For broadcasters, a new era is emerging, in which ultra-high-definition content will be broadcast to audiences over the cloud. The recently held Tokyo Olympics showed that it is possible to capture content in UHD and HD, and broadcast it using the cloud. By doing so, broadcasters give audiences unprecedented detail and vivid, immersive experiences. In addition, advances in immersive audio means viewers feel the emotions on the sports field.
Tokyo was the first Olympic Games to be natively produced in ultra-high-definition (UHD) – or 4K – and high dynamic range (HDR). UHD content has a resolution of 3840×2160 pixels, four times the number of pixels of full HD, to give more detail. HDR technology improves the contrast between black and white pixels for an accurate picture with more color shades. Coverage of previous Games has been done in parallel coverage with broadcasters, but this year was the first time the native broadcast coverage for the Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS) world feed was produced directly as UHD and HDR across all competitions and ceremonies of this year’s games.
Until recently. there was no universal standard for UHD, and the application of HDR was not a foregone conclusion. It brings, especially in outdoor sports, a level of detail, both in color and light rotation, which really makes the images considerably more realistic than you get in HD; it is not just about resolution.
The closing ceremony was broadcast in 8K to make the most of what are traditionally vibrant spectacles. 8K doubles 4K’s number of pixels to 7680×4320, and is 16 times greater than HD. Other sports (athletics, gymnastics, judo, and some swimming events) were available in 8K in Japan, although other broadcasters picked up the feed and experimented with trial transmissions. There are already plans for 8K broadcast by Chinese broadcasters for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
Another Tokyo-first was immersive audio. All venues delivered an immersive audio feed as discrete channels in a 5.1.4 format. This is five microphones placed front left, right and center, and either side or behind for surround sound, with one dedicated bass channel and four speakers above the source of noise. There were 85 separate 5.1.4 audio feeds available for national broadcasters.
Immersive audio brings a three-dimensional experience to viewers or listeners. Countries, such as Japan, China, the US, Brazil, and most of Europe (via Discovery and Eurosport channels), experienced 5.1.4 audio transmission.
To bring 3D quality of the Games to viewers from events held in arenas, OBS partnered with Intel to bring its TrueView technology to Tokyo. TrueView is based on directors using images from virtual cameras all around a venue to deliver perspectives that cannot be seen by physical ones. It allows viewers to select the angle, from which they want to see the camera, with options for three or six degrees of movement. It uses an array of high-resolution cameras, positioned to capture the entire field of play, connected to on-site servers, based on Intel’s Xeon processors. Data from the cameras is sent to the cloud to be synchronized, analyzed, and processed.
In the production suite, engineers can use virtual stationary and tracking cameras to create content focused on particular points in the game, maybe the most exciting action or sequences, for analysis by commentators. Images from the virtual cameras are rendered and converted into compressed digital video in the cloud. Up to 200 terabytes of raw data is processed per event, including height, width, depth, and relative attributes to create high-fidelity 3D video.
TrueView supports the common industry-standard video codecs (H.264, H.265, MPEG, and AAC for audio) for use on different platforms and devices. The encoded video is converted into bit streams for live streaming. The bit streams are converted by the rights-holding broadcaster to decompress the video into a series of images, which are rendered sequentially and broadcast.
The output of volumetric content allows viewers to see all perspectives of the game, or to follow a particular player or see the play from any position on the field – including the referees.
Tokyo was the first step as broadcasters explored how to create exciting content. In the future, it could be someone walking into the field of play, turning and watching the athletes around him or her. This is expected to develop, and be broadcast at the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
The days of traditional broadcasting are numbered and broadcasting via cloud is the new normal; the Tokyo Olympics are evidence of this phenomenal breakthrough.
Amagi, an Indian broadcasting cloud solutions provider, has, by deploying UHD playout and cloud automation solutions in the Tokyo Olympics, set the narrative for Indian broadcasters. The company deployed cloud automated 4K UHD playout, which is the most advanced solution currently available in the market and other new cutting-edge technologies for the NBC Sports Group’s production of the XXXII Olympic games. With these cloud solutions, broadcasters can empower their processes and create unparalleled experiences for their viewers, breaking away from the current archaic work system. One of the facts about broadcasting over cloud is that transmitting SD & HD content over it is quite challenging.
This time around, the Olympics pushed the boundaries of sports technology, including the broadcasting magic that transports viewers from their couches right into the thick of the action. NBC Universal had over 7000 hours of content across all broadcast and cable platforms, as well as live streaming. Consider that the first day alone had double or triple the amount of total content as compared to the Olympics in 1996 – with roughly 400 hours of content per day.
At the heart of this production effort were a variety of tools and solutions. And cloud has been at the core of it all, indicating that cloud technology is the way for the future of broadcasting – and in a big way.
Cloud has now made inroads into media distribution, playout, and live production. Lately, there has been an explosive growth in D2C offerings, and a huge demand for compelling, relevant, and new content. This has led to most broadcasters deciding to switch to hybrid models and cloud production.
Until now, the media landscape has been dominated by hardware-based solutions that are costly, inflexible, and closed systems. Furthermore, it is a time-consuming process to procure, configure the production and the hardware, and appropriately assign the task each time, and it involves extensive workflows via satellites and large teams on-site.
However, smart cloud technology has changed the way the process works today, bringing more flexibility and agility, as well as ultra-HD footage acquisition capabilities and a close to minimal need for hardware with an easy content distribution process. It improves operational and business efficiencies while assisting traditional broadcasters in overcoming legacy workflow challenges.
And the Olympics adopting cloud broadcasting is just the breakthrough that this sector needed. The future certainly belongs to cloud broadcasting technology.
Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, more and more players had plans moving toward cloud technology. But the overall increase in the spending on cloud was growing at only a gradual and slow pace. The pandemic accelerated the change and has transformed the broadcasting sector.