Production Tools and Workflows, Part 1: Acquisition

April 4, 2018 by

Now that we’ve reached the month of April, with almost one-third of 2018 under our proverbial belts, it’s time for three fantastic annual events: my birthday; my youngest daughter’s birthday; and the National Association of Broadcasters show, otherwise known as NAB.

The NAB show is a broadcaster’s delight. It has always highlighted gear and services from all stages of traditional broadcast workflows, from acquisition through over-the-air (OTA) delivery. However, the 2018 NAB show will also cover over-the-top (OTT, or online-only) delivery. Focusing on what the organization calls “The M.E.T. Effect,” this year’s show is billed as the “ultimate event for media, entertainment and technology professionals looking for new and innovative ways” to acquire and deliver content.

In a later installment of this three-part blog series, we’ll discuss OTT delivery—covering time-shifting, live user-generated content (or “LiveUGC”) via Facebook Live and other UGC platforms. In fact, Wowza is offering the chance to win one of three $50 Amazon gift cards for respondents who take its LiveUGC survey before April 12, 2018.

But for now, let’s focus on the M.E.T. effect surrounding acquisition workflows.

 

Does Your Camera Need UHD Acquisition?

Is it a 4K world? One question on almost every NAB attendee’s mind will be how to strike the proper balance between price, quality and future-proofing when it comes to purchasing production equipment. Is it necessary to invest in a high-end camera that captures ultra-high-definition 4K (UHD), or can you get by with less robust (and less expensive) equipment for more traditional 1080p high-definition (HD) acquisition?

There’s no doubt that consumers are finally buying 4K UHD televisions. According to unattributed research in press releases from Samsung and other consumer electronics manufacturers, 2017 seems to have been the tipping point not just for 4K UHD television purchases, but also for the average living-room HD or UHD screen size. The average appears to have risen from 42” to 55” over the past two years, with some flat panels now topping out at above 80” for the first time in 2017.

The bigger question, though: Is content being delivered to these televisions only in the form of OTA or OTT delivery? Not necessarily, because quite a bit of content is still delivered in 720p on cable as well as OTA and OTT. In turn, that has an impact on the acquisition workflow, as content creators and media producers struggle with choosing the proper tools at the proper price point.

That’s not to say UHD broadcast isn’t going to become a reality—but even in late 2017, there was uncertainty across the industry as to whether that 4K television purchased a few years ago would be capable of receiving upcoming UHD broadcasts. There are different standards for 4K UHD broadcasting, and not all of the older 4K flat-panel TVs meet them; for example, they may not be able to receive 60 frames per second or High Dynamic Range (or “HDR”; more on this in the next section).

“For the first time, as a consumer, you can be reasonably sure that a set purchased this year will be usable when broadcasts start in earnest,” Paul Gray from IHG Market is quoted as stating in September 2017. 

That’s somewhat faint praise, but Gray went on to discuss the fact that OTT content is surpassing OTA already in certain demographics.

“New providers are emerging—my teenage sons watch YouTube and Netflix as their default providers, not terrestrial broadcast,” said Gray, anecdotally validating other research that shows almost two-thirds of those in the 16-39 age range are watching “more TV than previously as they switch to on-demand viewing.”

 

Future-Proof Your Production Equipment With Emerging Functionalities

Shawn Lam, a British Columbia-based content creator, award-winning business owner and video producer, notes that we’re not necessarily in the middle of the 4K sweet spot quite yet.

“I'm seeing more and more 4K,” said Lam, while qualifying that in the short term, he thinks “HDR is going to be more important than 4K. ”

HDR is an acquisition technique that applies to any resolution, whether it be 4K UHD, 1080p HD or even 720p. In essence, HDR provides a wider range of latitude between the deepest blacks and the whitest whites. In the days of film cameras, a typical 35mm SLR could work with around seven stops of dynamic range, but most video cameras today only provide around four stops of dynamic range. So lighting control is key to acquiring quality content with lower-end cameras, or even with a Wowza GoCoder-equipped iPhone or Android mobile handset.

It’s true that there are marked differences in camera functionality, depending on price. There are a few digital cinema cameras that get close to traditional film dynamic ranges, especially if your acquisition budget is unlimited—for example, this $82,000 Arri digital cinema camera. But Lam notes that for a live production workflow, there’s no need to invest more than $10,000 total on your camera body, lens and battery; anything higher, and you verge into Hollywood-cinema territory.

What’s more, investing in a camera that supports 4K is unnecessary, Lam says, because “the missing link in 4K is a distribution codec that is widely supported.”

“The acquisition workflow challenge that I want solved is real time 4K HEVC capture, webcasting and export from Adobe Premiere Pro. And then the same for AV1, as I feel that it is poised to replace H.264 as the defacto video standard,” Lam adds. “Wowza is currently the only service that I know of that can accept HEVC for a live webcast, and all others still require H.264 for HD and UHD webcasts.”

So, as we head into NAB 2018, expect to find more and more cameras sporting high frame rates and features like HDR. In part two of this blog series, we’ll discuss the use of content preparation tools to enhance the footage you’ve acquired and prepare it for OTT delivery.

In the meantime, while you’re at the NAB show, schedule a meeting or stop by to see the Wowza team in booth SU11010, or at their pod in the Facebook Live Pavilion at the front of South Upper. Those who do an onsite demo will receive a 40 percent discount on Wowza products and services, and there will be live Wowza Studio Sessions throughout the show with interviews and insights from experts in the streaming space—including yours truly!