SVG Sit-Down: Sony’s Yamanaka, Sayama Talk 4K Roadmap, HDR, and the Promise of IP

It has been a big year for Sony’s Professional Solutions Group, which made a splash at NAB 2015 in April and at IBC in September with the release of the HDC-4300 4K/high-speed/HD camera system. The HDC-4300 — the world’s first camera to use three -in. 4K imagers — was immediately adopted by Game Creek Video, NEP, Bexel, CBS, Fox Sports, NBC Sports, and others. In addition, Sony continues to roll out products for its end-to-end live-4K-production ecosystem, live HDR production, and its IP Live Production System.

This month, SVG visited Sony’s Tokyo headquarters to sit down with Koichi Yamanaka, GM, Marketing Dept., Content Creation Solutions Business Division, Professional Solutions Group, Imaging Products & Solutions Sector, and Kento Sayama, senior manager, Area Strategy & Key Account Marketing, to discuss the success of the HDC-4300, the continued evolution of the 4K- and HDR-production ecosystems, the promise of IP-based solutions, and the impact of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics on Sony’s tech roadmap.

Koichi Yamanaka (right) and Kento Sayama at Sony HQ in Tokyo

Koichi Yamanaka (right) and Kento Sayama at Sony HQ in Tokyo

The release of the HDC-4300 seems to have been a success, with several major sports and remote-production organizations purchasing the camera system. Can you provide an update on how the market has reacted since its initial launch?
Koichi Yamanaka: The 4300 has been great, and, after the launch at NAB, we saw much success in the United States. All major sports-production companies adopted our 4300. I think you can see almost all major sports networks and major OB-van companies and major rental companies affiliated to sports production adopted 4300. We also have seen very good results from [the IBC launch to the European market] as well. All in all, the 4300 launch in U.S. and Europe has been very successful.

The benefit of 4300 is ⅔-in. three-chip true 4K resolution; that is a differentiation point for us. And many customers, including in the United States, are picking HDC-4300s not only for 4K production but also for use for high frame rate and [for] HD production as well. That’s why I could see so many inquiries of 4300 not only for U.S. and Europe but also Asia. I see continuing great momentum for 4300.

How does the HDC-4300’s licensing model for 4K and high-speed functionality benefit live-sports producers?
Yamanaka: The licensing concept [was introduced specifically] to meet the production-market demands because, depending on the event, the required spec is different. In addition to the permanent license, we also have weekly and monthly licenses as well. So, even for a very short period, the customer can use the 4300 in an efficient model. It also gives us very good feedback [from the users].

Do you see increased demand for tools for live 4K production? How does the launch of BT Sport Ultra HD and Sky Perfect 4K and the upcoming launch of Rogers 4K TV affect this growth?
Yamanaka: I think the demand for 4K content is definitely going to be increasing, not only for traditional networks but also including OTT. The [number of] 4K channels and demand for 4K content are increasing, which you are going to see more high-quality, premium 4K sports production.

Kento Sayama: One thing I think we need to be really clear about is, we are not in the driver’s seat of this transition because we have 4300. The core is that we understood customers require it, and we were fortunate enough that we had the technologies to realize it. For many years, we have had a lot of requirements coming in from the customer side saying we need more depth of field in 4K production, or HD production with 4K protection in the future. We have all the customers saying we need to protect the investment that they have made [previously]. Customers told us, if they had the same standard camera in a sports field but had the ability to do high frame rate at the same time, it would save them cost, camera slots, operators, and all that. These are the true customer demands. And, because we have the technology — at this point, the only three-chip, ⅔-in, 4K studio camera — and also understood what customers were telling us, it put us into the position where we are today. So it’s a combination of technology and understanding the customer.

Over the past couple of years, overwhelming industry sentiment has been that 4K resolution isn’t enough, that you also need HDR and WGC to make a difference for the viewer. How is Sony advancing its HDR efforts?
Yamanaka: I think HDR is one of the key elements for the premium content production. [Our] F65 and F55 cinema cameras already support HDR, but, in addition, we think the HDR-content demand [is] going to increase in the future. So, this month, we are making HDR-output support available in our HDC-4300 camera. At IBC, we also showed some HDR and high-frame-rate content [shot at the 2015 Octo British Grand Prix MotoGP] and received some very good feedback from people that viewed it.

Sayama: Our HDC-4300 actually already supports HDR, but we will be supporting SLog3 [grading space], which is our suggestion for HDR production. That will be supported by the end of this month with the release of the new software. We’re not trying to create a completely a new set of equipment to do an HDR 4K live production. We’re trying to make HDR one option or one function of the existing 4K-live-production workflow. Our challenge is, of course, we need to make sure the customer can operate the HDR production’s workflow without extra costs or dedicating too many people.

I don’t want to give away too much now [about our plans], but think about [issues] like how, when the customer produces HDR, it will also have to produce SDR content. How would that be done? How would the operator be involved, and who is going to be involved? Who is going to make the decisions [regarding] color? All that stuff still needs a lot of sorting out, but we do recognize that as our task and as something we will have to figure out with customers.

How do you foresee Sony’s IP Live Production System assisting the advance of live 4K production in the coming years?
Yamanaka:
At IBC, in addition to the HDC-4300, we expanded our 4K lineup with the new 4K PWS-4500 [live server system] and the new XVS-8000 4K switcher. In addition to being 4K-ready, this equipment has an IP interface because we think, from a 4K-production point of view, utilizing IP technology is going to be very important in making the productions more efficient. Our 4K-over-IP approach [focuses on] Sony’s Networked Media Interface {NMI] interface. The benefits of NMI [are that] it is very efficient to handle 4K, it’s very flexible for integration to HD, and it can handle uncompressed. We are collaborating with the other companies because we are talking about an [end-to-end] system; 36 companies have already announced they are joining the Sony NMI [alliance]. In addition, we are working with the standards bodies and SMPTE to apply the industry standard.

What impact does development of NHK’s 8K-live-production technologies have on Sony’s 4K roadmap? Can 4K and 8K coexist?
Sayama:
The Japanese government and NHK have advanced their plans for 8K broadcasting [to launch in 2018]. Would that influence our development? The answer is probably no, simply because 8K is a natural migration from 4K to a higher resolution. As a technology company, we’ve always been looking into 4K and beyond, and we just continue to do so.

In terms of technical development, as a Japanese company, we take pride in taking part in the projects of NHK and the government to promote 8K. As a business body, we do see 4K having immediate business potential. In order to make a business globally out of 8K technology, we think there are many obstacles still to [overcome], from lens to recording and transmission. Therefore, we don’t see 8K as an immediate business target, but we just continue to work on it as technology. When we have a higher-resolution technology with 4K, that means HD [also] gets better. We feel the same can be true of 8K.

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics are now less than five years away and preparations are well under way. Since major sports events are a catalyst for major technological breakthroughs, how do you see the Games’ presence in Japan impacting Sony’s tech development in the coming years?
Sayama:
I think the fact that 2020 takes place in Tokyo is obviously something special for us, but not to the extent that they will change our development plans. We are a global company; we do business all over. Whether a large sports event takes place elsewhere in the world or takes place in Japan, we still get involved to a great extent through our customers. Yes, we do target large sporting events in terms of technical development and launching new products, but we’ve always been doing that, and we will continue to do that. The Tokyo Games are just another chapter.

These large sports events create special demand from our customers, which gives us an extra push to stretch a little more. As an example, TV Global in Brazil has just announced that they are making the world’s first purpose-built 4K/IP OB van, and they’ve selected us to be their partner. We’re very proud of that. There is specific demand that is a little bit of a stretch today. We try to meet the demand, and that’s how we all progress as a market. Usually with big events, our customer has their frontline main business and, on the side of it, do a trial for the future technology. And then, the next event, that future test will become the main body. So it’s a progression.

Have you seen the live-sports production market grow in Japan in recent years? Do you expect it to grow in the future?
Yamanaka:
As Japanese broadcasters and the sports domain look at the 4K or 8K transition, there has been some inquiry [regarding] the next investment and how 4K or 8K is going to increase. For example, [for] the HDC-4300 and 4K production systems, I can see demand is increasing. I think, especially for Japan’s sports market [and in the] U.S., the customers’ media strategy is growing, and 4K will help that.

Sayama: We are definitely happy and aware that use of video technologies within the sports organizations in Japan is increasing — whether it is training or stadium entertainment or promotion to other Asian countries. Overall, use of video is increasing in the sports industry in Japan. For that reason, we’re very excited, and we do expect growth in terms of our business in sports.