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From Small Things: Why Shooting Ultra HD Video Matters Today
Streaming 3D was a non-starter, but 4K/Ultra HD is a different matter. Here's why producers should future-proof their workflows in 2015.
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On Feb. 5, 1975, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band played a now-legendary show at a compact coffeehouse called the Main Point, just outside Philadelphia in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. The widely circulated bootleg recording of this show captures the band at a landmark moment, following some major personnel changes, when the core lineup that would endure through the next 14 years caught fire for the first time on stage.

Perhaps the biggest reason the Main Point show has endured is because (tape generation loss notwithstanding) it sounds so good for a live recording of its vintage. Recorded for broadcast on Philadelphia-area rock station WMMR, the show was captured using a Mom’s Wholesome Audio 2022 mixing board, one of the earliest solid state mixing boards manufactured with parametric equalization.

Ironically, perhaps, for such a famous broadcast the show wasn’t actually broadcast live, due to the lack of a telephone link at the Main Point. “They had to tape the show in hour-long segments and then drive them to the station and put them on the air,” WMMR DJ Ed Sciaky recalled in a 2005 interview with Backstreets magazine.

Fortunately, we don’t face these kinds of impediments to streaming live events these days. Every stream has its challenges, but there are lots of ways to deliver your event to your audience that scale to your budget, to your physical space and crew limitations, and to the kind of internet connection and bandwidth you have available. Certainly, all streams aren’t created equal, and what you have to work with at the stream’s source will affect the viewing experience on the other end of the pipe, just as the bandwidth and device limitations of your end users will impact what they see and hear, no matter how expertly you capture, mix, encode, and stream it.

One challenge I expect webcast producers to face increasingly this year is the dilemma over whether to future-proof their kit with 4K cameras that capture video at resolutions currently unrealistic for 90 percent (or more) of the streaming they will do in 2015 (and probably 2016 as well). Yet, in our “Gear of the Year 2015” article, three longtime contributors and live event streaming professionals— Anthony Burokas, Shawn Lam, and Tim Siglin—chose 4K equipment among their picks for the 12 most significant products now in play in our industry. Granted, capturing 3840x2160 (Ultra HD, the 16:9 version of 4K) video for streaming at 1280x720 or 640x360 might seem like overkill, but the same argument could be made for capturing at 1920x1080, which most of us have been doing for years, including times when few of our end users were watching our streams at even 1280x720.

The migration to 4K is fundamentally different from the distraction that 3D proved to be a few years ago. Mainstream UltraHD delivery will happen (and is available now via major on-demand providers such as Netflix), and 4K/ UltraHD workflow practices are largely consistent with what most of us are doing already. Not so with 3D. Except for certain isolated applications, noncinema 3D came and went, and in the streaming world, it never came at all.

But 4K/UltraHD is a different animal, and it’s relevant in today’s live production world, where we habitually capture and stream events with every intention of repurposing our content. I remember the first time I saw NewTek’s ISOcorder technology for archiving isolated program (and nonprogram) feeds demonstrated on a high-end TriCaster at NAB, and thinking that it would be huge—especially when it started to show up in some products accessible to a broader cross-section of the market. By now, of course, ISO recording technology has entrenched itself securely in the live production mainstream (including NewTek’s latest prosumer model, the $7,995 TriCaster Mini HD-4i), and thanks in large part to affordable enabling technologies like the Matrox VS4 Quad HD capture card.

Not every event that you capture in 4K, stream at 1280x720, and ISO record full-res and uncompressed for future use will enjoy the 40-years-and-counting second life of Bruce Springsteen’s 1975 broadcast from the Main Point. But as Springsteen himself declared a few years later, from small things, big things one day come.

This article appears in the April 2015 issue of Streaming Media as "From Small Things."

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Netflix is no longer the only option for 4K streaming. Amazon Prime members can view 4K for no additional cost.