BroadcastAsia 2012 - The 4K Contenders

The Bigger Picture

Four-K Has Arrived, Ladies and Gentlemen!

BroadcastAsia 2012 is abuzz with a multitude of emerging broadcasting technologies which may find their way into the mainstream pool in the near future. Among them were the hotly anticipated 4K digital cinematography cameras and displays, championed by the likes of Canon and Sony present at the trade show. Unlike Full-HD, which consists of a standard 1920 by 1080 pixels, the 4K standard is presently less stringent than Full-HD since different resolutions are known to qualify as 4K. Examples include digital cameras with pixel resolutions of up to 4096 by 1714 pixels, or 3996 by 2160 pixels for instance. Comparatively, Full-HD yields about 2 million physical pixels while 4K ups that figure to 8 million. Broadly speaking, 4K is essentially four times the horizontal resolution of 1080p. Another spin-off of 4K is known as Quad Full-HD, or Quad FHD in short. This format applies mostly to display devices, such as the recently launched Toshiba Regza RZ1 TV which boasts of a 3840 by 2160 pixels resolution. Having said that, let's get on with the show!

Sony's booth was filled with a life-sized diorama to showcase the finer recording capabilities of their HD cameras and large sensor camcorders. There's even a swanky Mini Cooper S on deck!

Sony's NEX-FS700/K Super Slow Motion Camcorder

Here's an interesting camcorder we spotted at Sony's booth. As things stand, Sony's NEX-FS700/K camcorder is the latest Full-HD video camera to join their line-up of NXCAM interchangeable E-mount models. It's a 4K-ready camcorder, equipped with a Super 35mm Exmore CMOS sensor capable of 4096 by 2160 pixels. The FS700 is unable, however, to output in 4K just as yet. No worries though, for we understand that the Japanese CE firm has made plans to upgrade the FS700 with a 4K RAW bitstream output (over 3G HD-SDI) via a firmware update in the near future, although Sony did not mention specifically when. High-speed shots are managed in Full-HD at 120 and 240 frames per second in 16 or 8 second bursts. In addition, frame rates may also go as high as 960fps at reduced resolutions. Another key highlight of the FS700 is its ability to shoot in 'super slow motion' according to Sony, credit to the camera's high sensitivity and low-noise shooting prowess. Popular storm-chaser, Alister Chapman, was also present during the demo to give us a whiff of what the FS700 can do. Understandably, the FS700 is highly versatile too since it's agreeable with all E-mount interchangeable lenses as long as a compatible adapter is used.

The FS700 will be accompanied by an optional Sony E 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 OSS stock lens, compatible with company's mirrorless range of NEX cameras. The NEX-FS700/K will be available at the end of June with pricing details as follows:

• NEX-FS700/K (body only) - US$9,900

• NEX-FS700/K (body + lens) - US$10,800

Sony's FS700 will appeal to pros and budding videographers alike with its 4K-ready  sensor and impeccable slow-motion capture capabilities. This baby is able to shoot in 1080p at 120 and 240 frames per second in 16 or 8 second bursts.

Famed storm-chaser Alistair Chapman did not show us any footage of violent storms, but we were impressed by the picture resolution recorded by the FS700 in 'super slow-mo' mode. Some of the demoed clips were shot at 120 frames per second in a 16-second burst.

Adapters such as these from Kipon are fully compatible with Sony's FS700 and the older FS100 as well.

Sony's recorded and uncompressed 4K content was being flaunted to members of the press during their demonstration. It's nice, but when can we have some?

OLED televisions have yet to arrive on retail shelves, but Sony wasn't afraid to showcase their professional OLED monitors like the 25-inch PVM-2541 shown here. According to Sony, this screen is able to deliver superior black levels and a wider color gamut.  

Canon's EOS-1D C DSLR

Another star of BroadcastAsia 2012 is Canon's upcoming EOS-1D C DSLR. This 4K-ready shooter is capable of recording video footage in 4096 by 2160 pixels at 24fps without down-scaling involved. The cam bears a 18-megapixel sensor and uses Canon's EF lens mount much like the rest of Canon's EOS members. For video captures and color sampling, 4K footage is captured in YUV 4:2:2 intra-frame motion using JPEG compression, while 1080p shots are down-sampled and recorded at YUV 4:2:0 on intra or inter frame MPEG4 formats. The EOS-1D C also shares similarities with its EOS-1D X cousin, such as capturing videos in 1080p50 or 1080p60 resolutions and outputting it uncompressed via its HDMI outlet. Still images may be captured at up to 5184 by 3456 pixels in JPEG, or RAW with 14-bit A/D conversion. Lenses wise, the EOS-1D C is compatible with Canon's latest 4K EF Cinema Prime lenses, as well as more than sixty EF-mount tilt-shift, macro, and fish-eye lenses. For 4K recording, pixels are cropped to an area comparable to an APS-H sensor, thus preventing the need to re-scale the image. The Canon EOS-1D C DSLR will arrive in South Asia sometime in October this year, according to a Canon spokesman, at an estimated retail price of US$12,000.

 Canon's EOS-1D C not only shares similarities with its EOS-1D X cousin, but also features 4K video recording of up to 24fps on a 18-megapixel full-frame sensor.

Rear view of the EOS-1D C. The relatively portable DSLR package is powered by Canon's Dual-Digic 5+ image processors, and also features a fixed 3.2-inch LCD screen and an optical viewfinder.

The Cinema Prime lenses compatible with the 4K-capable EOS-1D C were on display as well. Shown here from left to right (top row) are the aspherical CN-E 24mm, CN-E 50mm, and CN-E 85mm lenses.

Panasonic's 4K Varicam

We were glad we spotted Panasonic's 4K Varicam concept camera during our tour of BroadcastAsia. As assured by a Panasonic spokesman, this sexy camera is only a mock-up (Panasonic calls it a "modular configuration"), and it's not even a working prototype as yet. Aimed at motion picture productions, the 4K Varicam will most likely carry a Super 35mm cinema-sized sensor and records in the very new AVC-Ultra 4K 4:4:4:format. Little else was offered by Panasonic in terms of the camera's hardware details and availability. On the same note, Panasonic also took this opportunity to showcase its comprehensive slew of AVC video codecs during the trade show. The latest addition also happens to be the AVC-Ultra family, used mainly for standard to super high-definition broadcasts, as touted by the conceptual 4K Varicam. The most notable encoding parameter under AVC-Ultra series has to be the new AVC-Intra 200 class with bit-rates of up to 226Mbps, while the Class 4:4:4 sampling parameter offers resolutions between 720p to 4K.      

 Panasonic was out in full swing at BroadcastAsia as well. There were lots of curious folks who stepped into the booth just to see what the Japanese firm had to offer.

Similar to Sony, Panasonic has prepared detailed props to showcase the recording muscle of their professional broadcasting equipment. Shown here is the AJ-HPX3100G camera that holds two P2 card slots and also supports the AVC-Intra codec.

The conceptual 4K Varicam camera will most likely sport a 4K cinema-sized sensor when it's finally ready to be retailed in the flesh. It also records in AVC-Ultra 4:4:4 as well.

In Summary

Let's face it, 4K is still very much in its infancy. Although professional imaging manufacturers like Canon, Sony, and Panasonic are not afraid to push the boundaries in the broadcasting field, it is undeniable that 4K will encounter its fair share of resistance during its teething stages. For starters, bandwidth limitations and infrastructural costs will be the first hurdle 4K content providers and broadcasters will have to overcome before 4K becomes a mainstream standard. Secondly, even if native 4K sources are readily available, there is an obvious lack of 4K-ready displays and televisions at the consumer end to capitalize on the juicy super high-resolution that it offers. Truth is, it might take years before 4K content is readily available in our living rooms. Guess we'll just have to wait.