The NAB That Wasn’t

Due to the medical emergency the country now finds itself in, this year’s NAB Show in Las Vegas was postponed to later this year. If it had happened, the main themes of artificial intelligence (AI), high dynamic range (HDR) acquisition and remote production would have all been front and center, but several other technologies that bring new efficiencies in studio production and content distribution would’ve also been spotlighted.

If you haven’t noticed, many equipment vendors are touting the use of AI algorithms these days to help streamline a wide variety of processes. In fact, AI and its machine learning subset is helping to make video production more efficient. It’s not a replacement for people but a tool to help professionals do their job better (faster and with better accuracy).

Think searching a database of thousands of images and finding the right one in a matter of seconds. Think of a robotic studio camera that “learns” its environment and instinctively avoids obstacles, without human intervention. And consider that the sports highlight reels we’ve all become accustomed to being chosen, edited and displayed by a computer (sorry traditional EVS replay operator).

This year’s NFL Super Bowl showed that the highest-quality HD (1080p) images upconverted to 4K UHD can look as good as those captured with native 4K gear while avoiding the extra cost. (At least to the naked eye this is true.) And HDR had a strong showing at this year’s CES, with different TV manufacturers pledging support for Dolby Vision (PQ) and Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG) systems in addition to the baseline HDR10 standard.

Companies like Nevion would have offered their own version of what a remote production looks like.

Companies like Nevion would have offered their own version of what a remote production looks like.

Broadcasters and live production companies in the U.S. are testing HDR+, a 10-bit 1080p HDR image with much lower bandwidth requirements than UHD, as a money-saving option. HDR shows promise as an efficient way to improve picture quality while utilizing the same 3 GB/s infrastructure many had already deployed in studios and mobile production trucks.

Remote production is another area that has gained steam over the past year and promises to continue to penetrate all areas of live telecasts. Rights holders have figured out the math and come to the conclusion that sending less people than ever to an onsite venue makes sense. It also enables top-tier crew to work on many more projects than they could before without the travel and time expense. Look for multi-venue events like the Olympics, the World Cup and Formula One racing to increase their use of this type of distributed infrastructure. Vendors at NAB would have demonstrated new ways to accomplish this with existing SDI and newer IP system configurations. Many times the solution will be a hybrid of both.

The area of master control and content distribution is benefitting from the cloud and IT-centric technologies like docker containers and micro-services.

The area of master control and content distribution is benefitting from the cloud and IT-centric technologies like docker containers and micro-services.

The area of master control and content distribution is benefitting from the cloud and IT-centric technologies like docker containers and micro-services using Kubernetes orchestration and on-demand capability. Moving to the cloud for channel origination and distribution offers several advantages. It drastically speeds up the time to market for new video service offerings, increases service providers’ scalability, and lowers the total cost of ownership for video streaming. In addition, channels can be scaled up and down quickly and delivered to any sized audience and any display device. This Cloud-based strategy encourages content providers to try new things without the risk of significant costs. There would have been a lot of chatter around this at the NAB 2020 Show.

Despite a prevalence of native 4K production gear in the market, at the NAB Show 2020 we would have seen an increased attention on 8K production (and satellite distribution?). In addition to the production of pristine 4K and HD replays (used today), they’ll also be talking about shooting a sporting event with a single 8K camera and then talking multiple views from that image to create a traditional HD production. Panasonic, for one, will show its Region Of Interest (ROI) technology that is able to produce four different HD signals or “virtual cameras” from a single 8K signal.

Panasonic’s Region Of Interest (ROI) technology can be used to produce four different HD signals or “virtual cameras” from a single 8K signal.

Panasonic’s Region Of Interest (ROI) technology can be used to produce four different HD signals or “virtual cameras” from a single 8K signal.

This system can be expanded to multiple linked 8K ROI cameras, so a single master camera operator can drive multiple views from multiple camera positions. Using this method, one person can control six or more shots for a cost-effective single operator, multi-camera production.

Although most agree that 8K is currently targeted at a limited market, the 8K Association, a global organization with 22 members spanning the entire 8K ecosystem and founded in 2019—is promoting it heavily and has issued an 8K TV technical specification along with an associated 8K TV Certification program.

Of course, no NAB Show column would be complete without the mention of the penetration of IP into the broadcast/production industry. IP technology enables a more flexible workflow with the ability to instantly transport and share uncompressed 4K live content. Existing SDI infrastructures are still viable and will remain so for many years. However, there’s no denying the signal distribution flexibility, reduced installation costs and weight (for OB vans), and file format-agnostic benefits it brings. Again, SDI is not dead yet, but its slow funeral procession has begun in earnest.

While all of this and other technologies might seem daunting for some—local broadcasters in the U.S. laugh when you mention 4K distribution of news content—the NAB Show is the platform for observing the future on exhibiting today. We’ll just have to wait until the NAB Show New York in October (hopefully) to see it in action.

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