Reflections on NAB 2019
Approximate 9 minute read
This past Monday through Thursday was NAB 2019, held yearly in Lost Wages Nevada, the trade-show of trade-shows for all things video and broadcast production topics related.
For three days prior to NAB I attended a meeting in Reno with senior level network executives from Disney/ABC/ESPN, AT&T/Warner/Turner, NBC/Universal, CBS/Viacom, etc., discussing the future of video production, OTT (over-the-top web based content delivery), streaming, cable and broadcasting. Prophetically, one technology executive was heard to say, “in the next sixty months we will see greater, more profound and impacting changes to how we create content than has been experienced in the last sixty years!”
This audacious statement may not be far from reality.
If it is true that the House-of-Worship market trails the broadcast TV production market by a few years we would be wise to take note of the trends affecting those whose footsteps we follow. To that end, here are my reflections on NAB 2019.
SDI is Dead
It should be no surprise to anyone but SDI based video infrastructure, compliant with SMPTE-292 and ITU-R Rec. 709 color space, for fixed installations as well as TV trucks is now dead. The industry has moved on. I am not aware of one major-market production truck or TV studio fixed installation which has limited itself to SDI / SMPTE-292 / Rec.709 color space, designed or built in years. To paraphrase Larry the Liquidator from the movie “Other People’s Money”…
“’Amen and amen and amen.’ You’ll have to forgive me because I am not familiar with the local custom, where I come from you always say ‘amen’ after you hear a prayer. Because that is what you just heard, a prayer. Where I come from that particular prayer is called the prayer for the dead. SDI is dead. I didn’t kill it. Don’t blame me. It was dead when I got here and it’s too late for prayers. For even if the prayers were answered and a miracle occurred and dynamic range did this and gamut did that and the resolution did the other thing SDI would still be dead. You know why? IP! New technology and obsolescence. You know, at one time there must have been dozens of companies making buggy whips. And I bet the last company around was the one that made the best damn buggy whip you ever saw. Now how would you have liked to have been a stock holder in that company. You invested in a video format and that video format is dead. Let’s have the intelligence, let’s have the decency to sign the death certificate, collect the insurance and invest in something with a future.”
Larry the Liquidator (a despicable character played expertly by actor Danny Devito) was on to something regarding the wire & cable industry. Similarly, the Rec.709 & SMPTE-292 HD video standards were adopted nearly three decades ago! Consumers have moved on and the trends are clear. According to the Worldwide TV Market Report authored by Futuresource Consulting, 2/3 rds of all large screen flat panels sold today are UHD capable and 60% of those support at least one HDR standard. Even Netflix (which admits the majority of it’s subscribers are using mobile devices – not large flatpanel screens – to consume Netflix content) orders all new content for their streaming services in 4K / UHD and HDR.
SDI has served us well, but as content creation moves toward higher and higher bandwidth requirements SDI is showing it’s age and the advantages of IP based systems are many. Yet for some reason (read: “cost”) SDI / SMPTE-292 / Rec.709 is still the dominant standard for new project designs and installations in churches. Is the church market ignoring what is happening in other market-segments? It seems so.
We will be writing more in the coming weeks regarding the advantages of IP, HDR and WCG, but here is a primer:
Video Standards Background
1920×1080 video at 23.98p or PsF, 29.97p or PsF, and 59.94i (or 25p/50i for our PAL legacy country friends) as well as 1280×720 at 50p/60p are all SMPTE-292 1.5 Gbit/s HD compliant systems. If the 1920×1080 signal is increased in frame-rate to 50/60p the system bandwidth then jumps from a 1.5 to a 3 Gbit/s, codified as SMPTE 372 & 424. Typically all of these would be transported on a SDI based infrastructure, with a limited color space (color gamut) defined as ITU-R Rec. 709. These standards (SMPTE-292, SMPTE-372 & SMPTE-424) describe that which is typical for 99% of the current House of Worship installations as well as those currently planned, commonly classified as “HD” (or referred to by some as “Full HD” when describing 3G 1080/60p), and “SDR” (meaning a Standard Dynamic Range).
UHD & 4K
UHD (Ultra HD, or Ultra High Definition) increases the spatial resolution (meaning the quantity of pixels or photosites reproduced in one frame) four times to 3840×2160, whereas “4K” (assuming the term is not used generically as to also include 3840×2160) offers a slightly wider horizontal width of 4096 and the same vertical resolution of 2160. Commonly both UHD and 4K are produced in temporal (resolution updated over time) frame rates of 23.98p, 24p, 25, 29.97p, 30p, 50p or 60p, per second.
HDR & WCG
HDR (High Dynamic Range) is a video format available in all of the spatial and temporal resolutions / frame rates discussed above: HD, Full HD, UHD and 4K. Where SDR’s (Standard Dynamic Range’s) latitude is typically about six exposure stops (meaning the darkest and brightest objects within a video frame can be no more than six stops of exposure difference while still maintaining detail in both blacks and highlights), HDR offers as much as seventeen stops of range, therefore brights can be brighter yet not blown-out and blacks can be darker without being crushed. As a result HDR offers the ability to see detail into whites and shadows therefore a contrast range far more similar to that which the human eye sees naturally.
Capture and delivery in HDR also offers WCG (wide color gamut) a color space beyond the limited ITU-R Rec.709 color space. So, not only do you get a better contrast range with HDR video, but more and therefore truer colors as well.
The challenge with HDR is that there are multiple competing HDR delivery formats currently in the marketplace competing for market share and not all TV manufacturers support them all. The chart below represents which HDR system is supported by which manufacturers (as of December 2018):
SMPTE ST-2110 IP video (as it’s name implies) is a replacement of SDI infrastructure where all assets are connected to data networks and are identified by Internet Protocol addresses. IP infrastructures can support HD, Full HD, UHD, 4K (and well beyond) temporal and spatial resolutions as well as SDR or HDR contrast and WCG color gamut standards.
Full HD 3G “2K” video (SMPTE 372 & 424) is approximately twice the bandwidth of 1.5G HD “2K” video (SMPTE-292). UHD (and 4K) are four times the bandwidth of 3G (and therefore eight times the bandwidth of 1.5G). For those who are convinced “2K” 1.5G or 3G video are industry end-all standards (sometimes reciting the mantra “you cannot see 4K!”), it may be interesting to note that SMPTE ST-2110 allows for up to 32K (32,000 x 32,000 resolution) and the 2020 Summer Olympics originating from Sochi Japan will include coverage shot in 8K! This is event is less than 17 months from now!
IP Advantage – Bandwidth
IP has a number of compelling advantages. First are foremost, SDI’s bandwidth limitations are eliminated. Where 12G UHD SDI would typically require multiple BNCs to transport one signal, IP (assuming adequate capacity data switches and network infrastructure) can easily (although not necessarily inexpensively) handle the required video facilities bandwidth traffic. Furthermore, ST-2110 IP is far more efficient than SDI at transporting signals. All other factors being equal, a given resolution and frame rate in HD or UHD will be approximately 30% smaller when transported by IP versus SDI. This bandwidth savings can be used to reduce overall traffic, or can be used for other production purposes.
IP Advantage – Virtualized Production
The second advantage of IP is “virtualized productions,” meaning that once an IP data network is established – and regardless of the geographic location of resources on the IP network – resources can be accessed and utilized by all control rooms and technicians on the network. Some of the many potential House-of-Worship applications include increasing (or decreasing) the quantity of switcher mix/effects buses, video recorder channels, or CG channels across various locations at will. Does your Teen center need use of the ProPresenter computer in the main auditorium on Youth Night? They can do that as if the computer was local to the Teen venue. Would you like to allow a control room at a “broadcast” campus to fully control cameras (inclusive of tally, paint, return video, prompter, etc.) or other AVL resources at a remote campuses? That is do-able as well. For that matter you can eliminate the control room at the remote campus altogether, or eliminate (or reduce) the volunteer (or paid) crew needed at remote venues and campuses by fully utilizing the control room and staff at the broadcast campus. Instead of building technology islands connected by bridges, IP fills in the swamp land and allows all venues (and all resources at each venue) to not only be connected to each other but to share resources at will (subject to scheduling).
IP Advantage – Virtual Machines
Thirdly, “virtual machine technology” promises a future where switcher, graphics, record, and playback device manufacturers will sell/license “apps” and proprietary hardware interfaces. The actual processing hardware on the network will likely be generic, able to run any number of apps from various manufacturers, for varied purposes, as needed, on demand.
Want to run ProPresenter for a service? Pay their license fee and load their app. Next week (or next service) need that same network processing hardware to serve as a video recorder instead? Pay Aja KiPro’s license fee and load their app. Is Easter is coming up and you would like a Ross XPression or Tria instead? Pay the Ross’s license and load their apps.
The equivalent of audio plug-ins is coming to video production, replacing racks of dedicated equipment with flexibility so far undreamed of. The IP future promises eco-systems which are flexible, where functionality is not necessarily tied to specific hardware processing systems.
While the naysayers may (correctly) remind us of 3D video touted a few NABs ago; 4K, HDR, and IP infrastructures are not mere gimmicks intended to sell more consumer TVs. First off, there is a growing installed base of 4K & HDR capable TVs already in the market. Secondly, 4K and HDR require no special glasses (as 3D did) the consumer must wear.
In the case of IP, we are talking about a brand new way of designing and integrating video systems, more revolutionary than when the industry went from analog composite video to 270 Mbit/s digital video back in the 1990’s. HDR and WCG may be equivalent to going from black & white to color TV in the mid-1960’s. The difference is that the vast majority of TVs being sold today are already UHD, HDR and WCG capable… all they need is the correct content. Streaming offers ample opportunity for UHD and HDR delivery and over-the-air television broadcasters are beginning to transmit UHD/HDR under the FCC’s ATSC 3.0 voluntary standards.
Churches that are designing and building new HD (Full HD), SDR (Rec. 709 based) systems today will not prevent their existing and future audiences from consuming UHD, HDR, WCG content in the future … they will just prevent them from viewing “their” content in these advanced formats in the future. If that is an intentional decision after calculating the relative advantages vs cost at this point in time, fine. But how many of us are actually performing that calculation and advising our leadership regarding the changes that are occurring in video technology?
I recently cut the cord and bought a Smart TV. It changed the way I not only watch, but now “view” the TV experience. Churches now compete directly with ABC, CBS, NBC, Disney, Amazon, Hulu and Netflix for viewers, all on an equal playing field. For more reading on this topic see, Smart TV Yardstick.
What else was hot …
OK, so aside from 4K, UHD, HDR, WCG and IP … what were the hot products at NAB? Here is a list of some of my favorites:
The Marshall POV camera killer?
For many years Marshall has been the de facto standard for POV cameras in the House of Worship market. And why not? They are small, (relatively) inexpensive, many offer SDI out and are gen-lockable. Where (some) Marshall’s have been lacking is an elegant standardized remote paint box solution (that is similar to main cameras’ paint boxes) and most importantly – picture quality. Marshall POV’s just don’t match main cameras well and therefore they are only useful as cut-away shots.
Dream Chip is a company that you may not have heard of. They manufacture imagers and also white-label complete camera systems for many of the POV camera companies you’ve likely already heard of. Dream Chip has now come out with their own line of POV cameras! I saw a side-by-side test with Dream Chip’s ATOM class POV camera against a full-sized Sony HDC-2400 HD broadcast camera and the results were very impressive! The ATOM inter-cut with the Sony HD camera really well. The Dream Chip ATOM is C-mount body but they can offer a 2/3″ lens B4 mount adapter if you really want one. Best yet, paint & iris control can be achieved with a standard Sony RCP-1500 controller (via an optional serial module).
Stream Five Cameras?
Need to stream more than one camera between campuses? Want to produce a live multi-camera “REMI” of a off-site event using your church’s control room (instead of a carrypack or truck)? Also from Dream Chip is the Barracuda Encoder / Receiver. With this one device you can stream in H.265 codec and simultaneously record five 1080/30p signals, or four 1080p60 signals or one 4K p60 signal! The applications for churches are many! Want to live-stream point-to-point both a line-cut and a wide shot (a la North Point Community Church), or stream a line cut and graphics as two signals to a satellite campus? Dream Chip’s Barracuda may be the answer.
Who Needs Volunteers?
While (in my opinion) not quite ready for prime-time, one of the products that holds the most promise was in Seervision’s booth. Seervision is a machine learning hardware/software solution which analyzes the content of live video, can recognize and track multiple people in a video shot and can then send pan, tilt, zoom, and framing (headroom, nose room) commands to PTZ robotic camera systems effectively eliminating the need for a camera operator in some situations. The talent on-stage does not need to wear a homing transmitter and a technician in the control room can tell Seervision on-the-fly who to track simply by clicking on them from Seervisions’ screen. Focus is adjusted based on Seervision’s calculation of someone’s dimensions. Want to know just how skinny your Worship Leader is (or is not)? Seervision can probably tell you. Best yet, Seervision is PTZ manufacturer agnostic and can be integrated into existing PTZ set-ups. Does your talent move around a lot? No problem, Seervision will track them. Is your camera also moving? No problem. Are both the talent and camera moving? No problem.
Tom D’Angelo has worked in television production and AVL corporate theater for nearly four decades. He is Emmy Award nominated (Best Director category, Mid-Atlantic) and has been part of various teams nominated or winning national Emmys. As the Media Director at a megachurch in the 1980’s he developed a love for the Church and church performing and technical artists.