Think Streaming 4K Is Years Away? Think Again, Says XI Media
Using Cogo’s softwarebased encoder, the plan was to use Dell Precision laptops and a Dell Precision workstation to encode the video in real time and distribute it onsite. For the video player, Kraatz turned to Stream Monkey.
“We were introducing a variable that was untested and could potentially take this proven thing, this moneymaker, this great content that they put out every year, and it could turn it on its head,” Kraatz says. “What if it fails? What if they couldn’t deliver? What if they put all the press out saying it’s going to be the world’s first 4K live stream that you can watch at home at a bitrate better than Netflix, and then we can’t deliver that?”
And it’s Showtime
Before the show, XI ran through “a ridiculous amount of testing,” Kraatz says, “tweaking and testing all the way out until it was time to pack it up and take it to the venue.” Testing was an agonizing 2 months, with new code being written and swapped in regularly. Cogo wasn’t quite where it wanted to be with the 4K encoding, at just above 9Mbps, Kraatz says. They were aiming for 6Mbps, but the XI team pushed them to start showing off their technology. All parties involved were taking a risk with this project.
With other compression vendors streaming 4K at 15 to 20Mbps, Cogo’s 6–9Mbps sounds like something out of Pied Piper on HBO’s Silicon Valley. It’s legit, though, Kraatz promises: “They have a completely unique set of algorithms, and I have never been privy to exactly how it works. But it’s not a trick. It’s not magic. It is actually full UHD resolution. You can blow it up, and it looks gorgeous.”
The XI crew and their partners on the production team at Fader Fort at SXSW were stationed inside a shipping container outside the stage area. The top was used for VIP viewing, while concertgoers could peek inside and see the team at work.
XI used four Red Epic Dragon cameras to shoot the stage, with two in the pit at stage left and stage right, one at the front of the house with a long lens, and the last on a 24-foot jib. The two camera operators in the pit needed “some really beefy tripods,”
Kraatz says, since the cameras with all the necessary additions weighed too much for shoulder mounts. “They tried to shoot one set using the Reds with shoulder rigs, and it just about killed them.”
While the music was playing, Kraatz was in a shipping container. Rather than putting the producers in the back of the space behind a curtain, as is typical for stage productions, Dell decided to put the production team on display just outside the tented stage area. Dell trucked in a shipping container with windows cut out for the producers. The container’s top became a deck for VIP viewing, while concertgoers could look in and see the production team at work.
The 5-day production went off without a hitch, with Fader Fort serving 135,000 total unique views (and more than 8 million total views). Of the unique views, around 4,000, or 3 percent, were for the 4K stream.
“We knew going into doing the 4K live stream that not everyone owns a 4Kready monitor or device that would support it,” Kraatz says. “It was more of doing it right and first and pulling it off, and we knew that the influencers and the folks in the tech world that this would effect or they would be interested in, we knew that those folks would be able to watch it or find a way to watch it.”
To commemorate their impressive achievement, Kraatz and his team did the only logical thing: They went out and got tattoos. Kraatz’s badge of honor is on the back of his left arm, just above the elbow.
“After Friday night of Fader Fort, we had one more to go—Saturday—and we would be done. We had the key folks from our team, and we all went out for a drink afterwards,” Kraatz remembers. “We kind of had that moment of realization. It was like, ‘We’ve done this. We have successfully done this.’ Several of us decided around midnight to go to a tattoo shop. We had been joking around that making vegetable tattoos—we think we could make that a trend, like if we got a green onion tear tattoo and went to Brooklyn we could make that catch on. It just seems like folks are so influenced by the most silly trends. It was all in jest, but we started talking about 4K, and someone mentioned four carats. I came up with the idea to take four carrots and make it look like the Black Flag logo. That was our 4K commemorative moment: We all went and got 4K carrot tattoos. It was silly and spur of the moment, but it was one of those things where, once in a lifetime, the fact is that we managed to make all of these different elements come together and we pulled it off.”
After the fourth night at Fader Fort, X1’s Dusty Kraatz and his team got tattoos of four carrots, a nod to 4K in the style of the Black Flag logo.
This article appears in the September 2015 issue of Streaming Media magazine as “Low-Bandwidth 4K Is Here Today, Says XI Media.”
Does a higher resolution guarantee the best image quality, or does better contrast and brightness? And can today's limited bandwidth handle all that data?
While it's fun to be on the cutting-edge of new video codecs and formats, H.264 should be every publishers' primary focus for the time being.
Broadcasters could stream 4K video today at 15Mbps, but the results wouldn't be impressive, and might look worse than HD.
Why would set-top box makers bother supporting UHD video when home bandwidth connections aren't nearly robust enough to carry it?