Standardizing the New World of TVSMPTE eyes standards for streamlined workflows and Ultra HD television 10/01/2012 12:01:00 AM Eastern
Balancing the need to upgrade current
infrastructures while keeping track of newer
technologies that could render much of the current
broadcast infrastructure obsolete has never been
harder. Many broadcasters still don’t have a full HD infrastructure;
yet during the London Olympics the BBC
and NHK were testing Ultra HD TV, which provides
up to 16 times the resolution of current HD standards.
Many of these newer technologies as well as some of
the challenges their deployment poses for broadcasters
will take center stage this month when the Society of
Motion Picture & Television Engineers holds its Annual
Technical Conference Oct. 23-25 in Hollywood.
One major focus will on SMPTE current standards’
work file formats and interfaces that help make equipment
and systems inside the broadcast infrastructure
more interoperable. As part of that effort, the Advanced
Media Workflow Association, European Broadcast
Union and SMPTE are working together on interoperable
systems and more efficient workflows.
To that end, AMWA and the EBU have submitted the
work from their Framework for Interoperable Media
Service (FIMS) Task Force to SMPTE to be formalized
into a standard. When implemented, proponents believe
that FIMS will greatly simplify file-based workflows and allow metadata to be preserved throughout
the entire content creation and distribution chain.
Hans Hoffman, VP of standards at SMPTE, notes
that they expect to complete the FIMS work within six
months. “We’ve undertaken this as a very fast process [because]
it adds a new layer of interoperability for all organizations
that produce content,” Hoffman says. “It is a very
important development that will help broadcasters meet
the challenge of faster, more efficient production.”
Looking much further ahead, SMPTE has also recently
set up a study group for Ultra HD TV (UHDTV).
That group is exploring what specifi cations and standards
need to be developed for the technology. “We
need to have technology available that is suitable for the
mainstream TV productions,” Hoffman explains. “So
we are analyzing what is needed and then will work
together with our partners and the leading organizations
to put the relevant standards activity in place for
a complete Ultra HD eco-system.”
The International Telecommunication Union issued a
draft recommendation for UHDTV in May, approved in
August, that includes specifications for both a 4K (3,840-
by-2,160) image system that is about four times the resolution
of the highest-quality HD signals and an 8K (7,680-
by-4,320) image system that is about 16 times HD.
As part of their work on UHDTV, Hoffman notes
SMPTE will address such key topics as defining the image
format for UHDTV, exploring new compression systems,
analyzing the kind of bandwidth needed for delivery of
UHDTV; and looking into UHDTV file-based workflows.
While some analysts believe it could take five to ten
years before UHDTV set prices drop to affordable levels
and UHDTV content becomes widely available, the format
could have some immediate applications in sports and as
a master file in higher-end productions.
Some vendors, including Sony, Canon, Panasonic
and For-A, have already launched or demoed 4K cameras.
And a number of networks, including ESPN, have
been testing 4K equipment.
One immediate application in sports would be to use
the higher-resolution 4K camera image to zoom in on
the action, something Sony has already demonstrated
at the NAB and IBC shows with two F65 4K cameras.
Japanese public broadcaster NHK, which developed
the first HD systems, has played a major role in researching
and developing the first UHDTV systems. But
others are also getting on board, Hoffman says. “We are
already seeing support from some U.S. broadcasters,
the European Broadcasting Union and the BBC, who
want to be proponents of this new initiative,” notes
Hoffman, who believes the transition to UHDTV will
occur faster than HD.
In addition to its ongoing standards work, the
Annual Technology Conference will feature discussions
of some recent SMPTE standards. FCC Media Bureau
chief engineer Alison Neplokh will discuss new regulations
for closed captions for Internet-delivered video
that use SMPTE’s Timed Text specification as the “safe
harbor” captioning standard.
Other ATC sessions will also include papers on the
use of Timed Text in UltraViolet movies and TV programs,
which allow purchasers of DVDs or Blu-ray
disks to access a digital copy, as well as a look at the
deployment of Timed Text by HBO.
There will be a number of sessions highlighting IP
networks and cloud-based solutions that are increasingly
being used by broadcasters.
“We are in the early days of cloud storage being used
in production,” which is why SMPTE felt it would be
an important issue to address at the conference, notes
Hoffman. “It will be interesting to see if these cloud
services really can deliver on their promise of being
cost-efficient compared to local storage.”