10 technologies to watch in 2020. Catch a glimpse of them at IBC2019
What are the key technologies that will shape the broadcast industry today and tomorrow?
The technology landscape is constantly evolving, introducing new products, defining smarter production processes and offering fresh approaches to traditional ideas. As a result, the broadcast, entertainment and media industries have never been so exciting, increasingly disrupted and redefined by new technologies like the 10 we’ve listed below.
1. 5G networks launch
The long-awaited launch of 5G mobile networks is underway, offering significantly higher data rates than existing 4G networks. Where 4G/LTE delivered max speeds of 100Mbps, 5G promises in excess of 1Gbps -- a 10x improvement. And in terms of latency/lag, 5G reduces response times from 10ms to a lightning fast 1ms.
This raw speed will not just enable 4K/8K resolution boosts, immersive VR/AR applications, 360-degree video and HDR transmissions, it opens up the potential for new and exciting broadcasting models. Could a challenger brand, for example, successfully acquire content rights or create compelling new content and stream it direct to the consumer, unfettered by location, network contention or the final mile? If so, that would be a game-changer.
2. The rise of the virtual studio
Once the preserve of the Hollywood blockbuster, improvements in technology and plummeting costs have created a burgeoning market for virtual studios (aka virtual sets). Technology packages such as the Mo-sys StarTracker camera tracking system and Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 4 software have pushed the boundaries of what can be achieved in real-time, photo-realistic virtual set rendering.
Seeing is believing. At IBC2018, for example, Brainstorm showcased an amazing demonstration of a virtual studio (which you can watch below). It’s powered by the company’s InfinitySet 3 software, which combines the Brainstorm eStudio render engine together with Unreal Engine to stunning effect.
3. AR steps into the real world
AR (Augmented Reality) gaming is challenging expectations of how viewers experience entertainment, with phenomena like Pokémon Go achieving vast levels of global engagement. Crucially, Pokémon Go pushed Game Freak’s Pokémon empire (anime, films, books, comics, the popular trading card game, plus toys and video games) to a wider audience, creating a new generation of fans.
This smart, cross-media approach can also be seen in the recently released Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, which applies the Pokémon-catching mechanics to JK Rowling’s richly detailed magical universe. The game is already being touted as a potential ‘killer app’ for 5G.
4. UHD begins to deliver
While the hardware to deliver a UHD (Ultra High Definition) viewing experience has been available on the high street for some years, content has been slow to catch up. Indeed, the bulk of broadcast digital video still comes in somewhere between 480p and 1080p, enabling on-demand platforms such as Amazon Video and Netflix to stand out with 4K content.
However, vastly improved upscaling technology is beginning to overcome this perception problem, as well as an upswell in the creation of broadcast UHD content. Indeed, Virgin Media used hybrid log gamma (HLG) technology to broadcast the French Open tennis in ultra-high definition (UHD) and high dynamic range (HDR) in a UK first earlier this year.
5. 8K lifts above the hype
Of course, no mention of UHD would be complete without looking ahead to the 8K format, which is still very much at a seed stage of adoption. Pioneered by Japanese broadcaster NHK, which began broadcasting 8K content back in December 2018, there is plenty of technical learning to be done and content ground to cover before mass market 8K broadcasts take off.
6. The problem with deep fakes
The rise of credible ‘deep fake’ video, where public personalities are digitally manipulated into appearing to make misleading or controversial statements is set to pose interesting ethical challenges to the broadcast industry. Questions around preventing the erosion of trust and the dangers of sensationalism might soon be viewed differently, as highlighted by a recent hearing in the US House of Representatives.
7. Blockchain connects the dots
While crypto currencies have not been flavour du jour over the last year or so, the power of blockchain has not been untapped. Indeed, many of the initial trailblazer brands have moved from concept to launch in the intervening period, such as the recently launched Brave browser and its token-based approach to content.
Alongside a host of other tools designed to track rights and effectively monetise content (such as FilmChain), blockchain remains a powerful force-in-waiting. Facebook’s blockchain-powered 'Project Libra' may well prove to be a global milestone when it launches.
8. VR finally comes of age
A technology that saw hype outstrip reality for so long, VR is finally beginning to cement its place in entertainment. From ESPN’s dedication to creating VR content for the Oculus platform, to Intel’s True VR partnership with the NBA, there are plenty of high-profile examples of immersive VR beginning to break through.
9. The cloud is maturing
Once the preserve of SVOD players, the cloud has become an essential part of the broadcast move to IP, taking on duties from delivery to discovery, storage to service management.
However, the cloud is still maturing in broadcast terms, and end-to-end cloud operations still face key challenges, including stability and cost management. The story of broadcast and cloud technologies has certainly only just begun.
10. AI will be everywhere
Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are already deeply embedded in a host of modern media production scenarios. A host of current trials are using algorithms and machine learning to suggest and create new content from archive resources, auto-check technical video standards, optimise ad placement and create searchable metadata (through image and speech recognition).Of all the technologies to watch in 2020 (and beyond), AI-enabled automation has the potential to be the most transformative. But it faces similar challenges to 5G, AR, VR and blockchain in terms of cutting through the hype and demonstrating value. Beyond automated tricks, how can artificial intelligence truly help programme makers to make better content?