Every year, NAB is the principal place we expect to see new releases – so much so, in fact, that there are often so many new things that their individual impact is obscured. As a result, every year, there’s always the tantalizing possibility that someone will release something interesting at IBC.
The show is about half the size of NAB, in terms of sheer attendance – numbers this year were a bit over 55,000, whereas NAB 2015 attracted 103,042, so IBC is far from a poor relation. In recent years we’ve seen a few examples of companies taking advantage of this to launch new products, and, at this year’s event, Sony showed its new FS5 camera and the update to the A7S stills-video hybrid, the A7S M2. Both are identifiably refinements of previous things, and at least the FS5 risks creating a degree of marketplace congestion. Nevertheless, the great pictures created by the original A7S and the FS5’s big brother, the FS7, suggest good things of the new cameras – and they weren’t buried under a slew of competing releases as they would have been in Vegas. Sony also displayed its highly capable BVM-X300 monitor, a 4K OLED, which is not new but was shown performing a new trick that summarizes the tone of the show quite nicely: the X300 can handle HDR.
High dynamic range imaging, with its punchy, compelling upgrade to the brightness and contrast of standard TV pictures, is a big enough deal that we’ve covered it separately. Even so, seeing it on an OLED is an interesting development. While the technology is capable of excellent contrast, principally because of its ability to display a true zero-luminance black level, OLED displays to date haven’t actually been all that bright. Flanders Scientific, a manufacturer of high-end reference monitors (albeit using Sony panels) tells us that the problems of first-generation OLEDs, in which the blue-emitting elements of the display wore out rather too quickly, has been solved simply by oversizing the blue elements compared to the red and green.
Continuing in the world of displays, SmallHD showed its DP7 High Bright monitor. The company has been producing small, onboard displays with features aimed at camera crews for a few years, and have since become part of the Vitec empire. The high-brightness display has an output of 1500 nits, where a nit is a candela per square meter. The intention is that this creates a display that’s readable in full sunlight, and this was enough to garner the company a what-caught-my-eye nod. What’s particularly interesting, though, is that this is enough brightness to satisfy Dolby‘s Vision standard for HDR. The SmallHD display is not currently capable of HDR work, but it might be nothing more than some firmware away from doing so, and that would make SmallHD the first company with an onboard HDR display. Here’s hoping someone at the company notices and acts upon this possibility.
If there was a theme other than HDR prevalent at IBC 2015, it was that of video-over-IP. This, broadly, is about the rather more prosaic matter of transmitting pictures from point A to point B. Since this has overwhelmingly been done digitally for years, it’s been clear for almost as long that it barely matters what sort of cables we send those numbers down. The huge marketplace of computer hardware is starting to make computer networking competitive with video-specific interconnects on sheer performance, and it’s now possible to fit even a couple of streams of unadulterated broadcast-quality HD down the ten-gigabit Ethernet revisions which are either in use or soon to be. If we’re willing to compress the image data, which costs us quality, things get even easier and we gain enormous flexibility in routing and transferring signals around.
The upsides of this are essentially in infrastructure that’s made cheaper by the mass market. Getting video signals into and out of IP networks is currently the work of converter boxes or, sometimes, computer workstations. Blackmagic showed a Teranex-branded converter from SDI to IP over optical fibre, and NewTek‘s enormously capable Tricaster now has the ability to receive video feeds from IP sources. In this latter case things really make sense, providing lots of inputs to a device that was always workstation-centric to begin with, although the standard that’s being used here requires compression and that invariably introduces delay. If there’s a problem with IP, this is it: SDI is a simple point to point link, designed to do nothing more than throw video and audio (and limited metadata) around very quickly. The internet protocol, by design, creates an intelligent routing and management network and the sophistication creates at least some delay, even without compression. It is unlikely to replace SDI in the immediate term, but the next five years may be interesting.
In this vein, let’s end with futures. There’s a futures pavilion at every major trade show, and IBC’s this year displayed, perhaps most memorably, an HDR update to NHK‘s long-running 8K television demo. The high-resolution broadcast system has long needed such a thing, being limited in highlight-handling capacity by the necessarily tiny size of the photosites on such a small sensor.
Another frequent attendee has been Vision III Imaging, with their single-camera technique for greater depth and visible parallax; it’s something of a shame that this still hasn’t been more frequently used, because it’s very effective and avoids many of the problems of traditional stereo 3D. It’s difficult to assign a best-in-show award to such a large event – Canon might be a contender for their ultra-high-sensitivity camera demonstration, with images of the Aurora borealis – but ultimately if 2015 is anything, it’s the year HDR came of age. Unlike the next-big-things that came before it (stereo 3D, high frame rate, and even 4K), the improvement is very marked, immediately visible to both laypeople and specialists, and there are few inconveniences or downsides.