Test and measurement has become something of a lost art form in today’s multi-channel video-on-demand television landscape, resulting in only the more technical members of staff understanding the intricacies of waveform and vector displays. Waveform monitors and rasterizers have increasingly been consigned to darkest bowels of central apparatus rooms.
By Kevin Salvidge, Leader Electronics, February 22, 2019
For more years than I care to remember, standard definition and high definition production has remained unchanged, with BT.709 colour space and constant 100 nits luminance displays, leading to many post-production facilities and media processing labs becoming complacent.
That is all about to change. Television display manufacturers are now teasing consumers with higher resolution screens in an attempt to get them to update the TV in the corner of the room more often. Along with the increased resolution come brighter displays and wider colour gamut. Suddenly everything the post-production facilities and media processing labs have taken for granted is being turned upside down.
A number of video monitor manufacturers are starting to implement test and measurement facilities into their displays in an attempt to differentiate their products from the competition. There is an old expression, "You pays your money and takes your choice". If the integrated test and measurement products appear to come for free with the display, there is probably a reason for that! Test and measurement manufacturers like Leader pride themselves on the quality of their products; they are frame accurate and do not compromise the video signal. Very few professional broadcast monitors have the ability to switch off all their filtering, as this results in the images being unacceptable. So why use a product that is filtering the signal as your reference test and measurement tool?
Consumers have a myriad of display devices, ranging from a black and white CRT displays, to the latest OLED technology, with a vast array of display resolutions, colour gamut and brightness, so production for one display type no longer fits all, if indeed it ever did. Couple this with the emergence of new players like Amazon, Facebook, Google and Netflix to the broadcast marketplace, who entice their subscribers with not only lavish productions but also the most colourful and brightest images in the highest of resolutions. These productions come with budgets that terrestrial broadcasters can only dream of, so media processing labs who have been starved of well-funded projects are understandably falling over themselves to secure Amazon, Facebook, Google and Netflix business.
Netflix has developed a rigorous and challenging certification procedure for post-production facilities, media processing labs and subtitle and closed captioning companies. After meeting strict standards ranging from technical abilities to customer service and security measures, top vendors are badged as 'NPVs'. Netflix strongly encourages content to be both prepared and quality-controlled through NPVs. Excellence is demanded to remain approved and is routinely measured through various key performance indicators.
Amazon and Netflix have also taken a leaf out of the film world by insisting that content delivered to their services uses the Interoperable Master Format standard (IMF). IMF encapsulates all the elements of a production into an IMF package, making it easier for Amazon and Netflix to reversion content for specific regions. This requires the post-production facility to create the IMF in the first place, which is where the first significant change in business practices occurs. Once you have delivered your IMF to the Amazon or Netflix's preferred QC partner, if the IMF is rejected for any reason then it is up to the media processing lab to make the necessary modifications and resubmit; only when it has been accepted do you get paid. They will also rate and publish the post-production facilities' and media processing labs' performance, so future productions can see how successfully they are performing. Post-production facilities and media processing labs could actually lose their NPV status, which would have disastrous effects on their businesses.
A useful reference on this topic is https://npfp.netflixstudios.com/europe, where Netflix Preferred Fulfilment Partners redelivery rates are published for all to see. The requirement for test and measurement has become critical again. Having worked hard to gain the necessary accreditation to create and deliver content to this new breed of broadcaster, you don't want to see all your hard work backfire and have a detrimental effect on your business.
Another impact of having your project rejected is you incur the costs associated with reworking the project and the long-term effect that might have your overall business. In today's file-based digital world, you will also have to budget for retaining the project on your production archive. If you are using local storage, the likelihood is that you are always running close to the maximum available capacity. Thinking that a project has been delivered and then archiving it to tape, only to find it needs to be resorted to make the corrections, is a nightmare scenario. Even more so if it is a UHD/4K project with the storage premium that carries, as well as the time it takes to re-ingest the assets. On many occasions, post-production facilities and media processing labs lack the capacity to restore the entire project so have to struggle to carry out the required modifications.
This has now been compounded by consumers' viewing habits changing, with broadcasters introducing the ability to binge watch with 'boxed set' purchases, so instead of having to manage a single episode and the associated storage requirements, you now have to store the entire series. This is the business case that cloud storage was designed for. You no longer have to scale your storage to handle the peaks of your business. You simply increase your cloud storage but that comes at a price.
The dedicated test and measurement that seemed like an unnecessary expense to your business could well end up being your salvation. The new breed of television content publishers are setting their acceptance standards high and not compromising on the instruments they use to test your projects. With more broadcasters joining the OTT revolution, the bar will be raised further as they try to differentiate their products from the competition.
Kevin Salvidge, European Regional Development Manager, Leader Europe Limited, has over 20 years of broadcast industry experience. He joined Marconi Instruments in 1982 as an apprentice and later field service engineer. In 1994 he progressed to Sony Transcom as a field service representative before moving into sales roles with Sony, Grass Valley, Thomson Multimedia and Omneon.
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