Only at NAB will you hear a senior representative of a global technology company reply to a slight on the efficacy of his production workflow with the phrase “Well, Stallone’s using it on his new movie”. This exchange on Canon’s stand regarding their new EOS C500 movie camera was one of the more entertaining moments in what was otherwise a relatively subdued first day at the National Association of Broadcasters annual conference in Las Vegas.
Canon’s new camera is a part of a major trend emerging at this year’s NAB, namely 4K – the successor to HD. In simple terms, 4K has roughly double the resolution of today’s HD – 3840x2160 pixels plays 1,920 x 1,080. What this means in real terms is stunning, photo realistic visuals on big TV panels, the largest of which are now so big that HD looks grainy.
All three major camera makers – Sony, Panasonic and Canon - launched 4K units this year. Not being a cameraman they all seemed much the same; however market disruptor Red seemed to have attracted the most attention, with queues round the block to see its new Red Dragon CCD and lens system. Tellingly, it’s priced at a bargain $6k, vastly cheaper than mainstream rivals. The movie camera market is going away from the traditional players as fast as post-production technology.
Once it’s captured, a further production issue with 4K is in processing. Because the files are so big, more horsepower is required for craft editing processes. I asked a number of asset management systems vendors, Intel and IBM about their roadmaps in this area and was met with telling silence. Only Japan’s NTT appeared to have thought about the problem and were demoing a set of rack-mounted processors to run 4K workflows.
Finally, there’s the consumption devices themselves. Sony demonstrated a prototype 46” LCD that offered both 4K and an impressive glasses-free 3D capability. I spoke to one of its engineering minders, who pointed out that in order to provide the latter functionality – which he thought would be readily available in Japan this year – you require a panel that can do 4K anyway.
I can definitely see consumer devices becoming available this year. Whether there are any sources is another matter. High capacity BluRay was mentioned as one possibility. Satellite also offers the bandwidth to get it into homes, however set top boxes would need to be refreshed and there’d need to be enough sets to make it economically viable. I’m not sure that 3D is today, which may well suppress broadcasters’ desire to offer it.