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Sony’s F55 digital cinematography cameras, which were originally built for uses such as independent features and TV series production, are being tested in a 4K production of the FIFA Confederations Cup this summer in Brazil with potentially dramatic ramifications for the style of live Ultra-HD TV sports.
Sony plans to shoot three matches from the soccer tournament starting June 15 using six F55 cameras, which feature single Super 35mm-sized sensors instead of cameras fitted with three 2/3-inch sensors used in conventional outside broadcasts.
The larger sensor produces a shallow depth of field which yields a “filmic” look compared to the “video-style” achieved with smaller sensor cameras. “Under examination is whether the F55’s sensor is appropriate for live sport,” explained Mark Grinyer, Sony’s program manager for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. “If it works well in the test and people like the price point [$34,000 per unit] and the director likes the images it creates, then do we need another camera? The cost of building a new 4K 3-chip camera is a serious discussion point.”
The F55 is a recent addition to Sony’s 4K camera line that also includes the flagship F65, which has been used on features such as Oblivion and After Earth, as well as some TV series work. The F55, which was released earlier this year and was used to lens at least three pilots for Sony Pictures Television, includes support for high speed shooting up to 120 frames per second in 4K and the ability to shoot both 4K and HD simultaneously. It also has a dynamic range of up to 14 stops.
“In tests we’ve conducted to date, it is noticeable that in some instances the shot [depth of field] becomes quite narrow, so it’s a matter of finding the right balance between lens and camera and focus,” said Grinyer. “It’s also a question for whether sports producers like the look.”
At the Confederations Cup a number of lenses will be tested including a prototype lens convertor which permits standard 2/3 box lenses to be used with the F55’s 35mm sensor, and a new 4K Fujinon Cabrio lens.
“Just repeating HD match coverage in a higher resolution may not be what gets the consumer excited,” Grinyer said. “What might though, is using 4K in a different style–using the extra light [dynamic range], or higher frame rates, or new depth of field for certain shots.”
Grinyer cited as an example the lowdown diagonal shots typical of tennis coverage—something that Sony will be testing in 4K at Wimbledon this year.
Sony will also experiment with placing 4K cameras in traditional broadcast positions and how pictures from 4K cameras can be slotted into existing HD camera coverage.
“Given the higher resolution and viewing on larger screens, could a director use fewer 4K cameras for a 4K production?” asked Grinyer. “Could we augment 4K with HD cameras and upscale those to 4K? Could we place two F55’s side by side in the ‘camera one’ (high gantry) position and stitch their pictures together into 4K and produce HD feeds from that?”
The majority of the crew for the test will come from the UK’s Telegenic, which is supplying its new 4K broadcast van built by Sony’s system integration division.
Additional gear being used as part of the test is Sony’s MVS-8000X Vision mixer, Miranda’s 4K-enhanced 8500 series routers, three Sony PVM-300 4K LCD monitors, and a Calrec Apollo 5.1 console.
Sony will be working alongside FIFA and Host Broadcast Services at the Confederations Cup. The tests will be used to inform the extent of 4K production and possible broadcast from Brazil at next year’s World Cup.
Still, Sony’s hands are tied between broadcasters willing to take 4K content and the development of core pieces of equipment necessary for it to be transmitted.
FIFA is assessing demand among its rights holders for both a 3D and a 4K feed from the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Interested parties include broadcasters in South Korea, Japan and in the U.S. where Univision and ESPN hold rights.
Technically, however, the live 4K signal would need to be compressed for satellite delivery in the Higher Efficiency Video Coding scheme, something which is not yet practical, said Sony.
Sony also related that new silicon chipsets would have to be developed and then incorporated into new set top boxes for rendering the HEVC signal in the home. In addition a new HDMI interface capable of transferring uncompressed 4K between devices needs to be agreed. Expected for release at the end of 2012, the new HDMI 2.0 specification is still not ratified, though expected soon.
At Wimbledon, a two-day 4K trial is planned. This will be a non-live shoot, with content being prepared for the Sony experience and retail stores.
Sony does not rule out 4K transmission of matches from the 2014 World Cup to cinemas.
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