VR, 4K and HDR steal the show at IBC 2016


“Live sports productions need to easily and efficiently handle a variety of sources, from HD and 4K to HDR and HFR formats.” – Norbert Paquet, Sony Professional Solutions Europe

The argument suggesting that the pace of change in broadcast is continuing to accelerate was underlined once again at the IBC exhibition and conference in Amsterdam last month. David Davies rounds up some of the most significant new developments.

Having attended the IBC exhibition most years since the turn of the millennium, it is my observation that – particularly over the last decade – each new event has been characterised by a presiding conversation about one specific technology. So in recent years we have had 4K, HDR and IP – all of whom remains central to the debate around the future of broadcast workflows, with a wealth of new solutions on display at IBC 2016. But the trend that perhaps attracted the most attention at this year’s exhibition was virtual reality (VR).

As with so many other broadcast technologies, VR looks set to come of age first in sports production, as indicated by OBS’ groundbreaking delivery of 85 hours of VR programming in Rio this summer. More generally, plenty of broadcasters in Europe and the US, in particular, are talking about the immersive opportunities of VR – even though there are persistent concerns about the higher streaming bit-rate required for the technology to reach its full potential. There is also a very understandable desire to avoid the missteps that accompanied the (ultimately short-lived) resurgence of 3D a few years back.

But while VR is clearly at a formative stage, there were plenty of new launches aimed at filling in workflow gaps at IBC 2016. Sennheiser’s AMBEO VR MIC is a case in point. Designed to address the situation whereby previous VR productions had required complicated microphone set-ups to capture immersive audio, the AMBEO VR MIC puts everything into a compact handheld mic that is due to be made commercially available in November.

Kai Lange, product manager, Broadcast and Media at Sennheiser, comments: “The demand for compact microphones that capture spatial audio to match visual 3D experiences has increased enormously in the recent past. For the user to gain a truly immersive experience, however, it is imperative that the sound within VR is also 3D. The AMBEO VR microphone has been designed specifically for VR/AR purposes and enables VR content producers to capture the natural, immersive environment, providing a realistic and immersive experience for the user.”

Elsewhere on the IBC showfloor, SES joined forces with Fraunhofer to highlight the transmission of a 10K x 2K panoramic video signal via satellite to multiple devices. The panoramic signal was received at the SES stand and transmitted to an Ultra HD display, as well as a set of virtual reality (VR) head-mounted devices. The viewer was able to select a viewing angle, zoom in and out, turn the picture on the TV display using a simple remote control, or choose to wear a VR headset, where the video signal was delivered simultaneously.

The footage was filmed with Fraunhofer HHI’s OmniCam-360 camera and transmitted via SES’s ASTRA 19.2 degrees East orbital position. “There is no stadium in the world providing enough seats for all enthusiastic fans,” said Ralf Schäfer, Fraunhofer HHI’s Head of Division Video. “So imagine a live event somewhere in the world, filmed with professional cameras like our OmniCam-360 and then delivered to a huge global audience via satellite. And every single viewer at home has the best seat in the middle of the show.”

The HDR revolution will be televised

Monetising VR successfully is surely one of the greatest obstacles still remaining to the technology’s adoption, so it will be intriguing to see if major progress has been made in this area by next year’s IBC. The same issue was aired around the introduction of 4K, but with dedicated UHD offers now up and running – such as Sky’s UK service, which went live to acclaim in August – the focus with this new technology is now increasingly on ease of implementation and the ability to service multiple platforms successfully.

Certainly, there were plenty of new 4K-supporting launches in Amsterdam this year, including the first two models in Panasonic’s new UX series of professional 4K camcorders, the UX Premium Model AG-UX180 and the UX Standard Model AG-UX90, and the new LiveTouch 4K highlights and replay system from Snell Advanced Media, among others.

With 4K HDR (High Dynamic Range) increasingly viewed as the holy grail for sports broadcasting, in particular, there were also a number of important new products to support this type of workflow. For example, Hitachi showcased both 4K and HD cameras that now feature HDR upgrades, including the flagship SK-UHD4000 UHD studio/field camera. Elsewhere, Sony announced the launch of the HDRC-4000 HDR production converter unit – which is designed for use in simultaneous live 4K HDR and HD SDR content production workflows – as well as the HCD-P43 4K POV camera that is intended to help cover critical gaps in 4K production.

“Live sports productions need to easily and efficiently handle a variety of sources, from HD and 4K to HDR and HFR formats,” said Norbert Paquet, Strategic Marketing Manager, Sony Professional Solutions Europe. “These new technologies solve many of the challenges traditionally associated with live production, and add new and exciting story-telling tools and maximum production value.”

While many broadcasters and OB service providers are now integrating 4K into their new facility plans (Arena Television and NEP are among the many OB companies to have to rolled out 4K trucks in recent months), the transition from SDI to IP is now becoming almost as prevalent. This trend is underlined by the fact that the Alliance for IP Media Solutions (AIMS) announced a flurry of new members in the run-up to IBC, taking it beyond the 50-company mark in just nine months of existence.

With 55,796 people attending over the six days of the conference and exhibition, IBC 2016 was another highly successful instalment for Michael Crimp and team. With attendance pretty much essential for anyone now hoping to keep track of a sector that is changing at phenomenal speed, the show’s centrality to the broadcast calendar appears unshakeable.

By David Davies


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