The latest developments in IP, AR and AI will be on show in Las Vegas where the esports sector will be one of the hottest topics
According to the IABM, media technology suppliers invest almost half of their marketing budgets in trade shows like NAB, but as the industry changes from black boxes to software does this still provide value for money?
“Trade shows are moving away from stands full of bespoke hardware, towards being ‘talking shops’,” says Peter White, CEO, IABM. “This means that exhibitions will take on a different character from what we’ve become used to over the last thirty years – but they will provide an ideal environment to further creative collaborations.”
Since 98% of technology users, in a IABM survey, want to mix and match the best products without having to worry whether one part will fail, ‘creative collaborations’ requires vendors to adopt a more open approach to product interoperability.
“Although SMPTE ST2110 will address many on-premise interop problems, it takes on quite a different character in the cloud because it’s software interoperability that’s the issue,” says White. “Work is going on in this area right now.”
In fact, while bespoke broadcast technology is on the decline, new categories such as cloud and OTT services are growing significantly. The NAB showfloor will reflect this as will the way the IABM defines the broadcast technology supply market – expect an announcement soon.
While the prognosis for equipment suppliers may be bleak, emerging technologies such as AI and AR and the drive to link more production and broadcast systems over IP will be much in evidence in Las Vegas.
Added data intelligence
The explosion in Big Data has powered the rise of Artificial Intelligence with use cases variously designed to enhance the viewer's media consumption experience, automate production processes, and optimise delivery of content. Plenty of vendors will be displaying an AI appendage.
Dalet, for instance, is adding an AI mode to its Galaxy media asset management system for news journalists. Content Discovery will automatically tag material, such as user-generated videos, and recommend clips relevant to the particular story a reporter is working on.
There will also be AI-influenced tools for audio to text transcription (closed captioning) potentially saving organisation’s time and money, for policing UGC content uploaded online and for content protection. Irdeto uses AI to detect illegal streams through semantic analysis of social media ads or web page indexes and matching it to the original content. It then combines results with Machine Learning to recognize the original source of the video stream by identifying the broadcaster logo.
Esports on the agenda
With esports on track to reach a global audience of 629 million and revenues of U$1,650m by 2021 (per Newzoo) competitive computer gaming is not only going mainstream but on target to eclipse traditional sport in the future, according to the CEO of British producer Gfinity.
“The increasing number of ‘occasional viewers’ highlights that esports is now mainstream and it’s only going to get bigger over the next five years as more top teams and superstars emerge,” says Neville Upton.
Affiliation to the Winter Games in PyeongChang gave esports Olympic credibility. Spanish soccer league La Liga just the latest ‘traditional’ sport to align itself with the sector. The drivers are the same: sponsors are pushing sports franchises to invest in the phenomenon in response to the needs of increasingly tech-savvy sports fans.
Esports is prominent on the NAB conference agenda with the focus on working with brands, leagues and esports producers to best connect with millennial fans. It’s opening up a market for sale of professional live production kit too, as illustrated by EVS’ partnership with “one of the world's largest esports organisations” to be unveiled at the show.
Battle of the codecs
NAB will be the first chance for the industry to test the performance of new encoding technologies. In particular, vendors including Bitmovin will be demonstrating the capabilities of AV1, a new codec to rival defacto standard HEVC.
HEVC, which is co-developed by MPEG, has faced slower than expected take up by many online service providers who are reluctant to pay what they see as high and complex licence fees to patent holders including HEVC Advance and Velos Media, a group including Ericsson and Sony.
Google led the breakaway, first developing VP9 and then founding the Alliance for Open Media with Amazon and Netflix to write AV1. Both are open source and free with AV1 also claimed to deliver a whopping 30% bitrate saving over HEVC for the same picture quality. NAB will be the court in which this is judged.
The industry also needs to look ahead to the massive data demands to support applications like omni-directional media (six degrees of freedom Virtual Reality) and lightfields. MPEG and teams from ISO and ITU have formed a Joint Video Exploration Team to study this and we are told to expect news of its progress at NAB.
5G meets VR/AR
The millisecond latency and faster than 1Gb per second super speeds of incoming cellular network 5G is forecast to reshape the creation, distribution and consumption of content.
Virtual Reality 8K video is already being lined up for demonstration over a 5G network at the Tokyo Olympics in just two year’s time – something inconceivable with current technology.
It is Augmented Reality (AR), though, which marks the next big shift in immersive content because the potential user base is far wider than that for VR headsets. Android alone has over 2 billion devices in the market and ARCore, Google’s augmented reality developer’s kit, is on release and already being used by Sony Pictures to create an Ghostbusters game. Combined with half a billion iPhones and iPads in people’s hands and AR seems ready for the flick of the switch.
“AR and VR combined with AI will be the future computing interface,” predicts Dave Ranyard CEO at London-based app developer Dream Reality. “At some point soon the killer app will come out and get all the 12-16-year olds playing in the AR space.”
Perhaps there will be a clue at NAB.
To UHD and beyond
One category that remains resolutely hardware is cameras and lenses and NAB will be the first chance to see the latest models all in one place. There are quite a few to choose from, all now upping the ante to 4K recording and beyond. In recent months, Panavision unveiled the Millennium DXL2 8K built around a RED Monstro sensor for high-end cinematography (rental only); Sony’s flagship Venice has just been upgraded for filmmakers to capture at 6K; ARRI announced its move into native 4K acquisition with a large-format version of the Alexa, called the Alexa LF.
The Sony UHC-8300 broadcast camera capable of shooting 8K are also due for release around NAB. It is being positioned as ideal for capturing 4K now and the higher resolution when needs arise, plus it has the ability to record up to 120fps.
Costing as much as a top of the range DSLR Blackmagic Design’s £2500 URSA Broadcast is promoted as the budget option for broadcasters and producers to acquire in UHD. Its design is suitable for studio, ENG and even drama. It takes B4 lenses – great for a wide field of view but not the traditional aesthetic for drama. It does, though, mean that the focus doesn’t change as you zoom – making it handy for ‘run and gun’ styles.
Even if these cameras weren’t already announced the biggest buzz will be at RED Digital Cinema for a closer look at Hydrogen One. Teased since the end of last year, resembling a smartphone but linked to RED’s camera product, the device is said to have optics capable of capturing holograms (4V in the company’s terminology) and a holographic display to view it on. Bearing in mind the scepticism which greeted RED’s entrance into the professional camera market in 2007 – and its roaring critical and commercial success since – the hyperbole should not be dismissed lightly.
Barry Bassett, MD, VMI: We are keen to see Sony’s roadmap emerge for the Venice camera and to see what ARRI plan to do to counter this post the release of the Alexa LF. We’re now eagerly waiting for the next generation 4K products to be announced from other major manufacturers like Canon and Panasonic.
Ian Brotherston, CEO, TVT: I’m most interested in truly innovative technologies, such as AI, that is deployed in a way that genuinely creates value, which can help us to more quickly and effectively version, localise, edit and make compliant content from diverse sources.
Steve Plunkett, CTO, Red Bee Media: The latest generation IP broadcasting standards (SMPTE ST-2110) and AI are destined to have a big impact on how we build and operate the broadcast environments of the future. While the role of IP in the broadcast chain is well understood, the role of AI is less clear. AI has the potential to dramatically change how we produce, distribute and consume media but it’s important that we first understand what it can (and cannot) do.