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Standardizing the New World of TV

Balancing the need to upgrade current infrastructures while keeping track of newer technologies that could render much of the current broadcast infrastructure obsolete has never been harder. Many broadcasters still don’t have a full HD infrastructure; yet during the London Olympics the BBC and NHK were testing Ultra HD TV, which provides up to 16 times the resolution of current HD standards.

Many of these newer technologies as well as some of the challenges their deployment poses for broadcasters will take center stage this month when the Society of Motion Picture & Television Engineers holds its Annual Technical Conference Oct. 23-25 in Hollywood.

One major focus will on SMPTE current standards’ work file formats and interfaces that help make equipment and systems inside the broadcast infrastructure more interoperable. As part of that effort, the Advanced Media Workflow Association, European Broadcast Union and SMPTE are working together on interoperable systems and more efficient workflows.

To that end, AMWA and the EBU have submitted the work from their Framework for Interoperable Media Service (FIMS) Task Force to SMPTE to be formalized into a standard. When implemented, proponents believe that FIMS will greatly simplify file-based workflows and allow metadata to be preserved throughout the entire content creation and distribution chain.

Hans Hoffman, VP of standards at SMPTE, notes that they expect to complete the FIMS work within six months. “We’ve undertaken this as a very fast process [because] it adds a new layer of interoperability for all organizations that produce content,” Hoffman says. “It is a very important development that will help broadcasters meet the challenge of faster, more efficient production.”

Looking much further ahead, SMPTE has also recently set up a study group for Ultra HD TV (UHDTV). That group is exploring what specifi cations and standards need to be developed for the technology. “We need to have technology available that is suitable for the mainstream TV productions,” Hoffman explains. “So we are analyzing what is needed and then will work together with our partners and the leading organizations to put the relevant standards activity in place for a complete Ultra HD eco-system.”

The International Telecommunication Union issued a draft recommendation for UHDTV in May, approved in August, that includes specifications for both a 4K (3,840- by-2,160) image system that is about four times the resolution of the highest-quality HD signals and an 8K (7,680- by-4,320) image system that is about 16 times HD.

As part of their work on UHDTV, Hoffman notes SMPTE will address such key topics as defining the image format for UHDTV, exploring new compression systems, analyzing the kind of bandwidth needed for delivery of UHDTV; and looking into UHDTV file-based workflows.

While some analysts believe it could take five to ten years before UHDTV set prices drop to affordable levels and UHDTV content becomes widely available, the format could have some immediate applications in sports and as a master file in higher-end productions.

Some vendors, including Sony, Canon, Panasonic and For-A, have already launched or demoed 4K cameras. And a number of networks, including ESPN, have been testing 4K equipment.

One immediate application in sports would be to use the higher-resolution 4K camera image to zoom in on the action, something Sony has already demonstrated at the NAB and IBC shows with two F65 4K cameras.

Japanese public broadcaster NHK, which developed the first HD systems, has played a major role in researching and developing the first UHDTV systems. But others are also getting on board, Hoffman says. “We are already seeing support from some U.S. broadcasters, the European Broadcasting Union and the BBC, who want to be proponents of this new initiative,” notes Hoffman, who believes the transition to UHDTV will occur faster than HD.

In addition to its ongoing standards work, the Annual Technology Conference will feature discussions of some recent SMPTE standards. FCC Media Bureau chief engineer Alison Neplokh will discuss new regulations for closed captions for Internet-delivered video that use SMPTE’s Timed Text specification as the “safe harbor” captioning standard.

Other ATC sessions will also include papers on the use of Timed Text in UltraViolet movies and TV programs, which allow purchasers of DVDs or Blu-ray disks to access a digital copy, as well as a look at the deployment of Timed Text by HBO.

There will be a number of sessions highlighting IP networks and cloud-based solutions that are increasingly being used by broadcasters.

“We are in the early days of cloud storage being used in production,” which is why SMPTE felt it would be an important issue to address at the conference, notes Hoffman. “It will be interesting to see if these cloud services really can deliver on their promise of being cost-efficient compared to local storage.”

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