SVG Sports Imaging Forum Outlines the State of HD Production, Previews Future of 4K, HDR, and More

SVG’s inaugural Sports Imaging Forum in New York City on July 26 drew more than 150 video-production pros to discuss the latest technological developments in cameras and lenses. It focused not only on today’s HD production tools but also on the latest developments in video-production technology for 4K/UHD, high dynamic range, virtual reality, and more.

The SVG Imaging Forum's opening panel was moderated by IABM’s CTO Stan Moote and featured (from left) Panasonic's Michael Bergeron, Ikegami's Alan Keil, Grass Valley's Marcel Koutstaal, Sony's Rob Willox, and JVCKenwood's Craig Yanagi.

The SVG Imaging Forum’s opening panel was moderated by IABM’s CTO Stan Moote and featured (from left) Panasonic’s Michael Bergeron, Ikegami’s Alan Keil, Grass Valley’s Marcel Koutstaal, Sony’s Rob Willox, and JVCKenwood’s Craig Yanagi.

With the hype surrounding 4K/UHD, HDR, high frame rate, and wide color gamut dominating the headlines at major trade shows, it’s easy to overlook an important fact: HD live-capture tools have never been better. The cameras at the core of every major live sports production continue to improve with new features and capabilities and enhanced flexibility.

“4K is the next technology, but the business [today] is really HD,” said Michael Bergeron, business development manager, systems and networking, Cinema and Professional Video Systems, Panasonic Broadcast, during the day’s opening panel. “I remember, when we switched from SD to HD, we bemoaned the fact that we were killing SD right as we were about to perfect it. I don’t think that’s going to happen with HD, and I think that is really great news for everybody because of the advantages that we will get from the 4K development and products to perfect HD.”

The ‘More for Less’ Factor
As HD technology becomes fully mature, live-sports producers are looking to improve quality without busting budgets. As a result, camera manufacturers are tasked with creating products that can serve both low-tier productions looking to keep the budget as low as possible and high-end productions striving to produce higher-quality content on the same budget.

“HD is a very mature technology, so customers and production people are asking to do more for less,” said Marcel Koutstaal, VP/GM, Grass Valley. “For the lower segments, that means doing more with less money, and, on the high end, they want to do more with the same money and create more utilization of [their equipment]. Especially on the lower segments, we seeing HD cameras positioned at lower price points than we’re used to. Then there is UHD, which is on the horizon and something that will happen, but the maturity today is in HD productions.”

Lower-Tier Sports-Production Market Exploding
More live sports content is produced today than ever before; college Olympic sports and lower-profile pro sports are regularly televised and live-streamed. Since many of these productions generate little to no revenue, they require simple, easy-to-use solutions at a low price point, creating a burgeoning new market for camera manufacturers.

For example, this year, JVC introduced its GY-HM200SP camera, which can overlay graphics into a live production without the need of a production switcher. Using tools like the GY-HM200SP and other low-cost cameras, a single operator can stream high-quality coverage of a lower-tier sports event.

“It’s been really interesting these past few years, because HD isn’t just a [broadcast] platform anymore. It is an equalizing platform that allows [users] to create content that typically would not be seen at that level of video quality and distribute it to the masses,” noted Craig Yanagi, product marketing manager, Professional Video Division, JVCKenwood USA. “JVC implemented streaming into our handheld cameras two years ago [in response] to the demand from the news marketplace, but we quickly found out that there was demand by content distributors for sports at the college and high school level that were looking to distribute sports content for lesser-seen sports. HD has become the common denominator for sports-content distribution, and we are more than happy to provide those solutions the marketplace is looking for.”

Bracing for 4K, While Amping Up Horsepower for HD
Although HD productions still represent the vast majority of sports productions, 4K is undoubtedly on the horizon. Content producers are looking for solutions that serve their needs today while they prepare for future 4K needs. As a result, several manufacturers have begun building 4K imagers into their HD products, not only providing a future-proof solution but adding extra horsepower for today’s HD needs, such as high frame rate.

Sony Electronics’ Rob Willox: “Once you have the infrastructure in place to handle 4K, you can handle high frame rates.”

Sony Electronics’ Rob Willox: “Once you have the infrastructure in place to handle 4K, you can handle high frame rates.”

Introduced last year, Sony’s HDC-4300 4K-capable camera has become a massively popular tool for live HD sports productions because of its ability to capture 8X slo-mo content.

“Our customers wanted the maximum utility and life of the camera system,” explained Rob Willox, marketing manager, content creation, Sony Electronics. “They knew they would be increasingly doing 4K, and they also wanted a camera that would be able to do high frame rate and 4K at a high quality level and be able to address HDR as it came through. We had several different 4K camera systems already, but we introduced a ⅔-in. CMOS 4K camera system to address the needs of sports. Once you have the infrastructure in place to handle 4K, you can handle high frame rates — in our case, up to 8X.”

Another example is Panasonic’s latest VariCam lineup, which features a 4K sensor that also allows high-speed 1080p image capture of up to 240 fps (or 120 fps in 4K).

“High speed is a really good example of a residual advantage of [using] 4K technology,” said Bergeron. “The two bottlenecks you have [with] high-speed video are the speed that you can pull the pixels off the imager and the rate that you process all that data in the camera. When you build a backend to support 4K, you now have four times the data capacity. So, if that was your bottleneck [in making] the camera go faster, that is now cleared.”

Cameras for IP Workflow
As broadcast production begins the transition to IP, the demand for cameras with a direct IP output continues to grow. Manufacturers are increasingly asked for an IP interface out the back of their cameras and are responding. All five panelists outlined their current IP-friendly imaging products and alluded to many more on their way in the near future.

“In the area of the transmission system, we are trying to deliver the most pristine picture between the [camera head and the CCU],” said Alan Keil, VP/director, engineering, Ikegami. “For example, for our 8K and 4K cameras, we are using a 40-Gbps transmission system from head to CCU. That is a lot of bandwidth, but it is supported by SMPTE or single-mode fiber. That means that, right now, our concentration on IP is at the output of the bay station.”

Check sportsvideo.org for more coverage of the inaugural SVG Sports Imaging Forum, including reports on 4K, HDR, and HFR; high-speed cameras; robotic, POV, and RF cameras; drones; VR camera systems; HD and UHD lenses; HDR production impacts; and UHD tales from the frontlines.