4K TV production gaining traction says Sony

posted on Saturday, 27th April 2013 by Steve May

4K  Broadcast 


Movie and TV production is migrating rapidly to 4K Ultra High Definition and the implications for display technology and the consumer electronics business are huge, says Sony. Speaking about the next generation picture format on the Sony Pictures Culver City lot, Robert Willox, director of business development for Sony Broadcast, told Inside CI that advances in compression are fuelling a new 4K eco-system that will ultimately drive demand for 4K in the home.

"When you think of UHD display technology, content and exhibition, it's all coming together in short order," he says.

Willox reveals that the studio is now mandating all its programme pilots be shot in 4K. "All the new shows we're producing and all the pilots are shot 4K, both in terms of acquisition and post," he said. "We're no longer making new shows in HD." He adds that that the move to 4K sports acquisition is also rapidly gaining momentum.

Wimbeldon in 4K - Game, UHD set and match...
This Summer Sony will launch its first 4K consumer televisions in earnest. The brand's incoming 55-inch KD-55X9000A and 65-inch KD-X659000A 4K Ultra HD screens follow on from last year's 84-inch debutant, the £25,000 KD-84X9005A, and with prices starting at £5,000 they're a good deal more affordable. The company is becoming increasingly bullish about the take up of 4K, even though native 4K content remains pretty much non-existent. The short term solution, it says, is to stress the ability of first-gen screens to upscale Full HD to 4K. The new sets embrace a two-chip 4K X-Reality Pro processing engine which utilises a proprietary database of image algorithms to make the most of any incoming HD signal. Early demonstrations are certainly impressive. The real key to take up though is to fast track native 4K content - something the Sony movie and TV empire seems uniquely positioned to do.

Significantly, Sony's Broadcast division has a number of big 4K sports projects on the go. In 2014, it'll partner with FIFA to shoot the Brazil World Cup in Ultra High Definition, and this year will lens three matches from the FIFA Confederations Cup, which kicks off June 6. Closer to home, Sony is also partnering with the BBC for live 4K trials from this year's Wimbledon tournament. It's thought likely that the tennis trials will use a 4K mobile production unit supplied by Telegenic. Telegenic has confirmed that it's supplying the OB facility for the Confederations Cup trials. The unit will be equipped with both Sony F65 (pictured above) and F55 4K cameras, the latter particularly well-suited for sports deployment thanks to its live 4K output. While Sony has experimented with 4K satellite transmission, it's not yet known whether the Wimbledon content will go beyond acquisition. But according to Willox, shooting in 4K offers broadcasters multiple benefits, even if it's not transmitted in 4K.

"If you imagine the larger canvas that 4K gives us, we're able to do all kinds of things we've never done before," he explains. "We can move around the image on a pixel by pixel basis at Quad Full HD. The picture offers nine times the resolution of 720p, or put another way nine times the zoom factor before you have to blow things up." He says this level of refinement allows action to be captured and incidents to be examined in a way that's never been possible before. "Even within conventional HD sports production, 4K cameras have a role to play - they can literally change the game in terms of the resolution they offer."

Sony also told Inside CI that it is hopeful about opening a 4K technology and training centre at Pinewood Studios later this year, mirroring a facility it has on the Sony Pictures Culver City lot. The operation will offer hands-on opportunities with the F65 and F55 4K cameras as well as workflow training.

4K XAVC format to make UHD reality shows a reality
Sony is also pushing the adoption of UHD for mainstream TV production chores, including news and reality coverage, with an entirely new flavour of 4K.  "When we think about 4K for movies and episodic TV shows, we always tend to think about RAW recording. The RED cameras work in RAW, our cameras work in RAW, other brands work in RAW. But what is needed for the bulk of mainstream TV production is a 4K video signal with gamma and contrast that can be baked in the camera and put out on air almost immediately. And that something is called XAVC. Our F65 4K movie camera normally records 2 Gbps at 24p and at 60p, which is used for sports and high-end stuff, it records at 5 Gbps. These are astoundingly high, the kind of data rates that frighten feature films makers with enormous $100m budgets. Not everyone can afford to work with RAW. But XAVC allows you to record 4K at just 240 Mbps, which is well into the world of conventional data rates. By way of comparison, the HDCam SR format, which is used to record The Good Wife, records at 440 Mbps, and that's just HD. But thanks to big advances in compression technology we're now able to get lots more resolution and colour depth into a relatively small file payload. The key here is that's not RAW, it's video and it makes our post production life easy."

When it comes to 4K transmission technologies, Willox says that there have been similarly rapid developments. "There have been numerous tests in Korea,Japan and the Netherlands. 4K broadcasting was also trialled at NAB, and as a result we now have the experience of a collection of data rates, some as low as 20 Mbps and others in the 34 Mbps range. This compares to conventional HD data rates of about 12 Mbps. So It's no longer impractical to think that we can be broadcasting in 4K without that much of a tax penalty on bandwidth. Cable companies are also developing their own compression technologies for 4K VOD services - when you're a cable company, you have a closed system you can get away with anything you want." Unlike the 20 year cycle it took for HD to get adopted, we're looking at a much shorter cycle for UHD, he says.

Willox predicts 4K will be essentially a mainstream format within three to five years, but the bandwagon will roll earlier than that. "In about eighteen months, you'll be seeing 4K VOD and all kinds of cool things," he promises.

Also read
Sony reveals 4K Ultra HD content strategy
NAB 2013: Sony surprises with low pricing for 4K Ultra HD TVs



Steve May

Inside CI Editor Steve May is a freelance technology specialist who also writes for T3TechRadarHome Cinema Choice, Trusted Reviews and The Luxe Review.

Share this!

Have your say...

Sorry guests can't post comments.

Please Login if your an existing member or Register a new account.