CEATEC 2013: Sony’s Sayama Talks Future of Live 4K Production

Despite an up-and-down few years at both the professional and consumer ends of the video business, Sony believes there are good times ahead, thanks to its heavy investment in the world of 4K.

The Japanese electronics giant will help spearhead 4K-production efforts next year at the FIFA World Cup Final in Brazil following successful tests at the Confederations Cup this summer and is set to release its 4K Live Production Solution in December. On the consumer end, it has already rolled out three 4K LED television models and has been a heavy hitter in the 4K-projector game for several years.

Following a tour of Sony headquarters in the Minato ward of Tokyo, SVG sat down with Kento Sayama, senior manager, Planning & Marketing Division, Professional Solutions Group, to discuss the company’s near- and long-term future, the development of the 4K market, and the importance of sports content to Sony’s overall business.

How do you see the 4K format growing over the next year, and what role will Sony play in it?
We have been working on 4K officially since 2007, when we started marketing our 4K digital cinema projectors, which have been a great success. So we had a nice head start and have been working with 4K quite a few years already. Then we jumped into 4K acquisition for cinema since the cinema [industry] was looking for higher quality to attract people to the theaters. That is where F65 and F55 — large-sensor, single-chip [cameras] for single-camera operation — came in. 4K is becoming the mainstream for digital cinema.

The next step for us is [to] bring that 4K technology into more live productions. At NAB this year, we showed our live 4K camera, which is the F55 camera base with a camera adaptor. At IBC, we announced that we are going to productize that as part of a full 4K live system. We did a prototype test at the Confederations Cup in June in Brazil, and it worked out very well.

We are continuing to conduct testing in a 4K/60p or 50p live environment. In fact, we are conducting a test [this week] during a professional baseball game here in Tokyo.

Despite the availability of 4K televisions and cameras, we are still likely a long way from having live 4K sports content delivered to the home. Until then, do you see Sony 4K pro production tools fitting into today’s HD ecosystem?
Absolutely. In fact, that’s probably the most important message that we need to be putting out to the market, because we don’t expect full 4K terrestrial broadcasting happening in the coming months. The benefit of our 4K system is more about investing in upgrading your system with the best 4K technology available but currently using it [within] your HD production. That is how our technology is configured.

For example, our 4K live system will have the same infrastructure as our high-end HD live system. So our customer can buy a Full HD live-production system and add just some parts to it to become a 4K-production chain. We want to configure the system to future-proof and to protect the investment of our customer. We are already seeing single-camera productions for television with 4K, and we certainly believe that the 4K live system will have a place in HD production.

Can you give some examples of how 4K cameras could be used in today’s HD productions?
One of the biggest reasons to [utilize 4K within an HD production] is super-sampling. When HD caught on, a lot of our customers moved to HD cameras first even if they only had analog terrestrial broadcasting, because the HD camera head captured a better picture. It’s exactly the same for 4K: even if you are editing in HD, using a 4K sensor — with F65, it’s an 8K sensor — you are getting much more information out of that.

Another thing we are proposing is [stitching]. You put two 4K cameras out and cut HD aspect ratio out of that. Instead of sending a full OB van and crew to the site, our customer could potentially just set up two 4K cameras and do the cutout remotely. Two 4K cameras could act as if you had various cameras around the stadium. So that kind of application will be part of our software solution. We are hoping to put that together with our XAVC 4K storage that will coming to the market next year.

With NHK targeting 2016 for its first 8K transmission services, where does the potential of 8K fit? Does committing to 4K necessarily preclude Sony’s preparing for 8K production in the future?
We basically see 8K as a possible future path, but, if we don’t complete the 4K ecosystem first, there will be no place for 8K. We are very carefully monitoring if 8K will gain demand in the market and if our customers are looking for an 8K solution.

We already have an 8K CMOS sensor in the F65, so we are not new to 8K thought. But, at this point, we have no plans for it. We think 4K is the way to go and that 4K is the way to make a proper business justification.

With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics announcement last month, sports is in the spotlight in Japan. How important is live sports production to overall business today?
Large sports events like the Olympics, World Cup, and Super Bowl are always a great milestone for manufacturers like us, because we can target those dates. That sort of stimulation helps us to innovate more and progress faster.

In terms of the Tokyo Games, we are not an official sponsor of the Olympics at this point, so we are not in position to collaborate with the IOC in any way right now. But, with that said, we also know that a lot of broadcasters will be there, and they will be using Sony equipment, and we will be there to support that.

Being from this country, hosting the Olympics means something to this country, and, as a nation, it’s very special. Of course, it will likely stimulate government activities in regards to creating better broadcasting situations. And we are definitely hoping to be a part of that.

The 3D TV market has taken some serious hits in recent months, and many are calling the format dead. Where does Sony stand on 3D production for television and the future?
We always think that 3D will be there. It’s a very different discussion from the higher-resolution discussion because 3D is possible for analog, HD, and it may be there for 4K. Regardless, 3D is always an added value. It’s true that it didn’t seem to fly in the terrestrial-television market because of the difficulty with license, bandwidth, and having to wear glasses. But, at the same time, with professional equipment, we still have the demand for equipment to create 3D movies and 3D games. It’s still there, and it will always be there, but in a more specialized application.

Can you talk a bit about plans for the 4K production of the FIFA World Cup Final, as well as what Sony learned from the 4K-production tests conducted at the Confederations Cup?
First, for Confederations Cup, the biggest leap forward was getting that 4K signal all the way from the lens to a storage device and having a way to transfer that 4K raw in real time, then switch it and store it. It was the first time we were ever able to have that full [production] chain in a real sports environment. That was big for us.

The second important thing in that trial was perfecting the focus and viewing angles: capturing that sports image in a commercial way and using a PL-mount lens and P4-mount lens to show we can actually get great picture quality using a current HD zoom lens. We had quite a few customers interested in live 4K productions who came and saw the results of our production and [expressed a lot of] interest. The fact that we are using a single-chip, large-sensor camera but with the lens adaptor means they can capture the image that they want in a television world.

That was a great learning experience for us, and we are very confident that we are going the right way. For that reason, we have announced productization of the components that we used in that system.

For the World Cup, will it [boost 4K interest and business]? That is not something that we have full control of. We obviously hope so. But, in terms of [Sony’s role in the 4K production], it’s still a little too early to talk about in detail.

With Sony’s 4K Live Production Solution set to be released in December, how do you see the next year playing out in terms of professional video business?
This next year is really going to be the start of our 4K-live era, where we are actually doing real business with real products available that realize full 4K live production. We continue to support the 4K single-camera high-end movie creation; that is a core of our business. We are the only company that can provide a full 4K production system. We want to be there for premium OB vans and premium event-production companies that are upgrading. As broadcasters and production companies look to take the next step, we see them jumping to 4K because it will give them the best HD image while future-proofing themselves for 4K.

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