Part 1 of this series yesterday explored the evolutionary steps in the transition to 4K/UHD and the move to an all-IP live production workflow. As discussed, these evolutionary changes, taken as a whole, can produce something that is truly revolutionary. A true revolution occurs when the viewer's experience fundamentally changes as a result of the new workflows enabled by a more flexible and capable infrastructure -- and that's what I predict will happen.
This last true revolution happened when the industry made the transition from black-and-white to color TV. This changed the experience for everyone. I can remember watching the British Open golf tournament for the first time in color in 1972 and being absolutely fascinated. Golf in black and white was not very interesting. The switch from analog to digital did nothing to change the viewer's experience, and while the move to HD has proven to be a nice upgrade in the viewer experience, it's nothing like the switch from black-and-white to color. Similarly, the move to 4K/UHD will offer another evolutionary advance.
The move to live IP production is different. It presents an opportunity to significantly change the viewing experience, and more importantly, open up new revenue and business opportunities. This revolution is most likely to happen with live sporting events, although the viewing experience for news could change as well.
There are two important reasons why sports will be the first to deliver a dramatically improved experience. First, there is big money around sports, whereas there isn't big money around news. The second reason is that sports and news (such as political debates) are the only things that people will watch "live" in ten or 15 years. Everything else is episodic and people will only watch that content when it suits them. On the other hand, sports events, along with important news events, have little or no value after the fact.
Currently, when we watch live events, we're watching a produced feed from an outside broadcasting (OB) truck showing what the producers think you should see. The commentators could just as well be in a studio commenting on the produced stream. It's been this way for decades and with today's hard-wired infrastructure it's unlikely to change much. An all-IP infrastructure, on the other hand, is software-based and much more flexible and scalable. The difference is comparable to the difference between the old dial-up modems of yesteryear and the broadband connections that we enjoy today.
So what are some of the ways that IP can be used to change the viewer's experience? One obvious opportunity is to send raw feeds instead of produced feeds to networks around the world for downstream production. This would allow local networks and cable operators to regionalize production for their audiences, leading to a more relevant and interesting package while opening up potential new revenue streams.
This flexibility will also open up many other opportunities that people haven't even considered yet. For instance, since an all-IP facility will allow you to move to downstream production, it will be possible to stream feeds directly from cameras to wherever you want. And because you have the camera feeds in the facility, it will be possible to wrap them all up and send them as stream feeds directly to viewers (for an incremental fee, of course).
If viewers have the feeds, they could do what I call home production, where you actually create the experience yourself. Imagine a 4K panel. People always think of 4K as one panel with higher definition. Of course, it is also four 1K panels in one. This means that you, as the viewer, could have the primary feed and then choose which additional cameras you want to look at, whether it be statistics, close-ups or overhead shots -- a powerful capability that simply isn't possible with a hard-wired infrastructure.
We are at the beginning of a long-term transition to IT-based infrastructure, and those involved in the production and facility side of video have little experience with the new technologies. But, conversely, they are extremely experienced with using SDI and all the issues associated with its use. This, coupled with a huge investment in existing technology and workflows, implies that the transition will take place gradually, making it likely that hybrid SDI/IT infrastructure will be in place for years to come. Such live production facilities will require equipment that is able to operate seamlessly and reliably in such a hybrid environment.
Although the adoption of IT infrastructure may make it difficult for some equipment manufacturers to successfully make the transition, those who have experience with both live video and IP are well placed to produce a change that will provide broadcasters with new business models and their viewers with new services. Are they revolutionary? I, for one, can’t wait to find out.
— Paul Robinson, CTO, Video Product Line, Tektronix