Building out the 4k workflow

The number of booths sporting an Ultra-HD logo at IBC will be legion
IBC, Ultra-HD logo, Content production


The number of booths sporting an Ultra-HD logo at IBC will be legion, despite the fact that 4K content likely to remain niche for at least a year if not two.

The chief benefit in investing in a 4K kit today lies in working with the highest quality digital image in order to derive benefits in post production or to establish a library of content ready to go when Ultra-HD services fly.

“We know that 90 per cent of filmmakers are hitting the record button on HD today and will be for the next year or two,” says Jeromy Young, CEO and Founder of Atomos.

Broadcasters such as CBS Sports employed For-A’s FT-One 4K super slow-motion camera during Super Bowl XLVII for extracting HD content for replay analysis. Such techniques enhance detail but can also reduce operator costs.

For features, 4K or above provides oversampled images for cinematographers to pull out colour, pull out greater detail from blacks or to zoom into the picture or reframe.

David Fincher’s 2011 Red Epic 5K shoot for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was finished in 10-bit 4K, at LA facility Light Iron, with a deliverable saved for later mastering as a 16:9 4K Blu-ray.

“It gives us 20 per cent headroom – or 3 million spare pixels – to play with, so that motion tracking, digital set extension, stabilisation and compositing can all be done without ever having to blow up the picture,” explains facility co-founder Michael Cioni. “If you were just working with a 2K original frame, you would lose part of the picture and so some fidelity in expanding the remaining image to fill the frame.”

The cost of storage and processing power when post producing with data four times that of HD, plus the lack of demand for 4K deliverables, means that even if projects are acquired 4K or above they are likely to be finished in 2K.

According to Andy Shelley, who has managed several 4K projects for 3D and large screen at London facility Onsight, “4K or 6K soaks up storage, which is a cost. Certain elements are render-intensive, so if you need render farms you will pay for that. You need infrastructure to move files around with enough bandwidth and connectivity between processes, but we always design workflows that keep creative realtime.”

Processing power
GPUs are the main engines of 4K, used to power displays and graphics. “Moving to a GPU-accelerated workflow is really the only way to generate the performance required of 4K,” comments Nvidia’s Andrew Page, senior product manager, Advanced Technology.

Software vendors are integrating GPUs to facilitate this. Those using Nvidia gear include: Blackmagic Design Resolve, Quantel Pablo, Assimilate Scratch and Avid Media Composer.

Its biggest rival is AMD. “We are nine months ahead of them in technology,” claims marketing manager, Robert Jamieson. “We delivered more outputs and more video decoders ahead of them and we make our chips smaller and cheaper than they do.”

AMD’s FirePro GPUs support Display Port 1.2 which is required to work with native 4K over just a single cable: “All GPU developers are only limited by the O/S which sometimes merely scales up the hardware’s output, rather than outputting native 4K resolution,” says Jamieson.

Other options include AJA’s Corvid Ultra and Matrox which has several new cards for broadcast Ultra-HD workflows to introduce at IBC. These include the Mojito 4K Quad 3G-SDI card and the DSX LE3 output card which enables realtime monitoring and output of video footage at 4K resolutions up to 60fps.

Fusion-io’s flash memory cards work as caches for the data in highest demand, which can accelerate some applications. It has demonstrated an HP workstation capable of 12Gbit/s – or eight streams of 4K uncompressed in realtime.

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Until ITU’s recently ratified Rec. 2020, successor to HD standard Rec.709, filters to market (not expected before NAB2014) there are no certified colour accurate 4K projection or monitoring devices on the market.

It’s perhaps the most critical issue facing cinematographers and DITs as they try and match colour from set through post at multiple houses and onto distribution and screening.

Monitoring options include: AJA’s Hi5-4K 3G SDI to 4K HDMI mini converter; Eizo ColorEdge CG276 LCD with input support for 4K (4096 x 2160) at 30hz downscaling to 2K 2560 x 1440; TVLogic’s 30-inch 4K DCI unit and a 56-inch broadcast model capable of 10 bit 3840x2160 display.

Sony F55 users can can monitor 4K directly out of the camera onto a 30-inch Sony PVM-X300 LCD. The F65 only has HD output for monitoring. In the works from Sony are 4K OLED screens of 30- and 56-inches.

Barco claims its DP4K-P is the only 4K projector dedicated to post production. Says Barco’s Tom Bert: “The projector in any type of post production or colour grading facility dealing with film is a critical piece of equipment. It should be absolutely correct in terms of image reproduction.”

Digital intermediate
Assimilate dubs its Scratch and on-set dailies software Scratch Lab ‘battle-tested 4K’ because of its operational use with Red Epic RAW since 2010. It can now mix and match any format at any resolution right up to 8K.

Although the industry is starting to explore 4K workflows, they are still new and often quite complex. Whether you’re trying to choose the right graphics card, storage, or the best 4K display/projector, getting everything to work together seamlessly can be a real challenge.

The VDS Assimilate is one option: a turnkey system which includes an AMD FirePro, Fusion-io card and two Bluefish EPOCH 4K Supernova cards.

Rhode & Schwarz DVS markets DI toolbox Clipster (priced $60,000) for digital camera RAW processing, primary or secondary colour correction, with effects like zoom & pan or assists with 3D LUTs. Further fields include multi-format editing and 4K conforming not to mention mastering for which it is IMF and DCI compliant.

“What sets the system apart is its realtime capabilities,” says Stefan Albertz, product manager. “In the latest version, Clipster supports Sony F65 / F55 as well as Epic and processes these RAW camera formats in realtime.”

Related machines SpycerBox Flex and SpycerBox SSD stream and record multiple streams of 4K material in realtime, essential for any high end production and post environment. For The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. the German developer wrote a special high bit rate at high frame rate package (48 fps instead of the usual 24 fps) and other additional parameters for the film’s DCP generation.

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Mistika systems combine off-the-shelf hardware with SGO software, which Park Road Post famously made the hub of its large HFR 3D DI infrastructure for The Hobbit. A typical system can play, edit and grade 4K in realtime using a single disk array and a standard HP Z820 workstation with Nvidia graphics and DVS video board. It can output 4K at frame rates from 23.98fps to 60fps via a variety of connections including HDMI 1.4.

Recent broadcast projects achieved using Mistika and shot at 4K include Kingdom of Plants 3D for Sky. It markets Mistika Air, a cheaper version with less image bandwidth for Ultra-HD TV.

4K output for Quantel’s software is enabled by AJA Corvid Ultra cards, delivering over 20 layers of colour correction at 4K full resolution in realtime.

“We’ve moved from talking about 10-bit to 16-bit colour in post to produce a better end result but 4K 16-bit is nearly twice as much data as 4K resolution only so you need a fairly significant amount of storage to maintain efficiency through the pipeline,” says Quantel marketing chief Steve Owen. “We are the only people who can playout 4K at 60fps.”

Avid MC7, just released, includes FrameFlex which scales 4K media to HD. It also allows cinematographers an opportunity to tweak or reframe the original shot during editorial. Grass Valley’s broadcast editing software Edius is 64-bit 4K capable in version 7, released at IBC and features close integration with Da Vinci colour correction.

All of The Foundry’s products are designed without hard limits on image sizes and hardware requirements. Paint tool Mari, for example, supports large textures up to 32K x 32K pixels, to assist with 3D assets which need to look plausible when rendered at 4K.

“Nuke is built on an architecture that has always coped well with 4K,” says Simon Robinson, founder and chief scientist. “On conventional hardware in production, Hiero hasn’t been proven to play 4K plates 1:1 in realtime, but this doesn’t affect its function as a VFX editorial hub even when working with 4K material.

With the advent of 5K RAW data, the generalisation of 4K scanning, and stereoscopic productions, DI is no longer just a matter of grading. Filmmakers need the ability to process images in realtime, in their native file format, avoiding conversion time.

Swiss-based Marquise’s dailies software Mist supports a RAW data pipeline from Arri, F65, Phantom, Epic or Weisscam and is claimed to mix, in the same time line, different frame rates, resolutions and formats. ACES is also fully supported.

A turnkey version of its grading system dubbed Heavy Rain claims to handle uncompressed 4K realtime. Things are certainly moving on.

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