FutureSPORT: 4K Offers Possibilities, Challenges

One of the stars of April’s NAB Show was 4K resolution. The increasing emergence of 4K, even 8K consumer-grade monitors have the industry abuzz at the possibilities but also wary of the complexities.

At SVG’s FutureSPORT last week, Sony debuted its first 4K sports footage — a soccer match in Japan — shot on the F65. The stunning display suggested the potential of 4K broadcasts.

The sports-production professionals in attendance, though, had two key questions: can this technologically exist in a truck in the near future, and when will viewers at home be able to access it?

“I think, if we look at getting a 4K signal back to the truck, that’s definitely feasible within the next two years,” said Rob Willox, director of marketing with Sony Electronics. “To be able to take a 4K signal and put that on some sort of transport, route it, switch it, and manipulate it, there’s an awful lot of decisions that need to be made by a number of people before that can be feasible.”

There is a wealth of challenges in creating 4K content. The workflows are still difficult and very labor-intensive. Such issues as lens length/zoom ratios, large-lens mounts, lens-telemetry indications, shutter/filter wheel, color space (709, DCI?), setup time, limited professionals with the necessary expertise, and transmission length all make 4K exceptionally difficult in its current state. That’s not to mention the tremendous amount of space required for storing 4K data.

4K projection is already entering the digital-cinema market, but, so far, there is very little 4K quality content. Sports 4K content is even more rare, but Sony and other companies continue to develop player-tracking features and other technologies to keep up with the fast pace of the action.

“4K at 24 fps is not necessarily the ideal vehicle for a sports broadcast, but, in the terms of just pure picture quality, it’s amazing what it looks like up on the screen,” said Chuck Westfall, technical advisor, Professional Engineering & Solutions Division at Canon USA.

For that reason, the movie industry is watching the development of 4K with a very interested eye. According to Westfall, the theatrical-cinema experience needs to be substantially enhanced to differentiate it from rapidly improving home-theater experiences. Aside from 3D (on which opinions vary) and IMAX (whose screens are limited, for obvious reasons), there is little separating the movie-theater experience from the home-theater experience.

Hollywood is hoping 4K can be that distinction, with image quality superior to anything that can be accomplished on film.

As the workflows continue to simplify, the consumer-electronics industry appears more likely to adopt 4K, and there is growing sentiment that 4K and 8K can preempt the public’s interest in 3D.

Yet, although the technology for 4K production is falling into place, it could be some time before it’s a viable option for home distribution.

Or as Willox put it: “We won’t be doing ESPN 4K just yet.”

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