Engineers may see in Brazil's World Cup visions of future video design challenges as resolutions move toward 4K ultra-high definition.
This week, Sony will be shooting 4K video at the 2014 FIFA World Cup from Brazil, but it will be for production of a World Cup documentary movie for fans to download at a future date. Globo in Brazil will also show footage on outdoor 4K displays in Rio. But there likely won't be any live streaming or broadcasts to the home.
Despite hopes that 4K video would be more prevalent after the London Summer Olympics, NBC shot little 4K video for the Sochi Winter Olympics and only for demonstration purposes. Another example of live 4K that transpired this year was when Fox used several 4K cameras to capture the Super Bowl for extra zoom resolution.
Looking back, one of the most important achievements of the 2012 Olympics in London was the transmission of the first live experiment of a high profile event in SuperHi-Vision, the ultra-high-definition broadcast format developed by NHK Vision, which features a resolution 16 times greater than HD, and four times greater than today's bleeding-edge 4K format.
The successful London SHV trial and these other developments highlight the important trends that will shape broadcast equipment design and development over the next four years, including: the push to ever higher resolution, the mechanisms to cope with exponential growth in videos produced and transported, and the arrival of a High Efficiency Video Compression (HEVC) standard, also known as H.265.
In order for the BBC, host broadcaster to the event, to be able to produce roughly 2,500 hours of live sports coverage in total, the raw content flowing in had to be processed. This amounted to 33 hours per day of live television across BBC One, Two, and Three, with 24 live HD channels available to viewers during peak periods.
In addition, the BBC's Red Button service offered PC and laptop audiences access to the 24 live streams via a number of carriers. A mobile app was also available. On its busiest day, the BBC generated 2.8 petabytes of data for its Red Button customers. The question is whether all this can scale to Ultra HD and remain technically and commercially viable.
The broadcast industry achieved these impressive numbers in London, yet they'll need to pull off massive feats in Rio for the FIFA World Cup and 2016 Olympics. Capturing, editing, and making all this content available to viewers will pose a heroic challenge, not only to the organizations that tackle the job, but to the designers of the equipment those organizations will need. The first challenge will be handling the sheer quantity of 4K visual data.
In 2013, established brands such as Sony and Samsung first introduced large 80+-inch 4K UHDTVs in the $30,000 range. Smaller 55-inch versions are available in the $4,000 range, and even sub-$1,000 screens are available from new entrants such as Seikei as of mid-2013.
This incredible speed of commodization makes it clear that 4K, not 3D, will be the Next Big Thing in broadcast. The return of 3D to movie theaters has resulted in high-profile box office flops such as Starwars Episode I. The tricky, goggle-encumbered home viewing experience has also been less than successful, and it's unlikely that new glasses-free 3D TVs will be sufficient to resurrect it.
In contrast, the step up to 4K won't involve anything more complicated for consumers than buying a new TV. The improved viewing experience applies to anything and everything the consumer watches.
Perhaps more important than the consumer benefits, 4K offers advantages to broadcasters as well, particularly in sports. In many instances, a single 4K camera can continuously capture the entire field of play. If, for example, a skirmish breaks out at one end of a soccer field while the ball is at the other, both events will be available for viewers.
Processing the data involved in capturing, editing, and delivering 4K's 3840 x 2160 pixel format to home viewers poses a significant challenge to the designers of video gear. With 4K technology, high-capacity, high-performance compression and decompression capabilities will be more important than ever.
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