As highlighted by Niclas Ericson, director FIFA TV at IBC, while a full HD production dominates the schedule of FIFA’s host broadcast partner HBS, most of the chatter inevitably surrounds the broadcast of the final in Ultra HD 4K from Brazil next July.
“The whole debate reminds me of that in the ‘90’s when the industry first adopted HD,” says Francis Tellier, HBS’ chief. “Most directors at that time were telling me that we needed two different productions – one 4x3 SD and another 16x9 HD. After 2006 we decided on a single 16x9 HD production since doing two was not economically viable.
“What Sony delivered at the Confederations Cup is technically very good but we are still a very long way off in terms of production. One limitation is the amount of cameras available in 4K. You can’t tell the story of the match in the same way [as HD] given this current limitation so you are obliged to find a different way to tell it.”
At the same time in June, NHK was conducting its latest trial of 8K capture, which Tellier admits is “super-brilliant. But the production limitations are still huge.”
Nonetheless, he thinks that an 8K Ultra HD World Cup for WC2014 is a technical possibility.
“Sony is talking with FIFA and FIFA is talking with NHK. Technically it is possible to send an 8K signal back to Japan [over IP] and then onto satellite so maybe they can do the final in 2014 in 8K.
“I have mixed feelings about this [Ultra HD] innovation. The message from the World Cup 2006 was that Full HD was becoming mainstream. Four years later the message was that 3D was becoming business as usual. But that was misunderstood. 3D was always a grand experiment and was certainly not ready to go mainstream. We must be careful not to confuse the consumer again with a message that Ultra HD in 4K or 8K is ready. It is still experimental.”
HBS collaborated with Sony to produce three matches in 4K Ultra-HD at FIFA's Confederation's Cup soccer tournament in Brazil, June but stresses that the format's production is still experimental.
“What Sony delivered at the Confederation's Cup is technically very good but we are still a very long way in terms of production,” says Tellier. “One limitation is the amount of cameras available in 4K. You can't tell the story of the match in the same way [as HD] given this current limitation, so you are obliged to find a different way to tell it.”
At the same time in June, NHK were conducting their latest trial of 8K capture, which Tellier admits is “super-brilliant. But the production limitations are still huge.”
He says: “I have mixed feelings about this [Ultra-HD] innovation. The message from the World Cup 2006 was that Full HD was becoming mainstream. Four years later the message was that 3D was becoming business as usual. But that was misunderstood. 3D was always a grand experiment and was certainly not ready to go mainstream. We must be careful not to confuse the consumer again with a message that Ultra-HD in 4K or 8K is ready. It is still experimental.
“FIFA is consulting broadcasters, producing an inventory of the feeds and seeing if there is any interest in 4K broadcasts. We are all working on it right now and no decisions have been made. It won't be possible, though, to finance all the matches in 4K. That equation won't work.”
FIFA and HBS famously mounted a 3D production of 25 live matches from South Africa in 2010 but that is very likely to be reduced this time round despite strong interest from China's leading broadcaster CCTV.
“We should not forget that 3D TV is very active in China and also that Al Jazeera is keen,” he says. “We don't have BSkyB [who do not hold World Cup rights] and it was a big blow that ESPN bowed out. This made quite an impression on FIFA. But the debate is still open.
Tellier characterises 3D production as “frozen” and likely to remain so until the “big push” into 4K is over.
“It's best to wait for 4K to become established and then come back to 3D by which time we can get rid of the [need to wear] glasses,” he says. “It's a pity that the industry has stopped working to solve how to make a single production deliver a 2D and a 3D output. The industry has not really experimented with all the possibilities of 5D.”
Roughly 3000 hours of HD content will be captured during the 2014 event, similar to World Cup South Africa 2010, and much more of this will be stored longer term rather than erased - a necessity in SA in order to free up server space. There will also be 40 ENG crews located in the vast Brazilian hinterland to deliver training camp action and local colour back to the International Broadcast Centre in Rio.
All of that is designed to save broadcasters the cost of shipping equipment and staff around the country between matches. HBS itself scales up to 3000 staff during the tournament, from the 50 permanent staff based out of its Zug, Switzerland HQ.
“We were ready for second screen in 2006 though it was not called that then and by 2010 we were already producing great content in great quantity to service bespoke broadcast requirements,” he says. “This time we are taking that a stage further by offering turnkey second screen services to our smaller right holders which they can customise with their own branding and additional content.”
Other innovations include an aerial camera at each stadium (only four venues featured them in SA) but Tellier is keen to ensure his directors don't overuse them.
“They can deliver spectacular shots but they can also be overused, and have been at other events,” he says.
Each match will be ringed with around 34 cameras but there is a limit, thinks Tellier, to the number necessary to convey the game.
“Additional cameras may give you more for post match or second screen but very few directors are able to manage more than 15 or 18 and keep it under control. The storytelling is paramount and too many cameras can actually be counterproductive.”
With the draw for World Cup Russia 2018 planned for July next year, Tellier has to deliver a blueprint and budget to FIFA by July 2015.
“Our first stage is to learn if there’s a need to update the technical specs from 2014 for stadiums and telecommunications but the Russians are very good at organising in advance so it's more a case of establishing good relationships with the right people there.”
By Adrian Pennington