IP technology is increasingly seen as a pre-requisite among broadcasters for Ultra HD production of live events, with IP-enabled cameras a key missing link.
While two thirds of the cameras for recorded content on the market are capable of shooting 4K (Futuresource Consulting), when it comes to live the issue is very different. There are no 4K cameras available to shoot a like-for-like outside broadcast.
You can certainly make it work, as Sony has proven at a range of events from War Horse Live at the National Theatre to Papal canonisations and World Cup matches in Brazil, but OB suppliers and broadcasters are withholding investment.
With no purpose-built live 4K cameras, Ultra HD live tests to date have adopted a work around using a quad 3G-SDI connection.
This has a number of inherent problems such as the difficulty in keeping signals in sync with each other and the sheer number and weight of cables. The number of connection points is multiplied, increasing the points of possible failure. In high availability applications such as live sport any outage is serious. From production switcher, to router or server, the use of quad 3G-SDI quarters the density of the products installed. A conventional 20-camera HD live event would be extremely tricky in 4K given the volume and cost of equipment involved.
The answer, of course, is to move to IP, but outside of a few cutting-edge greenfield builds, at ESPN in the US for example, this infrastructure is rare.
The BBC's forthcoming UHD-over-IP test of its own IP Studio illustrates the issue. It aims to test a complete IP production circuit from lens to viewer display, but there is one missing link in the chain: it will take quad 3G-SDI out of the (Sony F55) cameras before passing into its IP conversion box.
Futuresource puts mainstream adoption of IP production tech at two years out at the earliest.
“This will be no impediment to early adopters,” suggests Futuresource head of broadcast equipment, Adam Cox who expects the first European pay TV 4K services to launch mid-2015.
“They will take an initial hit and use the quad 4K solution. Pay TV operators have an imperative to keep their content relevant and in mature markets like the UK such a move [to 4K] would be more about reducing churn.”
He added: “The backdrop is that this is a very different economic climate to the HD upgrades during the boom years of the 1990s. Now the purchase decision is very different. Whereas before engineers led the way, now the decision making is more focussed on the finance guys whose imperative is to reduce capex.”
Sony has stated its intent to add IP connectivity to its production products, including F55 cameras, within the year. Other vendors like Grass Valley have also made IP core to its future outside broadcast products.