Sony’s Alec Shapiro on the Company’s Emmy Success, the Move to Next-Gen Services

On Oct. 26, Sony will be awarded a Technical Emmy for its HDC-4300 camera. For Sony Professional Solutions Americas President Alec Shapiro and the rest of the Sony team here and around the world, the evening will be the culmination of a process that began with what he describes as a close relationship with the sports-production community.

Alec Shapiro, president, Sony Professional Solutions Americas

Alec Shapiro, president, Sony Professional Solutions Americas

“We’re excited to get the Emmy,” he says. “It’s a rare opportunity to hit a home run with a new production these days. But we managed to hit a grand slam, as practically every major sports and live event has used the 4300. The success of it is the result of listening to the sports and live-production customer base as evidenced by the industry icons that were on the stage when we introduced it.”

The listening between Sony and its customers created a global feedback loop through which Hiroshi Kiriyama, senior GM, Content Creation Solutions Business Division, Sony Professional Solutions Group, and his team led the effort to turn vision into reality. That reality? A 4K camera system that used three ⅔-in. CCD sensors and resolved two major issues for 4K sports production: use of existing broadcast lenses and creating a depth of field that matched traditional HD broadcast cameras. It also incorporates multiformat, multispeed, and multi-resolution images in HDR (high dynamic range) and WCG (wide color gamut).

“[Kiriyama] responded to the industry’s input and will accept the Emmy on behalf of the Japan engineering team at the end of the month,” explains Shapiro. “And, here in the U.S., our sales and product-management teams, led by Rob Willox [marketing manager of the media-solutions business] and John Studdert [VP, U.S. sales and marketing], really contributed greatly to the rollout.”

Shapiro adds that, for Sony, the sports and live-TV markets are critical, its most stable customer base.

“Relative to the rest of the traditional-broadcast market, it is also growing as the amount of sports production keeps expanding as over-the-top delivery and the number of events grow,” he says. “What is exciting is that a lot more sports than not are getting covered and more and more fans want to watch those additional events.”

The unveiling of Sony’s HDC-4300 camera at NAB 2015 featured a number of sports production’s biggest names, who helped Sony shape the product’s capabilities.

The unveiling of Sony’s HDC-4300 camera at NAB 2015 featured a number of sports production’s biggest names, who helped Sony shape the product’s capabilities.

Expansion in the number of sports events being broadcast on TV and via OTT is one of the reasons development of the HDC-4300 was so important. The entire industry saw the potential for 4K sports production, but use of 1-in.-sensor cameras with a shallow depth of field was a non-starter. The HDC-4300 provides a roadmap to the 4K future because it can operate in 2K mode for today’s needs and has now been complemented by the HDC-4800, which allows super-slow-motion capture alongside regular-speed capture. That gives the production team maximum flexibility in terms of replays, live action coverage, super zoom, and more.

Says Willox, “It was all about communication with Japan. We relentlessly travelled and visited sports producers and TV networks. That community has a long and rich relationship with us so that they could do presentations in front of our engineers about what they needed. The HDC-1500 camera was one of the first results of that collaboration, and it continues to the present day.”

The 4300 and 4800 meet many of the future needs for 4K sports production, but Shapiro says the camera business will continue to evolve. For example, the Sony HPC-43 is a sister box camera for the 4300 and will meet an important need.

“Producers want to use the same camera complement they use today for HD in 4K, and the next need was a 4K box camera because it has a wide variety of applications, like Steadicams and jibs,” he explains. “And many productions have as many box cameras as they do shoulder and hard-style cameras. So the HPC-43 uses the same infrastructure and has the same quality as the HDC-4300.”

Also new is the Z-450 4K camcorder, a single-chip camcorder based on the 4300 and bringing the same HD camcorder workflows to 4K coverage.

“We have enabled a new generation of content creators,” notes Shapiro. “It is amazing to think that Betacam camcorders were $30,000, and now you can get a digital 4K camcorder for less than $3,000. It’s quite remarkable.”

Sony (and others) have laid the foundation for 4K/UHD and HDR workflows that promise more-immersive images for broadcast and cable sports networks. Shapiro has been there before: in 1982, he worked on the public-relations side of the first demonstrations of HD. It took another 20 years for that transition to be fully implemented.

“Technology transitions have to take time, especially in live sports and entertainment, where there are so many pieces that have to be coordinated,” he points out. “And the 4K production has to be as good as or better than the HD production.”

OTT Transition to 4K/UHD
The amount of 4K/UHD content available in the U.S. may pale beside that of other countries (most notably, the UK, where Sky Sports and BT Sport have embraced UHD), but Shapiro says the transition here is going phenomenally fast, especially as over-the-top services like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu embrace it: OTT content distributors did not have a massive 2K infrastructure to begin with and, thus, could move more quickly to 4K.

“People are less patient today, but the technology is evolving much faster than in the SD-to-HD transition, [where] a lot more [was] involved,” he explains. “It was the transition not only from SD to HD but from analog to digital, and it involved moving to a different aspect ratio. The 2K-to-4K move is easier.”

If there is one major issue facing the 4K/UHD movement, it is that the current distribution of content has not become widespread. But Shapiro says that issue is being worked on.

“We’re in a great place,” he says. “There are a lot of things going on with HDR, IP, and lower-cost storage, and that gives Sony an unlimited number of places to go.”

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