When the 2018 European Athletics Championships took place in Berlin last month, achievements weren’t limited to the track. The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) used the event as a platform to lead trials with five of its members and 19 industry partners of production workflows to shoot, process, record and distribute live UHD content, with High Frame Rates (HFR), High Dynamic Range (HDR), and Next Generation Audio (NGA). The trials involved the world’s first live distribution of UHD content with both HDR (HLG/BT.2100) and HFR (100 frames per second, 2160p100).
A 2160p100 HLG/BT.2020 production workflow was be set up and the 2160p100 feed was used to derive two additional 1080p100 and 1080p50 signals. These three feeds were then encoded in HEVC and multiplexed for a live transmission via the Eurovision satellite network to RAI’s experimental test bed in the Aosta Valley, Italy, and via the Eurovision Fibre infrastructure to the European Championships Broadcast Operations Centre (BOC) based at BBC Glasgow. The 1080p100 programme also included Next Generation Audio (NGA).
The success of these trials highlights the industry’s move towards committing to delivering and transmitting content to consumers at the highest quality. DVB UHD-1 (Phase 1) is already well established and the HDR aspect of Phase 2 has become the new benchmark. Some 2018 models of TVs from the big manufacturers already support 100/120 fps HFR, so it’s natural this important step in the evolution of UHD is the next progression. HFR test clips and even test/demo channels are already available, but no commercial broadcast, let alone a live event is currently available.
Broadcasting live in HFR puts additional constraints on the workflows, but as we can see from this trial’s success, it’s not a huge issue. Implications on bandwidth will be noticeable as the number of frames is again doubled from 50/60fps, although the shorter intervals between frames will assist efficient compression. The challenge with a live production is ensuring end-to-end HFR support with the ability to maintain the basics like clean switching, CG overlay and maintaining backwards compatibility with legacy systems.
It’s encouraging to see an industry collaboration on this scale, which is (seemingly) there to prove and showcase the technology and workflows rather than trying to promote one manufacturers technology or HDR standard over another.