the game is changed, the industry will most likely find itself in a place where everything is possible in acquisition, consumers have limitless content-consumption options, and the gates are wide open for anyone who wants to become part of the industry, whether on the creation side or the delivery side.

There is still plenty of work to be done with respect to standards and workflows, but, given what we have seen in the past six months alone, it looks like the manufacturers and industry-standards bodies are ready to deliver solutions more quickly than ever. The result is not only a quickening pace of change but a wider horizon of opportunities.