Production Companies: We Want 4K Gear at NAB

Production companies — already faced with having to do 4K field production for hungry clients — are frustrated by the lack of 4K equipment and are heading to NAB with high expectations for professional gear from equipment manufacturers.

Production companies — already faced with having to do 4K field production for hungry clients — are frustrated by the lack of 4K equipment and are heading to NAB with high expectations for professional gear from equipment manufacturers.

“We have been inundated with requests for 4K work, but there’s no real gear designed to work in video trucks,” said Nic Dugger, president of TNDV, a video production company based in Nashville. “We know we have to go 4K, but the manufacturers are dragging their feet. The gear doesn’t exist.”

Dan Zimbaldi, a Hollywood-based video imaging technician, said 4K is in a “fantasyland” today. “If you’re competent, you can prevent almost any stupid mistake in 1080 video,” he said. “But you can’t do that with 4K yet. What’s really required are a number of intermediary boxes that allow people in the field to evaluate and handle 4K information in a foolproof way. Today, that doesn’t exist.”

Dean Lyon, CEO of Splinter Studios in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, a visual effects and computer graphics company, said even though he now works with a RED Epic camera with a 6K Dragon sensor, he’s not convinced the image quality is there yet.

Dean Lyon, CEO of Splinter Studios in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, a visual effects and computer graphics company, says he’s not convinced the image quality is there yet.

Dean Lyon, CEO of Splinter Studios in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, a visual effects and computer graphics company, says he’s not convinced the image quality is there yet.

“Even with the Red Dragon, I’m not convinced we are shooting as high a resolution as we used to do when shooting 4K scans of 35mm film,” Lyon said. “I think we are still lagging a bit behind on that front. Pixel resolution is only one factor. We are also interested in high frame rate and bits per pixel. We started out with bits per pixel to do good color, but now we have things like wide gamut, HDR, brightness and contrast.”

The frustration for those doing real-world production is that clients are already booking 4K jobs and the necessary tools to do the job in a fully professional way are not available. “Right now, if you approach Netflix or Amazon with an original idea and they buy the project, they want their masters delivered in 4K,” said Zimbaldi. TNDV, Dugger said, has done ten high-profile projects in the past year using RED or Canon 4K field cameras with a hodgepodge of 1080 support gear.

“We have used a Red Epic or a Canon C500 and built a fly pack or truck around them,” he said. “But those are not a real production cameras. There are no tally lights, no shading, no intercom. I want to know what’s going on with 4K equipment at NAB.

“We are hoping that all of our beloved manufacturers — including Sony, Ikegami and Tektronix — are just waiting on us to get to Vegas to say ‘Hey guys, we’ve got your back. Here’s what we got cookin’ for ya.’ Because it sure wasn’t there last year.”

Dugger said all that really exists in his production world of video trucks is the 4K image sensor. “We don’t even have the camera yet. Hitachi was the first to market with their 4K camera and I’ve seen it.

Nic Dugger is looking for a

Nic Dugger is looking for a "..real (4K) production camera.."

“But I’ve got to be honest, when look at the image...it’s cool...but it just looks like a great big 1080i camera. It doesn’t have a cinematic quality to it. It doesn’t have that shallow depth of field that everybody wants. It’s just big. Way too much detail and not enough chroma. It’s like 1080 on a much bigger scale. That’s not what we want. We need what the film guys have been doing for years, but in a robust form with tally lights and remote shading.”

Zimbaldi recalls the early days of HD, when problems with the video in the field were difficult to evaluate. “A lot of mistakes were made until there was a full 1080 toolset out there to work with,” he said. “That included playback devices, recorders with multiple codecs, ways to convert signals, and different ways to display the signals through pixel scaling of different sizes.

“If you try to play back an uncompressed 4K signal on a set today, you need huge computing power. Most everything being shot in 4K is being played back in proxy or compressed form. Even under the best cases, we are only seeing part of the uncompressed image on an HD monitor.”

As a special effects wizard who worked on all three Lord of the Rings films, Lyon is also worried about delivery of 4K to home audiences. “When they start sending 4K to the home, are they going to use the same bandwidth as HD where everything is compressed to hell or are we going to give the viewer a much better experience than just uprezzed video? In the case of compressed video, we could probably get away with sending 1920 by 1080 and then letting the 4K television uprez it. These are important questions.”

At NAB, Lyon also looking at the development of drones, which he said offer huge potential to aerial videography, and the “missing innovation” in the current generation of software for video and film production.

“I will keep my eyes open for anyone popping up who is writing innovative software,” Lyon said. “Apps like Adobe Premiere, Apple Final Cut Pro and Autodesk are all owned by huge companies who bought up all their competitors. Who are the new up and coming guys who are really doing interesting software? I’ll be looking for them.”

4K will be on most production attendees' minds as they tour NAB 2015 exhibits. Kicking the tires will be only their first step towards purchase of this new technology.

4K will be on most production attendees' minds as they tour NAB 2015 exhibits. Kicking the tires will be only their first step towards purchase of this new technology.

Zimbaldi wants to see 4K grow-up and become a full-fledged format. “Today, lazy producers are saying they want 4K so they can zoom in if they want to reframe a scene because they don’t want to decide on the set,” he said. “They think they can save a take by magnifying their 2K shot. There is some of that going on. It’s fantasy directing, but it’s where we are today.”

Dugger said companies like Blackmagic Design have proven 4K can be done affordably. But, he said, manufacturers need to answer some fundamental questions and do it quickly.

“Like what’s the router interface going to be? Will it be fiber or Quad-Link BNC or will it be Thunderbolt stolen from Apple? Who knows? They have to make a decision because we’ve got infrastructure to build. I’ve already got a 4K truck on the books and I don’t even know what I’m putting in it yet.

“It’s exactly like ten years ago when we bought HD cameras and still kept SD monitors in the truck and the fly pack,” Dugger continued. “It was good enough and we held out as long as we could before we had to buy HD monitoring. But now we are ready for step one. We want to see what that first plunge is going to look like.”

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