Sports fans aren’t the only ones who will be remembering the action at this year’s World Cup during the rest of 2014 and beyond. A number of demonstrations during the games in Brazil will have an important impact on the future of TV technologies by showcasing advances in High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) and 4K technologies.
Those demonstrations of HEVC, which promises to reduce the bandwidth needed for video by half from MPEG-4, are particularly notable because they more closely mirror the distribution of video in the real world.
During the World Cup, chipmaker Broadcom and the video processing software provider Elemental worked with the Brazilian multichannel cable and satellite service Globosat to deliver 4K feeds with HEVC compression of three World Cup matches to pay TV operators in Brazil and to selected subscribers.
“There has been real progress toward the reality of providing an end-to-end workflow” and in delivering HEVC-compressed content to set-top boxes, explains Keith Wymbs, CMO of Elemental Technologies. As HEVC-capable set-top boxes begin going into production in late 2014 and early 2015, he believes multichannel satellite providers will move quickly to offer 4K channels or to use HEVC to conserve scarce satellite capacity.
The World Cup also highlighted the progress that has been made in using HEVC for over-the-air broadcasts outside the U.S., explains Benoit Fouchard, chief strategy officer of ATEME, which is providing HEVC encoding for 4K broadcasts in South Korea.
Fouchard says that the Korean government granted experimental terrestrial licenses to broadcast in 4K in metropolitan Seoul between May and the end of this year. Using that spectrum, commercial broadcaster Seoul Broadcasting System (SBS) in South Korea installed a complete 4K transmission system from international electronics group Rohde & Schwarz to air live 4K feeds produced by FIFA and Sony of three World Cup games, including the final. Those broadcasts used the DVB-T2 standard, which can handle 4K and HEVC, rather than the ATSC standard broadcasters normally use in Korea.
More is on the way. Live 4K broadcasts have also started in France, where TDF is transmitting UltraHD feeds of the music channel NRJ HITS over the national digital terrestrial television (DTT) service using HEVC and the DVB-T2 standard, says Julien Signès, president, CEO and cofounder of Envivio, which provided its Muse video processing software. Regulators could approve a permanent 4K DTT channel in upcoming months.
“We’re seeing tremendous improvements all the time,” says Signès. who adds HEVC technologies can already compress live 4K feeds down to about 20Mbps, about what was required in the early days of HD with MPEG-2 compression.
UltraHD broadcasts in the U.S. will have to wait for the development of a new standard to replace ATSC. But 4K content is already appearing on PCs and connected 4K TVs from overthe- top (OTT) providers such as Netflix and some 4K OTT services are in the works, as smartphones and tablets with HEVC-enabled chips begin hitting the market in late 2014.
Envivio, for example, is starting to deploy technologies for HEVC video compression in China for a new OTT 4K service. “Satellite and OTT mobile services are the most bandwidth-constrained and I think they’ll be first to market,” Signès says.
SONY’S UHD GOAL
As broadcasters get ready to head to Amsterdam for IBC2014 from September 11-16, the ambitious 4K World Cup production by Sony and FIFA offers a preview of some of the newer workflows and technologies for UltraHD sports production that will be on display during the confab.
“Unlike our previous 4K tests, the World Cup production was the full circle of a production that FIFA was able to distribute to the world,” explains Mark Grinyer, head of live production business development for 4K and 3D live sports at Sony. “Not only did we have the 4K feed, but the opening and closing sequences were also in 4K, as well as 4K graphics—this had not taken place before…[ It] was a polished production that was the final proof point that 4K is here and ready for the masses.
The 4K production was part of a much larger World Cup effort, with Sony providing live coverage of every match, over 2,500 hours of content in HD, Grinyer explains.
For the three matches done in UltraHD, a total of 13 cameras were used, including 12 Sony F55 cameras running at 60 frames per second and one F65 camera offering slow motion images at 120 frames per second.
“All 13 cameras used the Sony CA-4000 adaptor which was then linked into a 4K processing unit—the BPU-4000,” Grinyer says. “This processing unit then took the raw 4K data and converted it into four 3GSDI signals for the 60p feed, and then eight 3GSDI signals for the 120p feed. As with other 4K productions, this was then fed into routers, and Sony’s MVS-8000X switcher, which were all running in 4K mode. However, the SDI signals from the F65 had to go into the PWS-4400 XAVC server—which dealt with the super-slow motion—and then inputted into the switcher.”
For replays, the production team used six EVS Servers (XT3) running in 4K mode with two input and one output signal across the 12 cameras. This allowed Sony to do the opening sequence and city profile content in 4K, without upconverting HD images to 4K, as it had done in previous tests. All the graphics were also in native 4K.
Overall, the only parts of the feed that were upconverted from HD to 4K were images from the helicopter camera, the steady camera and the spider camera.
The production also marked the first live test of the F65 running at 120 frames per second.
“The director of the 4K matches noted that he loved that he had a 4K slow motion camera in his armory,” Grinyer says.
The feed sent out around the world was done in MPEG-4, not HEVC, but Grinyer says, “most broadcasters were testing HEVC distribution.” For example, the UK cinema feed was sent to France in MPEG4 and then sent to London over HEVC.
Using the material, Sony and FIFA are jointly producing the Official 2014 FIFA World Cup film in 4K, which will be distributed online by FIFA via 4K content distribution services.
Of course, more work remains to be done. “One of the main challenges for the 4K productions was having less flexibility in comparison to an HD production,” Grinyer says. “This is due to the 4K production having fewer cameras, but also being restricted on the range of lens that guarantee the quality that we expect. To overcome thism the team opted for the 4K Fujinon lens.”