It's hard to attend an industry trade show or read industry news without seeing a lot of discussion about the enormous technological changes in the works that will impact on the video industry over the next few years. Some changes, such as 4K/UHDTV, could be regarded as an evolution, while others, such as the transition to an all-IP live production workflow, are regarded by many as a revolutionary change that will demand entirely new skill sets and infrastructure.
To put some framework around where this is heading, in part 1 of this series I will explore how the coming changes will lead to what I see as evolutionary changes in the production workflow. And then in part 2, I will discuss how these changes could open up a range of intriguing and even revolutionary new business models and services.
One thing is certain: the coming technology changes will affect everyone to varying degrees, including content producers, broadcasters, content providers, cable operators and other video service providers, as well as equipment manufacturers.
For now at least, 4K is being accommodated in live production environments using existing 3G infrastructure with a quad link arrangement, an evolutionary approach. However, the much higher data rates associated with the potential longer-term adoption of high frame rate (HFR) and high dynamic range (HDR) 4K/UHD will require entirely new video infrastructure.
To deliver new, higher-resolution formats such as 4K and UHDTV to viewers at acceptable bitrates ideally requires the adoption of a more efficient codec than H.264/AVC. This is leading to the adoption of H.265/HEVC, which can offer up to 50% bitrate savings over H.264 for equivalent video quality.
At the same time that the industry is starting to adopt 4K and HEVC, there is also the drive to take advantage of broadly available IT infrastructure and interfaces, such as IP and Ethernet for baseband video distribution. Such infrastructure has additional workflow benefits beyond the often cited attraction of using commercial off the shelf (COTS) equipment. Indeed, when considering the use of such equipment, remember that all network elements must be capable of handling constant high bitrate data with minimal latency and jitter.
Downstream live production
New workflows, such as downstream live production, create the requirement to provide live camera feeds to remote production facilities that can be a significant distance from the venue. Transporting uncompressed video over large distances presents a challenge for today's infrastructure because SDI transport over coax was only ever seen as practical over comparatively short distances. The adoption of SMPTE 2022, along with the use of a precision time protocol (PTP) grandmaster (which provides genlock functionality equivalent to that delivered by a sync pulse generator in SDI networks), offers a viable methodology for transporting live baseband video from venues to remote production facilities over IP infrastructure.
These combined technologies will lead to such changes as re-worked production values to handle shooting content in 4K/UHD and new live production workflows to handle downstream production. The technologies will also lead to uncompressed (or in the future lightly compressed) video over IP and new encoders, transcoders and consumer premises equipment to handle 4K/UHD at manageable data rates.
Although these technology changes appear to be "new" and the availability of 4K sensors and display panels has accelerated the drive towards 4K/UHD implementation, 4K has been around, at least in demonstration form, for almost ten years. These are not trivial challenges, but for the most part they are evolutionary and certainly manageable. They also don't demand a sudden changeover -- the transition can happen in phases over a period of years as consumers upgrade their TV sets to be 4K-capable.
In part 2 of this series, I will discuss some potentially revolutionary new services that will be made possible by these technology upgrades.
— Paul Robinson, CTO, Video Product Line, Tektronix