Elemental Technologies Gears Up for World Cup in UHD

-Will Perform Live UHD Encoding Using HEVC
-Anticipation for UHD Broadcasts Builds

Three matches of the FIFA World Cup soccer tournament will be produced in UHD this summer in Brazil, and anticipation about the event and the UHD broadcasts is building. The three matches will be captured and broadcast in UHD – not broadcast to TV sets in homes, but displayed in specific viewing venues and trials around the world, if all goes as planned.

The broadcasting specifics – mainly who will broadcast in UHD and how they will do it – are still being worked out. “We have had lots of discussions with our broadcasting clients, and looking at whether we can put the 4K signals onto a ‘world feed’ and if we were to do this, who might take the signals, and what would we need in terms of fiber and satellite capacity to do this,” said FIFA TV head Niclas Ericson, speaking at MIPTV. Ericson said he expects broadcasters from Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Brazil will be interested and technologically capable of broadcast some of the UHD content. “It will be interesting for us to see how this works out, and discussions are taking place now to see how much interest there is,” he said. We’ve gotten word that ESPN will be grabbing the UHD feed, too, and will broadcast the UHD events in specific venues in the US.

The three matches will be captured using 12 Sony F55 cameras and a few HD cameras, the footage from which will be upconverted later to UHD. Sony will also be producing the official FIFA documentary film on the tournament in UHD.

Elemental Technologies will be on the frontlines of the UHD production workflow at the World Cup, handling the live HEVC encoding of the footage. The World Cup will serve as a culmination of many players’ efforts to make UHD a reality, from cameras to mobile production units to encoders to satellite and fiber delivery, down to receiving boxes and playback devices. Fingers are crossed that these delivery chains will line up for those three UHD matches in at least some venues around the world.

Live Events in UHD
Elemental has participated in a handful of world firsts in HEVC and UHD, leading up to the event. Its first live encode occurred at the Osaka marathon in Japan. Elemental encoded the UHD footage into HEVC for transmission to a large display near the finish line of the race.

“We were able to take a feed from a camera into one of our live encoders, and process it in real time at UHD resolution for an HEVC-baked impression at 30 frames per second,” Keith Wymbs, VP of marketing at Elemental, told The Online Reporter. “That was the world’s first demonstration of real-time processing of HEVC for ultra HD.”

Elemental participated in the UHD renderings of the Sochi Winter Olympics, with Russian satco NTV+. “It was the first time that real-time ultra HD, HEVC was transmitted over a satellite in a public environment for people to see,” Wymbs said. That footage was also rendered at 30 frames per second, though consensus is that for high action video such as sports, 60 frames per second is ideal.

Elemental’s more recent encoding events, which include a soccer match for Sky Deutschland and a production held by the Vienna State Opera, were at 60 frames per second. “Sky Deutschland was the first time where it’s an end to end football match in 4K HEVC p60 [60 frames per second] of a live soccer match,” Wymbs said.

Elemental will be doing something similar at the World Cup. There are a lot of moving pieces to delivering a live event that must work seamlessly together. “Delivering something in real time is definitely harder than delivering an episode,” Wymbs said. “People have no patience for blips in live content. When you’re doing a live feed from Brazil back to Connecticut, and then trying to distribute it out to multiple locations – that end-to-end flow is in real time. There’s no tolerance by the viewer for challenges that occur in a live event. You have to maintain that bandwidth and capability, consistently.”

Wymbs said even the encoding itself is very challenging technically for live events. “In UHD, we’re one of two, maybe three companies that can do this today, because it is so hard,” he said. “There’s a lot more to a live encode. You can’t get ahead of the content, because you’ll run out of it, and you can’t get behind it, because then you’re not in real time.”

When will it be delivered to the home?

We’re still in the early days of the UHD trend, and pieces of the ecosystem are just now coming into place. “We’re starting to see now, over the last two months, the broadcast quality and stability, with the chips that go into boxes and gateways and TVs,” Wymbs said.

HEVC-enabled chips are just now being put into STBs. The first wave of chipsets supported video at 30 frames per second. “We have multiple chipset vendors that have now gotten to p60 – which wasn’t the case in the beginning of this year,” Wymbs said. The newer chips also support 10-bit color depth – another requisite for “true UHD” – while the earlier chips supported only 8-bit.

By most predictions, including Wymbs’, live UHD events will begin entering the home next year, albeit only to a very select group of viewers: those with fast broadband speeds, UHDTV sets, and HEVC-enabled STBs. “It’s a progression that will happen over the course of the decade,” Wymbs said. “It’s not going to be a universally adopted thing until later.”

“We’re already seeing 4K content out there,” he added. “It’s all growing. We’re seeing a lot of the early work going surprisingly well.”

UHD TVs are already available in stores, and the lack of UHD hasn’t stopped some consumers from purchasing UHD sets. OTT providers are the early adopters in the space. “The folks that really want to deliver technology and deliver experiences based on what viewers want are moving early [towards UHD],” he said…

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