Live From X Games L.A.: Sony Ups the 4K Ante With Four-Camera Production
With a keen eye on the not-so-far-away holiday shopping season and the growing appetite for 4K video content, Sony has rolled out four 4K cameras at ESPN’s Summer X Games this week in Los Angeles. Sony will produce sizzle and highlight reels that it intends to make available to consumer-electronics retailers in advance of the shopping season. The company will also present these reels to other pro-sports leagues and networks in hopes of catalyzing further native 4K production in the sports world.
“With the content we create, we are looking to create a two-minute sizzle reel and a 20-minute highlight or story reel that gives us a nice overview of the X Games,” says John Studdert, VP, end-user sales, Sony Electronics Professional Solutions Division. “The highlight reels will eventually be made available to the retail outlets selling our 4K televisions. Then, on the professional side, this gives us an opportunity to reach out to all the other [leagues and sports networks] to show them what they could pick up if they shot natively 4K. Not only do they pick up resolution, but they also get increased dynamic range.”
The 4K Workflow in L.A.
Sony has deployed four F55 4K cameras on-site at the two X Games venues: L.A. Live/Staples Center and Irwindale Speedway. The Sony production team has worked with ESPN to secure a variety of camera positions at both venues and plans to use at least two F-55s for each competition. All footage will be shot in 4K XAVC and recorded to an SxS Pro memory card.
Sony will take this 4K footage in for postproduction to create the two-minute and 20-minute pieces. These will then be made available to consumers and 4K-set retailers via Sony’s FMP-X1 4K Ultra HD media player.
“Since we create and own the event, we have the ability to give them great access here and get some great content — plus the rights to the content,” says X Games Coordinating Producer Phil Orlins. “We are certainly happy to be involved and see the technology and get some hands-on experience with 4K. It’s a partnership that just makes sense, and I’m excited to see what [the final product] looks like.”
HD In Full Swing, But No More 3D X Games
Of course, Sony has a much larger presence at X Games than just 4K, supplying a total of 31 HD cameras to NEP for the ESPN production. In all, NEP SS-32 and SS-25 trucks will provide ESPN with 29 Sony HDC-1500 and HDC-2500 cameras, as well as a pair of Sony HDC P1 cameras.
However, one key element in which Sony cameras have played an integral role in
previous years is notably absent from this year’s proceedings in Los Angeles: 3D. Sony, along with the CAMERON PACE Group (CPG) and NEP, was a key contributor to ESPN 3D productions over the past two years, serving as the official technology sponsor early on and providing 3D camcorders and 2D cameras for CPG’s 3D rigs.
But, with ESPN’s June announcement that it plans to shut down its 3D network due to a lack of consumer adoption/interest, the days of 3D at X Games look to be over — at least for now.
“The only thing I can say with regard to 3D is that I’ve never seen better 3D than what ESPN produced,” says Studdert. “It was just extraordinary, and I think, if more people had access or had seen what [ESPN] did, 3D would have a much larger following that it does today. It was just amazing, and it’s too bad more people did not get to see it.
“That said,” he continues, “4K is a much more direct route [than 3D] because it doesn’t require the consumer to make any adjustments to their [routine] — like wearing glasses. You get much higher resolution and dynamic range and just a better experience. 4K is inevitable.”
Native 4K On Its Way But Not Quite There
4K cameras have already become a popular tool for HD productions (primarily for extracting HD close-up replays from the overall 4K frame), having been used on high-profile telecasts like Fox’s MLB All-Star Game coverage, CBS Sports’ Super Bowl coverage, and MLB Network’s World Baseball Classic coverage, among others.
However, an entire live native-4K production remains a tough nut to crack, with several necessary technologies in the end-to-end 4K ecosystem still not ready for primetime (although Turner and CBS Sports conducted promising live native-4K production tests at the NCAA Final Four in April).
Nonetheless, Sony remains committed and believes that, with cinema, episodic television, and concerts (Sony produced a Jimmy Kimmel Live concert featuring the band Carmen just two weeks ago) already moving toward native-4K production, live sports is likely not far behind.
“It’s an exciting time right now, and there are a lot of things going on relating to 4K,” says Studdert. “We now have covered just about every genre: concerts, movies, television productions, and now sports. So I don’t think a lot folks realize just how fast 4K is moving in the background right now. And we truly believe that other native-4K sports [content] will start picking up and other professional sports [entities] will start approaching us about how they can use 4K creatively.”