With NAB a little more than a month away, vendors are finalizing their planned product introductions and other messaging around the show. In 2017, it's hard to imagine a message that will come on stronger than 4K. Most of what will become breaking news at NAB is still under wraps, but here are some industry trends generating buzz around 4K and UHD that we think will help drive adoption of high-resolution workflow tools at the show.
Affordable HDR. HDR had a strong showing at CES, with different TV manufacturers pledging support for Dolby Vision and HLG systems in addition to the baseline HDR10 standard, and few observers expect HDR to fade away the way 3DTV did. The BBC has started trials of streaming HDR content at UHD resolution, but broadcasters in the U.S. are considering HDR+, a 10-bit 1080p HDR image with much lower bandwidth requirements than UHD, as a money-saving option. Likewise, more affordable alternatives to Dolby Cinema are starting to come online, such as the EclairColor format being championed in Europe by French post-production giant Eclair and its owner Ymagis Group, who would no doubt love to break into the U.S. market. Expect significant developments in HDR post technology at NAB, perhaps including less expensive options for monitoring as well as software and hardware tools that help shore up current HDR pipelines.
ATSC 3.0, IPTV and the OTT explosion. Late last month, the FCC approved the ATSC 3.0 roll-out, but clarified that adoption of ATSC 3.0 will be voluntary, and that broadcasters must ensure their signals continue to be broadcast as ATSC 1.0. It's not clear whether the finalization of ATSC 3.0 will catalyze a transition to new IP-centric TV standards among North American broadcasters, many of whom are still trying to recoup their mammoth investments in HD technology. But OTT content providers like Amazon and Netflix have been coming on strong, and UHD is one of the ways they differentiate themselves from their cable and broadcast competitors. That means demand for UHD and HDR production and post will increase, no matter what — but renewed anticipation of the final FCC rules later this year could accelerate the move.
Codec combat. The HEVC (H.265) codec has been heralded as the heir apparent to H.264, with advocates describing it as twice as efficient as its predecessor — a must for getting UHD program streams down to manageable bit rates. But not everyone is happy with proposed licensing fees for the HEVC patents, which were said to be dramatically higher than those for H.264, especially for software applications. That's why an industry coalition including Amazon, Cisco, Google, Intel, Microsoft, Mozilla and Netflix formed the Alliance for Open Media (AOM), which is developing AV1, a royalty-free codec for UHD media. Advocates say AV1 will benefit from open licensing and improved quality compared to H.265; it also requires strict review by IP lawyers to make sure the adopted technology doesn't infringe on any patents held outside the AOM consortium. AV1 is scheduled to be finalized in Q4 2017, meaning a solid preview of its capabilities should be on display at NAB.
Storage gets smarter. Higher-resolution acquisition and delivery really puts the squeeze on a facility's storage, from both capacity and bandwidth angles. Smarter media management capabilities are essential to manage data, making sure it gets to the right place at the right time, and using intelligent tiering to move data between primary and secondary storage types, making sure the highest-availability storage is available to the files that really need to be there. The good news is that shared storage systems are more competent than ever before. Users shopping for a new storage network will be looking for systems that are flexible enough to help manage high-resolution media affordably. And they should be thinking carefully about how much work they really have to do in bandwidth-hogging 4K uncompressed, as opposed to lighter-weight compressed streams.
Workflow starts in the camera. Most cinematographers know that the best modern UHD cameras capture plenty of dynamic range, with raw and log recording options ensuring that colorists can pull out plenty of information between the brightest brights and the darkest shadows in HDR color space. Look for camera vendors and accessory makers to come on strong this year with even more HDR solutions for existing cameras, ranging from affordable monitoring systems (a la the high-brightness AtomHDR-branded monitor/recorders from Atomos) to camera updates that add dedicated HDR modes for live production or cine-style acquisition. For example, a new firmware update just added HDR support to Panasonic's AK-UC3000 studio/EFP camera. Expect to see more solutions for live HDR production emerging from Panasonic and its competitors this year.