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Broadcasting – all steam ahead. Wait. Which way is forward?

Broadcasting – all steam ahead. Wait. Which way is forward?

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Broadcasting – all steam ahead. Wait. Which way is forward?
Posted: Thursday, September 25, 2014

Which way is forward?
IBC is over and so are the September SMPTE standards meetings, which means that I've spent the last 10 days continuously talking about the industry and the direction in which we're going. I thought that it would be interesting to share some of those thoughts – you are welcome to disagree! In fact, we welcome the discourse, so please feel free to share this with others to open up the conversation.
 
Three strange consequences of removing tape
Removing tape from the interchange of content between facilities has been progressing for the last 10 years, and not everything has been going smoothly. Readers of this blog will be familiar with my views on the excellent work done by the DPP on delivery specifications.
 
The success of this initiative in the UK is causing other international groups to contact DPP enthusiasts, such as myself, to find out how they can replicate that success in their territory. The thing I tell people is that the success is due largely to those responsible for DPP management. They realized that the implementation of the delivery specification and the subsequent impact on the workflow around it depended solely on humans in the chain and their willingness to accept change. If you want to have a unified delivery specification, it requires cooperation between different broadcasters, post-houses and manufacturers within a region to find the compromise that works for that region. No single broadcaster or post house can do it in isolation.
 
This brings me to consequence number 1. Removing tape to cut costs and increase efficiency requires competing production, post-production and broadcast companies to cooperate in areas that add no value to their businesses. However, having different delivery specs for every company adds no value, so cooperation is required.
 
Consequence number 2. As soon as there are an economically significant number of users of a single file delivery specification, the workflow effect ripples upstream in file creation and downstream in file acceptance – and these effects have human consequences. Companies that get change management right will do better than those that just hope it will all work out. Reading some of the DPP's guides will help this process.
 
Consequence number 3. When a large group of people performs a financial transaction to a common specification, the likelihood greatly increases that automated tests of that common specification will be required. This, in turn, increases the chances that the manufacturing community will create specific tests for that specification. These tests become standardised and increase the robustness of the specification. This is a virtuous circle that can only happen if there are enough stakeholders in the success of the interchange standard. No single company is big enough to make this happen. The results are starting to appear in the DPP QC specification, the EBU QC harmonisation work and in the AMWA certification process, of which Dalet is proud to be a member.
 
Is this direction moving us forward?
In my view, harmonising delivery standards is most definitely going in the right direction. It removes unnecessary costs and allows more brainpower to be applied to the areas of the industry that add value. This brings me to 4k, high frame rate and high dynamic range. Is this moving us forwards? I would argue yes. It is increasingly obvious on a bright domestic TV screen that content from the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s can be distinguished if you know what to look for. The progression of acquisition and production quality is now visible to the end user when reasonable HD bitrates are provided. If you project these developments into the future, then it is reasonable to expect that content from the 2010s and 2020s will be distinguishable to viewers in the 2030s. This makes it tough for today's content creators to know which of the UHD TV horses to back. Is 4k 10-bit YUV enough, or do you need high dynamic range to really secure your content for 20 years?
 
High dynamic range and 4k is not new. There is a lot of high dynamic range working in the cinema world, but even for big budget movies, this does not mean that 4k resolution is used everywhere. Mixed 2k and 4k workflows are the norm, and careful attention to color and dynamic range make it all invisible to the viewer. My personal view is that we'll end up with a variety of high dynamic range workflows that will require automated software to insulate the operational staff from the complexities of the underlying system. This will be a good thing, as it will allow facilities to be less tied to a single resolution and a single frame rate in their workflows. In turn this should increase the number of target distribution channels that the content can be deployed on.
 
Most importantly for me, it could herald the end of interlace, fractional frame rates, drop frame timecode anomalies and other strange elements of our industry that we have put up with for 50+ years because the inertia of investment has caused it to be too expensive to change direction.
 
So, to recap…
Are we moving forward? Yes.
Are we all going in the same direction? No.
Will everyone need more versatile metadata-driven tools to stay in the media business? Yes!
 
Do you want to find out more about metadata driven software workflows in the Dalet Galaxy MAM platform? Click here for yes. Click here for no (and hover over the cartoon).

Posted by Bruce Devlin

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