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Ultra-HD Gains Traction at IBC 2014

September 22, 2014 07:58 | By

LR-entranceIn the past, we’ve commented that IBC is often the place to see working examples of things that were only announcements at NAB. Being a baby of organizations such as SMPTE, the IEEE and others, there’s always been an engineering focus at IBC, and this year doesn’t disappoint, with both AJA‘s Cion camera and the Phantom Flex 4K high-speed camera from Vision Research present on the show floor, live and operating, having both been announced in Las Vegas.

Without wanting to get too engrossed in technical detail, it’s worth a brief digression here to take note that Cion really is quite lovely. Reputedly using the same sensor as Blackmagic‘s Production Camera 4K, it was never going to be incredibly sensitive or boast enormous dynamic range, but within those bounds it seems to be very nicely done. The form factor and layout is sensible, build quality seems nice, and the only remaining problems are viewfinding (currently tough at any price) and lenses, where glass good enough to do the sharpness of the sensor justice is likely to cost more than the camera body, although that’s hardly an unusual situation. Interestingly enough, the viewfinder on the Phantom 4K (which looks like a rebadged Astro DF-3512) is probably one of the best currently available, with an OLED display at a full 1920 by 1080 pixels. As ever, viewfinding fails to keep up with developments in camera, and even then the DF-3512 is worth more than a Cion camera body in itself.

Hitachi's 4K camera.

Hitachi’s 4K camera.

It’s no coincidence that both of these cameras operate at resolutions beyond HD. Hitachi, too, showed a 4K system camera for live outside broadcast applications, with U.K. supplier Gearhouse sharing booth space and expressing keen interest. The theme continues through optics, with Fujinon promoting some of its zooms (such as the HK7.5×24) specifically for 4K applications, and even Sennheiser promoting “the sound 4K demands.” It would be reasonable to approach this almost universal approbation for Ultra-HD with a little caution, as there was once a time when 3D was just as big a story, but the amount of new engineering that’s gone into some of these products, as well as the almost universal enthusiasm for them, suggests that 4K might have really hit its stride.

Dolby demoed its Dolby Vision technology at IBC.

Dolby demoed its Dolby Vision technology at IBC.

That said, perhaps the most immediately enticing development in the picture side of the business at IBC 2014 was Dolby‘s public exhibition of its Dolby Vision technology. Instead of chasing resolution, and being subject to objections over how visible the extra detail is at normal viewing distances, Vision is designed to enhance brightness, contrast and dynamic range. The result is pictures with so much extra punch that more conventional displays look quite literally faulty by comparison, as if operating at cruelly reduced brightness and contrast settings. Having experienced the somewhat limited success of 3D and the subtle benefits of 4K, at least in the home, one might be forgiven for taking a rather cautious approach to this sort of innovation. Because of the limitations of the display you’re currently looking at, it’s impossible to prove otherwise by showing a photo, but there is no exaggeration in saying that Dolby Vision is very obviously a huge improvement on what has come before, and one would hope that it can successfully leap the hurdles between its current experimental status and widespread adoption.

LR-cox lecture

Professor Brian Cox

Away from the show floor, talks steer more toward a technical and production-oriented theme than those at NAB, which often include conference tracks on regulatory and governmental issues. Particularly well-attended examples included an hour-long talk by Professor Brian Cox, a British academic with a large and growing industry profile in documentary, and ARRI‘s talks with production staff from HBO‘s Game of Thrones. During the show, we didn’t know that rumors of a 65mm, 6K Alexa were days from being confirmed, and Arri’s position that dynamic range, low noise, and oversampling trump sheer resolution still seemed reasonable. And even so, even though they’re now talking about a beyond-HD camera for situations where that’s really necessary, it remains hard to argue with the way Thrones looked on the big screen.

Photon Beard's Platinum Blonde HMI.

Photon Beard’s Platinum Blonde HMI.

Turning our attention to perhaps more prosaic matters – and striding purposefully past the ever-expanding group purveying the cheapest end of LED lighting – we discover that small U.K. lighting company Photon Beard is showing its much-vaunted Platinum Blonde HMI. As the name suggests, the Platinum Blonde is externally similar to the traditional 2KW Blonde light which is a part of many news crews’ outfits, but fitted with a 1200W HMI bulb and ballast. This is a welcome development not only because of the increased light output, efficiency and high color temperature of the HMI, but also because the price, at around U.K. £3000, makes it one of the lowest-cost ways into the huge effectiveness of HMI, at least without going to manufacturers of questionable copies of brand-name gear.

LR-showfloorAs ever there is far too much in a show like IBC to mention in the available space – Sony‘s FS7 camera and the Blackmagic acquisition of Eyeon are both of great interest, especially since a price drop in Fusion would be typical of Blackmagic’s past pattern of acquisitions and this could, finally, produce something of a competitor to Adobe After Effects. These stories are just part of the reason that IBC 2014 was, in the view of perhaps 75% of exhibitors, absolutely buzzing. With just over 55,000 attendees, quiet spots were rare and the economic doldrums seem now to be largely historical. Quite what effect this will have on NAB remains to be seen, but it’ll be fun finding out.