Posted by Ian Wagdin on
Sometimes working for BBC Research & Development you realise you are living in the future. Every year at the NAB show, broadcasters and tech companies from around the world converge on Las Vegas to discuss the latest development in broadcasting technology and audience experience. I have not been to the show for three years and in 2016 I recall being looked at very strangely when discussing BBC R&D's areas of focus at the time. ST 2110 was not a standard, no one had heard of Networked Media Open Standards (NMOS) and High Dynamic Range was not something mainstream.
Fast forward 3 years and 2110 is everywhere, NMOS is a hot topic of discussion, and HDR workflows are right in the forefront of most discussions. It is quite humbling to wander the vast show floors and find vendor after vendor offering solutions that, if you looked under the hood, would have BBC R&D technologies or ideas in there somewhere:
- Our HDR Look-Up Tables (LUTs) are in their third generation and well established as the de-facto way of converting the various flavours of HDR.
- The IP Showcase was smaller this year - not because of lack of interest but because it is now a mainstream technology being implemented by broadcasters worldwide.
- One of the biggest acquisition announcements of the show was Ross Video aquiring Piero, a sports analytics tool built on technology licensed from BBC R&D.
However, living in the future has its challenges. My focus this year is to see where we can push the tech harder to create great audience experiences and see how we can start to move beyond video to create compelling storytelling experiences. We now have the building blocks in place to start to deliver compelling new story telling formats. Artificial intelligence is giving us richer data than ever before and our audiences have more ways of consuming our output anywhere and on many different devices.
IP is Normal - But it Wasn't Always the Case
If you follow and read our blog you will know that we have been looking at IP since early 2012. At that time SDI was the norm and any solutions for using networks were about carrying SDI on a slightly different cable.
BBC R&D took the lead in thinking that the move to IP must offer more than just video over IP. If we are to compete on the Internet then we must embrace its capabilities, understand user behaviour and build products and services that run on software, either in locally or in the cloud.
We built prototypes and testbeds, and in 2014 we took them to the Glasgow Commonwealth Games and IBC's Future Zone. We engaged in industry and standards bodies and worked with colleagues in the EBU and AMWA to push manufacturers to build kit on open standards.
This year ST 2110 is everywhere. It’s not finished yet, but facilities are being built on the technology and companies are investing in its future. Some of the barriers to entry are being lifted and ST 2110 gateways are appearing on a number of stands at NAB and for the first time a box that enables compression in the work flow.
Our work continues to define workflows and NMOS is at the heart of any IP system. This year we see a closing of the gap between other IP solutions such as NDI and the path to an all-IP future is clearer than ever before.
At the NAB Show in 2016, BBC R&D presented a paper on the best way to produce Standard Dynamic Range and High Dynamic Range signals from a single source and how to convert between them. This year HDR has been widely adopted as a workflow and it sits behind our successful 2018 World Cup and 2019 FA Cup broadcast trials.
8K resolution video was on display and was very impressive on large screens - Sony had a massive screen showing a rendered version of Gran Turismo in 8K which looked stunning and Sharp showed cameras and monitors. We may not adopt 8k on a large scale in the UK but with the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 scheduled to be captured in 8K HDR our HLG technologies will be in their somewhere.
Latency is About 3 Years
At BBC R&D our job is to look at how the media and production world will evolve in the next 5 years and the things we talk about can take a while to get traction. At shows like NAB and IBC we present user experiences or technologies and try and set a path from where we are now to where we want to get to.
As can be seen from the examples I mentioned at the start of this post, moving our work from initial conversations to mainstream adoption can take about 3 years. Sometimes we have shown a prototype or demo that has been dismissed as ‘interesting’ only to have people enquire as to its availability 3 years later.
Based on this, what can we expect to see at NAB 2022? Render Engines (or Game Engines) are now normal technology to produce video content, they drive virtual studios and power 3D graphics but at the end of the day we still render the output down to a 16:9 flat box and send it to screens. In future we should be able to utilise this technology to create immersive content that is tailored to the screen or headset and, while the use of this in eSports is interesting, we should start to see other new experiences built on this backbone. Imagine a police drama that allows you to experience the action via any character's viewpoint or to wander around a scene and look for clues. Advances like these may change the way we experience drama and education can be enhanced by creating content tailored to your individual way of learning.
We will also see the rise of ML and AI, so we have been thinking about how future production tools may develop to use these technologies. There are some basic tools being used to categorise content or sift through rushes to find subject matter currently. In the future tools that not only analyse content but assemble it in ways that can be distributed will be available.
And finally 5G will be on more stands and we will see radio mics and camera built on this technology as well as other new tools and new ways to distribute media built on our current tests and trials in Bath and the Orkney Islands.
I look forward to reviewing this blog in 2022 to see how much things have moved forward, seeing BBC R&D at the heart of media innovation across the world.