By Loki Ong, vice-president, sales, APAC, Adder Technology
There is no denying the popularity of 4K/Ultra HD (UHD) technology. Although consumer access to 4K/UHD content is still limited at this stage, broadcasters and home electronics manufacturers have been aware of the potential of 4K/UHD for years now. It was only shortly after the peak of HD popularity that the phrase 4K/UHD was first uttered by industry insiders, but it has come a long way since then.
It was not long ago that the major broadcasters had finished working on making sure they were all HD-capable, and so it seemed unlikely that they would suddenly have to do the whole thing over again for 4K/UHD. But once TV manufacturers started building 4K/UHD-ready screens, and forward-thinking over-the-top (OTT) providers such as Netflix started offering choice selections of their catalogue to stream in 4K/UHD quality, it became clear that this was more than a fad. This was set to be another major step forward for broadcasting.
Fast forward to today, and while it is still the minority of us who enjoy regular 4K/UHD content at home, the wheels are firmly in motion. The majority of films and TV shows are now shot in native 4K/UHD quality, and major broadcasters are starting to get far more ambitious in ramping up their plans. In October this year, it was confirmed that all of the 64 matches in next year’s FIFA World Cup will be filmed in 4K/UHD, with 37 cameras dotted around each stadium.
The main benefit of 4K/UHD, and a reason why it is such a captivating technology for consumers, is that it offers a stunning level of image quality — roughly double that of HD with twice as many pixels in the horizontal to approximately 3480 x 2160 as a standard for TVs and monitors. This level of detail has the potential to change how we view television for good, and in the case of the World Cup, it means we will be able to see every fan in the stands, every blade of grass on the pitch and every goal that ends up in the back of the net with stunning clarity.
To preserve this image quality, operators sitting in outside broadcast (OB) trucks, post-production studios and similar environments need to be able to see an exact representation of the image that has been filmed, and so they require 4K/UHD monitors. Without this, they are not seeing the image that was intended, and so could make poor, costly decisions when it comes to editing or processing. Broadcasters also need to ensure they have a suitable network infrastructure in place that can deal with the bandwidth demands of transmitting and distributing 4K/UHD, as well as a means to store all of this footage once it has been captured.
The need for native 4K/UHD quality across the board is therefore clear, but this is tricky when producers, editors, cameramen and other crew members are out on location so often. Fitting a 4K/UHD-ready monitor and infrastructure into a post-production studio is one thing, but delivering the same quality to an OB truck, for example, is another thing entirely. Broadcasters need to be able to rely on a 4K/UHD solution that will be relevant to each and every broadcast function.
This is where 4K/UHD-enabled, IP-based KVM (keyboard, video, mouse) systems can be incredibly useful. These work in the same way as regular IP-based, high-performance KVM systems — allowing operators to remotely access numerous computers and applications from a single workstation with a single keyboard and mouse — which are also capable of delivering amazing 4K/UHD image quality, as well as SD and HD.
This gives crew members the confidence and reassurance of knowing that, no matter what the video is they are looking at on-screen, every single pixel is identical to how the original camera operator saw the scene, and this in turn gives viewers the satisfaction of knowing that what they are watching at home is true-to-life.
Having a 4K/UHD-enabled infrastructure and environment means broadcasters can simplify workflows while continuing to deliver the true-to-life viewing experience that customers expect from a 4K/UHD broadcast. Take next year’s World Cup, for example: the native 4K/UHD video that is being captured by each of the 37 stadium cameras will be transmitted to an OB truck situated just outside the stadium. Editors and producers inside the truck will then be able to take advantage of their 4K/UHD-enabled equipment to make better and more accurate decisions through being able to see the footage in all its detailed, 4K/UHD glory, whether it’s deciding which camera is delivering the most attractive image at any one time or finding the perfect slow-motion footage to replay.
From a visual perspective, 4K/UHD quality is miles ahead of the likes of HD, capable of delivering an extraordinary level of detail that would have simply gone amiss beforehand. However, if we want viewers to be truly wowed by the potential of this format, broadcasters must ensure they are able to handle the content at all stages of the broadcast process, and a 4K-enabled, IP-based KVM system is a viable and incredibly flexible solution for doing so.