Olympics mark dawn of new era in workflow
By: Ken Kerschbaumer, SVG Editorial Director
Friday, August 17, 2012 - 12:15 pm

Events like the Olympics are always exciting for sports fans, but, increasingly, they are exciting for technology fans, too. This edition of the Sport Tech Journal shows why: our Special Report from the Olympics profiles networks and the host broadcasting system and the new workflows they implemented to meet their individual needs. Massive IP pipes connected remote broadcast facilities to the IBC in London, giving personnel a chance to work on the Olympics for their home nation from their home nation. For many, it meant that more resources (financial and people) could be dedicated on-site to helping tell the story of the Olympics rather than simply making sure the signals return home at optimum quality.

This is, of course, the beginning of a new era. An era when IP and broadcast departments do not collide but rather work more closely together. There is still much work to be done and lessons to be learned: the two technologies have some fundamental differences (most notably that broadcasters are accustomed to having more control over signals and still want the ability to take a cable, plug it in to an input and output, and make things happen).

But another new era dawned at the Olympics: Ultra HD. The efforts by the BBC, NHK, and OBS involved not only shooting images at a resolution that was 16 times that of HD but also editing and transporting them across the globe. For those who witnessed it, it was a revelation. Viewing distances are typically defined by how far away you need to be from the TV set for the the image to be smooth and line-free. On a 50-inch HD set at 1080p, the viewing distance is typically about two times picture height. Unscientific tests on the Ultra HD 85-inch Sharp display found viewing distance to be about one-quarter picture height. And even at that distance, no lines were visible.

After the travails surrounding the launch of 3D, one can easily dismiss Ultra HD as the next fad. But both Ultra HD and 3D are very much viable formats for a broadcast future in which broadcasters, which still have the largest and most cost-effective delivery pipes, need to differentiate their product from Internet delivery. And that doesn’t mean just replicating the Internet experience on the big screen. It means blowing it out of the water.

NHK, after the success in London, moved its date for an Ultra HD launch from 2020 to 2016, and there is still much work to be done. Next year, it expects to up the frame rate from 60 frames per second to 120. And then there needs to be a simplified way to record and edit the content, because slaving 17 Panasonic P2 decks most likely is not what today’s broadcasters will want to do tomorrow.

But those issues will be sorted out. And broadcasters will have a new opportunity to redefine their future, most likely sometime around 2020. 8K consumer sets will be a reality much sooner than that. As will glasses-free 3D displays.

The question now is whether the industry can get behind a single format on a global scale. It has never done so before. But it seems the time has come. And the sooner a single format is decided on, the sooner broadcasters can begin planning their next generation of infrastructure changes. Because 2020 isn’t as far away as it seems.

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