May 28, 2010

Lack of HD gives Chelsea the blues

We were at the Royal Horticultural Society's Chelsea Flower Show this week, which was, as ever, beautiful, bright, colourful, and something worth experiencing in glorious 3D, Sensoround and overpowering Smellovision. It was also something worth experiencing in HD. However, the BBC only broadcast it in Standard Definition (and some of the poorest, blockiest SD we've seen in a long time, with lots of compression artefacts).

Chelsea had been one of the first big events the BBC transmitted in HD (in 2008), with a full week of eye-popping coverage. It's certainly something that benefits from the extra resolution, much more so than drama, for example, where well shot 25p video or film tends to still look pretty good in SD - like fast-moving sports, the huge amount of often swaying detail in gardening programmes does need HD. However, they dropped it from the HD schedules last year (although the SD transmission didn't look as bad as it does this year). There were some shots that looked as if they'd been shot with a mobile phone (and not one of this year's models).

We presumed, however, that they would be shooting HD on location (to at least have high-quality archive footage for future use). No.  The one camera that we got a good look at was an ancient Digital Betacam. Of course, you can get great SD pictures from these, but it's not HD. Another camera we spotted looked equally old, but its cover prevented identification.

As the BBC has just announced that BBC One HD will launch as a simulcast channel in the Autumn (alongside the current BBC HD channel), Chelsea will almost certainly be back in HD again next year so not, at least, shooting in HD this year seems short-sighted. It's just a pity that the Beeb couldn't find any air time within the many repeats on this week on BBC HD to show some of the show in HD.

[UPDATE: We went to the RHS' Hampton Court Flower Show, which is held every July, and it too is being shot on Digital Betacam SD camcorders - we talked to a BBC cameraman, who told us that it was purely down to budget. The reason it is not being considered for archive in HD is that the individual programme wouldn't gain from that archive, so it's not going to pay anything extra for it. Which means that the BBC as a whole won't gain from it.]

Related post (on our Photographer's Garden blog): HERE COMES THE JUDGE

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David Fox 

ET's Neutron star shines for 3D

Element Technica has launched a compact new 3D rig that would be ideal for Steadicam use or in confined spaces.

The Neutron 3D rig is designed for use with lightweight camera heads, such as the SI-2K Mini (pictured handheld above) or the Iconix and has already won almost 50 orders, worldwide. "Applications range from broadcast with hand held to Steadicam set ups for cinema," said Joey Romero, director of sales and marketing.

The unit measures about 30x21x17cm and should weigh about 6.8kg. Its interocular distance will range from about 0-9cm in beam-splitter mode (pictured right) and 9-18cm in side-by side. Prices start at $49,000, which includes the motors and Technica Hand Controller. Deliveries should start late June 2010.

Users will be able to assemble and align each rig in less than 30 minutes, and convert between side-by-side and beam-splitter mode (both over/thru and under/thru modes) in less than 10 minutes.

A pre-production model has been used for a Playboy production, pick up shots on The Mortician 3D (movie) and is currently flying on a Steadicam on an aircraft carrier for the US Navy.

Element Technica also developed a slightly smaller beam-splitter rig, Dark Country, limited to the SI-2K Mini, but that was not for sale. "It's only in use for those that have a Quasar, but need an interim solution for hand held," explained Romero.

Between the Neutron and the larger Quasar 3D rig will be a mid-size model (for such cameras as Sony's EX3), the Pulsar, which should start shipping in July.

The Neutron and the Pulsar share the same alignment module, but the motion module on the Pulsar will be widened by 2.5cm to allow for greater interocular distances with larger cameras

"The alignment module on the Neutron and Pulsar share the same familiar alignment process [as the Quasar]. A three stage gimbal that separates Z-height, pitch and roll. Each having no effect on the other as changes are made. The motion module will operate the same way as the Quasar does, but using a similar yet scaled down version. All systems will be fully motorized and all will use our THC," he said.

Other differences between the Neutron and Pulsar are the size of the dovetail (the Neutron uses ET's Micron standard - a scaled down version of the Arri standard -  whereas the Pulsar will use the Arri standard), the size of the bridge plate, the size of the mirror box (to accommodate larger cinema lenses) and additional structure plates for the Pulsar in order to accommodate heavier camera/lens packages.

Element Technica is also developing an underwater housing is for the Neutron (it already makes one for a single Red One camera).

It has now delivered some 60 of its Quasar models, with a further 18 rigs going to the World Cup.

By David Fox

Easy Steady counts on One, Too, Free

Italian camera support manufacturer, Easy Steady, has appointed IDX as its distributor in the UK and Ireland for its stabilisation systems,
It offers three systems for DSLR, video and broadcast cameras as part of its new Lite & Go range: the One, Too and Free (pictured), catering for cameras ranging up to 4.5kg or up to 8.5kg in weight. 

The Lite & Go kits come equipped with a lightweight body vest made from Cordura. The aluminium chest plate, connecting the arm to the vest, can be configured for right or left handed use. 

The aluminium alloy stabilisation arm uses light or heavy tension springs depending on the weight of the camera. The spring sets are easily changed, while more precise tension adjustments can be made using an Allen key.     

The telescopic centre post on the Lite & Go sled rises from 65cm to 135cm. The sled has a friction-free gimbal and comes with a 7-inch LCD monitor, with a single V-Mount battery plate for sled One or a double V-Mount plate for sled Too and Free.

All three kits come in a wheeled case with a C-Stand for docking and balancing the sled when loaded with camera and accessories. Easy Steady accessories include: a tripod adaptor; D-Bracket for low mode shooting; carbon fibre low mode cage; precision balancing donut weights; and camera plates with 15mm rods for attaching third party accessories.

Easy Steady's prices range from Euros3,995 to Euros6,995 for the Lite & Go range. It is also developing a Pro Series that will carry up to 32kg.

By David Fox

Gekko lights up Sky with LEDs

Sky News has chosen LED lighting from Gekko Technology for a tricky lighting installation: countering the setting sun at its new London newsroom.

The studio, on the 15th floor of the 180 metre Gherkin in London's financial district, is used for the daily business update Jeff Randall Live, and has a view directly through an exterior glass wall. Airing at 7.30 each weekday evening, in HD, the cameras have to contend with the setting sun, as the backdrop is due west. Although care was taken to achieve camera positions that use nearby buildings to mask direct views of the sun, this can be hard to achieve consistently as the sun sets.

The initial solution considered involved using HMI fixtures running through DMX-controlled dimmer shutters into soft boxes. This introduced complications in terms of control, power draw, and the large amounts of heat that multiple HMIs produce in a confined space. Sky then approached Gekko via Broadcast & Production Services to investigate an LED-based installation. Sky has previously used LEDs, but was concerned to avoid colour shift when dimming and relatively low intensity.

The resulting set up uses Gekko's new kezia hard-source lights, based on its kleer colour tunable LED light engine.

The kezia fixtures (pictured right) provide a high volume of even light, the colour temperature of which is accurate at points between 2900 and 6500 Kelvin. Colour temperature stability is maintained via a feedback loop built into each light. If a shift in output is detected dues to rising ambient temperature, for example, the kleer colour system automatically adjusts to the correct colour temperature. Each lamp is calibrated to ensure consistency.

"As well as the requirement for colour temperature accuracy, the west-facing window demanded very high light levels in the studio," explained Gekko MD, David Amphlett. "The actual requirement was for a maximum of 10,000 lux on the presenter when the sun is on axis with the camera. To achieve this, we recommended a combination of kezia 800, 200 and 50 fixtures installed as key, fill and back lights. The kezia 800 is fitted with four kleer colour light engines, each individually controlled via DMX. These were hung as key lights, oriented directly to cover both the presenter and guests. To avoid hotspots and increase the overall ambient light level, kezia 200 fixtures were hung as fill lights directly above the set, presenter and guests. The kezia 200 uses a 190 Watt LED array and has a similar output (in the white spectrum) to a traditional 1 kilowatt tungsten source."

For back-lighting, the kezia 50 was deployed. This uses 50W of power but equates to a 250W tungsten source. Power supplies for the lights are contained in separately integrated units, each capable of driving up to four lamps, which made rigging simpler, reducing the loading on the ceiling-hung grid. 

As well as the high light output requirement, the lux levels were specified to be as low as 100 lux in winter, requiring a 100:1 dimming with no shift in colour. The kezia lights can manage this without requiring dimmer shutters, neutral-density gels or scrims.
"The ability of the kezias to produce such a volume of light makes them a viable alternative to traditional light sources, especially in technically challenging environments such as Sky News’ new City studio in the Gherkin," said George Davies. Sky News Head of Cameras, who oversaw the project. "An ability to change the colour temperature also adds a whole new dimension. which can enhance the images produced, as well as complementing the other technologies we use. Sky News’ new studio provides a stunning backdrop for the Jeff Randall Live programme on Sky News HD and this would not have been possible without this new LED lighting technology."

The projects was delivered by Gekko and BPS in less than six weeks and delivers images comparable with a traditional install, but at reduced power consumption and heat levels and with no change in colour temperature when dimming.

By David Fox

Tiny camera just what the Dr ordered

Ikegami has developed a tiny three-sensor HD camera for medical applications that it believes could be useful for broadcast too.

The new MKC-300HD measures just 34x40x40mm, weighs only 100g, and has three 2.1Megapixel 1920x1080 1/3-inch CMOS sensors, providing 1000 lines resolution, coupled with High Sensitivity performance of F10/2000 lux. It takes C-mount lenses and will output 720p, 1080i and 1080p.

The BBC has tested a prototype, which apparently worked well, but is waiting to test the production version before recommending it for broadcast use. Ikegami is hopeful that that this will happen in the next few weeks.

It will cost about Euros11,800 for the camera head and CCU, plus Euros1,000 for 5m of multicore camera cable.

It features: optimised signal processing circuitry with a Signal-to-Noise Ratio of 54dB, with video signal processing is done using the same signal processing ASIC as Ikegami's HDTV broadcast cameras.

By David Fox

Playing the Gig for wireless links

Wireless links are aiming higher: with new standards proposed in the 60GHz spectrum that can handle uncompressed HD. Wireless bandwidths are increasingly crowded, but we want them to carry more information, particularly HD video. This applies as much to consumers as to broadcasters, which is why a multi-gigabit specification has just been released from the new Wireless Gigabit Alliance (made up of all the main WiFi chip manufacturers, such as Intel, Broadcom and Atheros, and device manufacturers).

The consumer proposal is for a low-power (about a quarter the power of WiFi), short range system (up to about 10m, line of sight – as the short wave signals can't easily go through solid objects), but as with WiFi in the 2.4 and 5GHz bands (which WiGig also supports), widespread adoption will bring down costs and could make it more affordable for use as camera links. The WiGig specification provides for data transfer rates up to 7Gbps, compared to the maximum 600Mbps transfer rate of the fastest 802.11n WiFi standard, although real life throughput would be a lot lower.

Sony's flagship TV set, the Bravia ZX5 (or XBR10), already uses a 60GHz Wireless link to connect to its control box, and there is an existing 60GHz WirelessHD initiative that is ahead in commercialisation, but doesn't have the support of the big chip manufacturers. The latest WirelessHD 1.1 specification aims for data rates of 10-28Gbps, and will support 3D and 4K resolution.

NHK on ice

The unlicensed 60GHz range has also been used for TV production. NHK experimented with 60GHz at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, using a COFDM wireless camera system but it required about 30 receive sites to cover the ice rink. "A conventional COFDM system used just a single pair of antennae to cover the same area," commented Dave Remnant (pictured right), Director, Acorn Technologies (, reseller for Quicklink, Boxx TV and Masthead Antenna Technology.

However, the 60GHz system had benefits: "There was no delay, because it had enough bandwidth, and the picture quality was excellent," but the set up time for that many receive points would make it impractical for most TV stations.

It would make more sense to him as a point-to-point system for a short line-of-sight connection. Although this wouldn't lend itself to mobile connections, it would be portable and have potential as a replacement for short-run, uncompressed fibre links, such as at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships (where cable has to go though public areas) or at the US Golf Masters (where microwave towers are not allowed because the organisers think they spoil the view).

There are uncompressed links already available using 60GHz, such as the Vubiq VuLink VL300 launched at NAB (which Acorn hopes to represent in the UK), with a range of about 150m in HD (1.485Gbps) or 350m for SD (with a pair of systems offering duplex communication). There is also an antenna option with increased gain that will go up to about 500m ("but you need very accurate line up").

It also has the advantage of being "impervious to fog, rain, dust and snow, which affects microwave transmissions," said Remnant.

"Because we are streaming pure uncompressed video, there is no need for additional processing at both ends of the link, which increases cost and latency," explained Mike Pettus, Vubiq’s CTO. "Remarkably, our system is actually faster than fibre – there is essentially zero lag time through the link."

Other options

The UK regulator, OFCOM, had been looking at using the 10GHz bandwidth for the 2012 Olympics in London, but so far the manufacturers have been resisting that, as 7GHz works well (as used by Link Research, the previous company Remnant helped found).

For general on-camera links there are also phone-based technologies, using 3G and 4G standards, such as from Quicklink, which can offer worldwide coverage, but limited bandwidth.

60GHz could have a place on location, giving the option of live, uncompressed links to an on-set editor and, importantly, to back-up disks, allowing productions to meet insurance requirements to have multiple safety copies of the video without any risk from corrupt data on the camera's own recording media (although as some cameras, such as Arri's Alexa, allow multiple recording systems to operate simultaneously on the camera, these risks can be addressed in other ways). Current MIMO-based wireless on-set systems, such as those from Boxx, Transvideo and IDX, are in the 5GHz band and have limited range, but some can handle 10-bit video.

By David Fox

May 21, 2010

Flashy Filter Forum founded

The new Filter Forum, which provides space for discussing lens filters, has won backing from Tiffen and the London Filter Company, who will be lending their technical expertise as well as sponsoring the site.

Terry Carey, MD of Tiffen International, sees the Filter Forum as a great opportunity for users "to get unbiased advice from world experts and the thousands of other filter users around the world. As never before, people today can shoot HD at low cost. A knowledge of filters will help make their results predictable and with the look they want."

"Motion pictures are always shot using filters, as is professional video footage and, perhaps to a lesser extent, stills photography," added Carey Duffy, LFC's Technical Director. Thanks to the Canon 5D and other HD DSLRs, many photographers are discovering HD and need to know how to get the most out of it. "In all cases sharing knowledge at this forum will help everyone to understand how filters can help them. This is unique. It’s going to help everyone."

It is a Flash site, so accessing it from a mobile device might be difficult, but the forums themselves are HTML, so should be viewable.

By David Fox

Hawk-Woods adapts to HD DSLRs

Hawk-Woods' new battery power adaptors for Canon's HD DSLRs will allow the cameras to be used with high-capacity broadcast batteries. The DC-5D adaptors for the Canon EOS 5D Mark II and EOS 7D cameras feature a cable mounted dummy LP-E6 type battery (as used in the DSLRs), which is linked to either a 2-pin D-Tap, or 4-Pin Hirose plug.

This allows the cameras to be powered from V-Lok (or other) types of battery when plugged into a suitable power output. This could be a rig mounted V-Lok plate, or stand alone V-Lok adaptor, like the Hawk-Woods VL-A1. This means that run-time can be increased immensely, especially for applications like time-lapse photography.

By David Fox

Kata aims to surprise and D-Light

The D-Light Capsules are Kata's latest range of bags for compact camcorders, the first of which is the new Capsule-183. It is designed to carry such camcorders as the Panasonic HPX-170, Canon XH A1s, or Sony EX1R, measures 54x30x25.5cm, and weighs up to 2kg (depending on configuration).

It has a TST RIB running down the middle of the bag and an Aluminium Skeleton stave that arcs across the mid section to provide structural protection, and are surrounded by Honeycomb Panels, Aeriform foam and RipStop fabrics.

The design is asymmetric, so that unfolding its two palm-shaped sides provides easy access to the camcorder. There is ample space for accessories, and the bag includes a Lens Pillow and Rain Cover.

Kata has also extended its range of bags for HD DSLRs, with the new Pro-Light Resource-61 shoulder bag.  It has a Double-Decker design, with a top compartment large enough for a working DSLR mounted on a support system (such as a shoulder brace). There is also a modular Cocoon Pouch for accessories or an additional DSLR body. The lower deck holds additional lenses and accessories. Kata says its going to add further HD DSLR bags in the near future.

By David Fox

May 09, 2010

Workflow efficiency on a large scale

Hogarth Worldwide is a revolutionary ad agency. It doesn't create advertising campaigns, but it does get them on our screens. It calls itself an ‘advertising implementation agency’, and relies on Media Asset Management and automated workflows to produce around 35,000 ads a month for different media platforms across Europe.

"Hogarth is a new breed of video production facility" that was only possible because low-cost systems from companies like Apple "enabled us be very efficient in a repeatable business" at a low cost, says co-founder, Mark Rhys-Thomas. "The tools suddenly got very good and we could produce a facility for next to nothing."

For more about this highly efficient, Final Cut-based agency, have a look at my article in the May issue of TVB Europe magazine: Workflow efficiency on a large scale

By David Fox

Winged Mercury accelerates CS5

The latest version of Adobe's Creative Suite should be a lot faster to use, not only thanks to workflow improvements but because its main broadcast applications are now all 64-bit and can access the new Mercury Playback Engine for video.

Mercury is "fast and fluid" and has been written from the ground up to make the most of going 64-bit (which allows access to all the RAM in the computer – rather than a 4GB limit per application). "It is leveraging RAM to its fullest and can run more streams of HD content," explained Jason Levine, worldwide evangelist for digital video products (pictured above). It also gains GPU (graphics processor) acceleration and "can run an infinite number of effects in realtime." Adobe has accelerated all of the most common effects, such as Gaussian Blur.

For the rest of my article about the video related aspects of Adobe's new CS5 from the May issue of TVB Europe magazine, have a look at: Winged Mercury accelerates CS5

By David Fox

Added dimensions for 3D

Two of this year's most interesting trends are 3D and DSLRs. One production company has already combined the two to make 3D time-lapse recordings. Site-Eye Time-Lapse Films has had to develop its own rigs and controller systems to shoot the 3D sequences, but the results are impressive and very compelling.

"Our normal time-lapse camera system is a DSLR controlled by some custom hardware and software, which all fits inside a security housing," explains Brian McClave, one of Site-Eye's owners. "We've done some extra programming to shoot both cameras at once, and automatically check the files between both to ensure everything is kept in sync." If one camera drops a frame, it deletes the corresponding frame from the other one too."

For the rest of my article in the May issue of TVB Europe magazine about Site-Eye and 3D Time-Lapse, have a look at: Added dimensions for 3D

The photo above shows one of Site-Eye's self-built 3D DSLR rigs in use.

By David Fox

HD DSLRs - the film look on a budget

One of the most exciting developments of the past year, for those whose ambition is larger than their budget, has been the introduction of HD DSLR cameras that offer large sensors and a huge range of lenses for less than the price of a Sony EX1.

It was notable that about half of all the cameras on show at the February Broadcast Video Expo in London were HD DSLRs – the previous year there had only been one (on the Canon stand). Low-budget filmmakers were the first to realise the potential, but now programmes you might have heard of are using them.

For the rest of this article, read my full piece on HD DSLRs from the May issue of TVB Europe magazine in: HD DSLRs - the film look on a budget

The photo above is of Rodney Charters, cinematographer on 24, and Sam Nicholson, 24's visual effects supervisor, who are quoted in the article about their use of HD DSLRs on the series.

David Fox

May 04, 2010

H.264 makes up 66% of web video

According to a TechCrunch article, H.264 is quickly becoming the de-facto standard for video being encoded for the web. Over the last year, H.264 use rose from 31% of all videos (Q2 2009) to 66% in Q1 2010. These figures are from, one of the world's biggest encoding companies, which encoded 5 million videos over the past year for the likes of MTV, Brightcove, Nokia and MySpace.

Over the same period, Flash-encoded video dropped from a share of 69% to 26% (for both Flash VP6 and FLV). Of course, a lot of the H.264 video ended up wrapped in a Flash wrapper, but it is fairly simple to offer H.264 both within Flash and by itself (for iPhones, iPads, other mobile devices and some HTML 5 compliant browsers, such as Safari, Google Chrome and the next version of Internet Explorer, IE9), which is why many sites already use it, such as YouTube (which represents some 40% of all videos on the web), and Vimeo (which hosts any UrbanFoxTV videos).

The fastest growing codec is Ogg Theora – which leapt from nothing to the dizzy heights of 4% in the between Q4 2009 and Q1 2010 (overtaking the aging and fast disappearing FLV format, which uses the old H.263 codec). Theora is a currently free, open source format (that might be challenged by patent holders), and is being adopted by some web browsers for use with HTML 5 video (Chrome, Firefox and Opera). However, Theora currently isn't as advanced as H.264 (it is based on the older VP3 codec). There is also the prospect of the new VP8 being offered as an open source codec – VP8 is being developed by On2 Technologies, which is now owned by Google. There is also the BBC's Dirac open format, which is wavelet based, and at least as efficient as H.264, but that hasn't really been adopted by anyone for web use (it can play back in VLC), although it has high-end uses within broadcasting.

Of course, these figures don't take into account the huge numbers of older videos on the web, which are predominantly Flash. However, as Steve Jobs says, Flash can be a bit of a resource hog – especially on older Macs, and if it were working on mobile devices it would drain your batteries fairly quickly. At present, no mobile phones use Flash (although there is a Lite version), but it is "coming soon" for Android (however long "soon" might take to arrive…). I usually run my browsers with Flash switched off, and it is rare that I want to view something using Flash that can't be viewed using HTML 5, but then I don't play Flash games or greatly miss having ads auto-play as I'm reading a newspaper article.

At the moment it looks like encoding H.264 is the best way of doing video on the web (with the option to wrap it in Flash or use HTML 5), just ensure you keep your original files for encoding in further formats in future.

UPDATE: There is an excellent article at Engadget by Nilay Patel, about H.264 patent licensing and who pays what to whom, and should you be concerned about it. Basically, there are some overly broad terms in the licensing agreements, but this doesn't seem to have any real implications for users (at least not before 2015, and maybe not after that either). The article is one of the best I've seen covering this subject and well worth a read.

David Fox

May 03, 2010

3D: Sony's twin lens reflex

Engadget has a photo of a possible prototype 3D camera from Sony, to compete with Panasonic's new 3D camcorder. The Sony model will be based on its PMW-EX3 camcorder and will offer changeable lenses, with on-board HD recording of 35Mbps XDCAM EX (MPEG-2, 4:2:0 files) to SxS cards. It will also output "uncompressed 4:4:4" via two HD-SDI connections (4:2:2 seems more likely to me, but 4:4:4 would be very nice indeed - and could be recorded on a Codex Digital recorder). It appears to use two sets of the EX3's three half-inch CMOS sensors. The lenses shown on the prototype are apparently very close together (an inter-ocular distance of 1.5inches/3.75cm), which would make this set up good for close up use in confined spaces. The camera was developed with Discovery TV.

There is no word on price or availability, but Sony will want to compete with the Panasonic AG-3DA1, and field testing is due to begin in July.

Related Posts: Panasonic 3D camcorder gets AVCHD, Ikonoskop goes stereo with 3D A-Cam, and Panasonic unveils HD 3D camcorder