The Tried and Trusted Route to UHD Live - NEP UK

​While Arena opted to invest in an IP core for its new fleet, Sky Sport’s other regular OB supplier, NEP UK has gone a different route out of necessity. This article, a follow up to ​the article ‘Making The Leap To 4K Live Over IP - Under The Hood At Arena’, explains its decision.

When a fire devastated NEP UK’s Bracknell base last November the firm was on the cusp of signing contracts with Sky and needed to deliver with trust and trusted technology. All IP UHD was considered a leap too far although they do feature an Imagine Communications’ IP3 hybrid IP/baseband router.

Its 4K trucks Pacific, Aurora, Caspian and Sargaso are all out on the road built to a similar template costing around £10m each including Sony HDC-4300s with a combination of Canon and Fujinon lenses, EVS XT3s and SAM Kahuna 9600 6ME 1080p’4K vision mixers. On the audio side, the infrastructure is based around a Calrec Audio Apollo console, Genelec monitors and Telex intercom technology. The new trucks have the ability to work standalone or together in any combination. They are able to interconnect with each other via a CWDM fibre system, while the configuration allows for 200 shared 3GB signals to be sent between the trucks. Each truck can fit 30 camera channels and 12 EVS positions.

“There are aspects of IP which are still challenging,” says Keith Lane, Sky director of operations. “We very much felt we're at the beginning of a journey with UHD and that it was important to start from a strong knowledge base. Quad HD gave us that. We all understand SDI and from [NEPs] point of view we were pushing them to build so quad HD was the right thing to do.”

NEP UK's 4K trucks are built to a similar template.  Photo credit: Chris Lobina.

NEP UK's 4K trucks are built to a similar template. Photo credit: Chris Lobina.

Hybrid production

Like BT, Sky has made the strategic decision to adopt a hybrid UHD/HD production, down-converting the HD from the 4K feed to save on live event costs.

“That decision was all about making sure the editorial product we produce in HD wasn't compromised,” explains Lane. “We have talked about different camera angles and we are aware of what UHD can do editorially. We know that the wider establishing shot will be a much bigger wow to a UHD customer. But ultimately we want the HD and the UHD to be as good as they can possibly be. I am sure we will make adaptations in time but just now the priority is ensuring the experience is good for everyone.”

This quality control is also making a new set build for Sky’s flagship EPL presentation. “In the past when you transported a set you weren’t too worried about any damage it might receive because the detail wouldn’t reveal on screen. With UHD that luxury is not possible. We’ve got to consider set construction and how to best light it because this will matter.”

Each truck can fit 30 camera channels and 12 EVS positions.  Photo credit: Chris Lobina.

Each truck can fit 30 camera channels and 12 EVS positions. Photo credit: Chris Lobina.

An EPL game, one of 124 Sky is covering this year alone, is typically covered with 19 cameras, 13 of which will be used in more than one position (for team arrival, pre-match interviews etc and then during the game).

RF cams still have a considerable lag with the commentary so these are converted from 1080p at present. “The delay on the UHD RF links are just too high at present,” but this is something we expect to introduce within the year as soon as latency gets down from the 1 second to near the 2 frame mark,” explains Lane.

When it comes to High Dynamic Range the broadcasters are testing various routes with their OB suppliers.

“There are considerable issues around HDR, particularly on the workflow about how we manage the creation of a high quality HD and UHD HDR picture simultaneously. How do we monitor that? Plus, there will be training for camera-operators in terms of racking since they and we will see more detail as we transition between sunlight and shade. HDR is a tremendous tool and of great benefit but we are not quite there yet.”

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