The future of post-production: 4K and HDR video

Michael Burns looks back over last week's IBC show in Amsterdam to discover new tech and emerging trends.

Welcome to the view of the future from IBC – Amsterdam's annual trade show for hot new video tech – where 4K and HDR video were all big news, as was a new competitor to After Effects and a change in the way we buy software.

The most exciting brand-new tech I saw at this year’s IBC was HDR video.  Similar in premise to HDR photography – and capable of the same beauty when used subtly and garishness when pushed too far – this records multiple versions of the same shot at different exposures, which are then combined to create a shot with a much deeper depth of contrast than standard footage.

We saw two separate methods of extending the dynamic range of a scene from researchers Fraunhofer (a wide-ranging research group best known for its work on the MP3 encoding format). One was based on a single camera by sampling pixels differently to get differently exposed results. The other uses an array of 16 individual cameras (above) with different neutral density filters in front of the lenses, with the signal stitched together by an algorithm into a single HDR image.

Fraunhofer also created a buzz by demonstrating the same 4-by-4 array of cameras being used to capture footage that you could decide where to focus later – essentially a video version of the Lytro still camera we were hyped-about-but-ultimately-disappointed by over the summer.

Fraunhofer's implementation estimates a depth value for every pixel recorded by the cameras, so after the recording is made, the filmmaker is able to virtually 'drive' around a person or an object, to retrospectively readjust sharpness and to change the camera angles and depth of field.

4K is here (for content creators at least)

Looking to the nearer future, the big message from the show – if not exactly mirrored quite yet in the living rooms and studios in the rest of the world – is that 4K video has very much arrived. You couldn't move at IBC for 4K-capable cameras and codecs, 4K monitoring and workflow systems, and software compatible with this higher resolution. Sony was just one of the vendors expanding its reach with new 4K options and cameras models for high-end consumers, video pros and TV studios – as well as eye-popping 4K OLED TV and production monitors for editors, VFX artists and others to view the content on.

"In my world of post production, mainly compositing and 3D, one thing that came through loud and clear is that 4K is at the tipping point," said Matt Plec, senior product designer at Nuke developer The Foundry told me ( "Necessary hardware components were out in force, and more and more of our customers are delivering it now: both for film and broadcast."

Sony's new PXW-Z10 is a professional 4K handheld XDCAM camcorder featuring a 1/2.33" Exmor R CMOS sensor
The high-end of the 4K pipeline, Sony's F65 camera at IBC 2013

Liam Hayter, director at production/post facility Independent State agrees.

"The general overall trend for this year's IBC was the adoption of 4K by many manufacturers, although this is rapidly leading once again to proprietary system solutions and workflows, which I still find a little disappointing," he says.

"Every camera manufacturer once again has their own 4K codec, associated processing boards and more recording mediums again – but it was great to see third-party 4K recorders from AJA, Codex Digital and others on the floor. It helps keep workflows agnostic, especially where shoots require a real mix of cameras for budgetary or creative reasons. The NLE manufacturers are keeping pace with this beautifully!"

Mamba FX: a low-cost rival for After Effects and Nuke?

However Liam said the most exciting product for him creatively was the announcement by SGO of Mamba FX. The Windows-based compositing suite offers unlimited compositing layers and effects, keying, tracking, painting and restoration. Pegged at £199, Mamba FX can also extend its feature-set using OFX-plugins (the open source plugin format created by The Foundry and supported by tools such as Nuke and OFX).

With a node-based graphic interface, Mamba FX offers compositing 'trees' that also generate plain text files that describe the chain of processes that are scripted and manipulated to automate functions and workflows. In addition, Mamba FX can take advantage of GPU-acceleration using Nvidia CUDA API and Quadro GPUs, and is totally compatible with SGO's film/broadcast post production system Mistika.

"I’ve been operating Mistika for a while now," said Liam. "It was fantastic to see [SGO] shake up the compositing market with a low barrier of entry, whilst still maintaining clean integration with its much bigger brother."

Dell was everywhere but little sign of Apple

Dell hardware was out in force on stands on the show floor, while behind the scenes the company was demonstrating its new post-production-focussed Precision workstations (towers and racks) and mobile line. Also revealed to the select few was the 30-inch UltraSharp U3014 monitor and a very interesting looking lightweight mobile workstation with a touchscreen display that seems destined to catch the eye of creative users of the MacBook Air.

Apple itself didn't have an official presence at IBC  – though familiar faces from the company's pro video team were to be encountered at the shows’s many parties. There was much anticipation at the show for the new Mac Pro and its Thunderbolt 2 connections.

Sonnet released a new Thunderbolt expansion chassis for PCI Express cards, bundled with a voucher to upgrade to Thunderbolt 2 when the Mac Pro ships later this year, while AJA was previewing its Io 4K, equipped with dual Thunderbolt 2 ports to support daisy-chaining of devices. It will support 4K and UltraHD devices for capture and output, with realtime high-quality scaling of 4K and UltraHD to HD for monitoring and conversion.  

There was also quite a mini-buzz surrounding Blackmagic Design's DaVinci Resolve finishing software, which was shown as a beta of the forthcoming version 10. Resolve 10 supports OpenCL for graphics-card-acceleration of non-3D tasks such as real-time colour grading, so AMD – the cheerleader for the graphics open standard – was demonstrating GPU-accelerated 4K colour correction on Resolve on its stand.

AMD was also demonstrating 4K colour calibration, 2D/3D video effects and post production using OpenCL with Premiere Pro CC, from its IBC neighbour Adobe. As well as new features for the video products in Creative Cloud, the software giant was touting the addition of After Effects CC to the tools supported on the Adobe Anywhere collaborative workflow platform.

Is renting software the future?

The Cloud is not just Adobe's domain, of course, as evidenced by the amount of cloud-based editing, transcoding and workflow solutions on show. VFX supervisor Hasraf 'HaZ' Dulull was one who saw this as a common theme at IBC 2013.

 "This will open a whole load of opportunities for studios," he told me. "They now don't need to be locked in one location, while remote work is going to be more popular and a trend for freelance creatives."

This 'lack of locking in' ties into another trend, as evidenced by Autodesk's announcement of a new 'rental' method of using software. Autodesk's Nick Manning stressed at the show that the move was 'all about choice', as he described the new pay as you go rental option for use of all of the company’s latest Design and Creation Suites, 3ds Max, Maya, and the new Maya LT. Unlike Adobe’s Creative Cloud, these are offered alongside perpetual licences, and with a monthly ‘on/off’ switch for studios who only need them at particular times during a project – such as smaller studios during the design phase of game app development.

Note: We may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site, at no extra cost to you. This doesn't affect our editorial independence. Learn more.

Read Next...