NAB: Get Ready to Junk Your HDTV

7:00 AM PST 04/05/2013 by Carolyn Giardina
Courtesy of Universal Pictures
Oscar-winning cinematographer Claudio Miranda used a 4K camera to shoot Iceland exteriors for "Oblivion."

The annual broadcast trade show, from April 6-11, the industry will learn about the challenges of upgrading to Ultra HDTV while viewing demonstrations of the new supersharp 4k format.

This story first appeared in the April 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Broadcasters are getting ready to up the ante again. While the switch to HDTV wasn't completed until 2008, the 90,000 delegates heading to Las Vegas for the annual National Association of Broadcasters convention will be focused on the future of Ultra HDTV. That, in turn, hinges on the introduction of 4K, a supersharp image format that offers four times the resolution of HD.

Already, films like Oblivion, Tom Cruise's sci-fi adventure opening April 19, are being shot with 4K cameras. And major sporting events such as the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics could air in the format.

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While many broadcasters are not ready to invest in the upgrade, others such as Germany's Sky Deutschland, the U.K.'s BSkyB and Brazil's TV Globo have been testing 4K. With Brazil playing host to both the World Cup and the Olympics, Jose Marino, news and sports engineering director at TV Globo, says, "It is important that we show our viewers what Ultra HDTV is all about, that they experience it and want to have it in their homes."

While the consumer electronics industry has embraced Ultra HD, showing off sets with the latest technology at January's Consumer Electronics Show, many moving parts still need to be addressed. They include making 4K cost-effective to produce, working out technical challenges such as bandwidth and setting standards. The biggest challenge might be encouraging demand among consumers, who have just upgraded to HDTV.

Sony Pictures Television has been leading the charge in scripted television -- not surprising because the company's electronics arm now offers 4K in products from cameras to TVs. Sony has used 4K for TV work, including the upcoming Michael J. Fox series.

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So far, though, the format has seen more use in features like Universal's Oblivion, which Claudio Miranda, the Oscar-winning cinematographer of Life of Pi, shot with Sony's new F65 4K digital cinema camera. "A lot of the exteriors were shot in Iceland, a land with supremely fine detail in the ground," he says. "The volcanic earth has this smooth black against this whitish sky. Digital cameras are barely able to handle that kind of range. I wanted a camera that could shoot in 4K and be able to capture this world the best we could." Although postproduction work was completed in today's more commonly used 2K format, Miranda says shooting in 4K allowed him to capture "that extra bit of sharpness for Iceland, a look that we gravitated toward."

And even as NAB attendees grapple with 4K, Japanese public broadcaster NHK will take the next step toward the future. It will hold a broadcast demonstration of 8K -- which has 16 times the resolution of HD, pushing the envelope further.

Carolyn Giardina's Behind the Screen, a blog about entertainment, technology and crafts, debuted at THR.com on April 4.

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