With more than 103,000 attendees from 187 countries taking part in its latest edition, NAB, the world’s largest broadcast and audiovisual technology fair, never ceases to surprise.
It’s quite impressive in itself to see 1,700 companies in the audiovisual, digital, radio and content management industries occupying a 1million-square-foot exhibition space, but what struck me the most was the dizzying array of technological advances on display.
At Warp Speed
I’ve been fortunate to attend this fair for more than a decade, but have never noticed such a marked change from one year to the next.
An apparently endless race is ongoing to offer more pixels, more sharpness, better optics, more megabytes per second, larger screens, greater pixel density, and smaller, lighter, more versatile devices. In terms of resolution, the penetration of 4K TV (4 times more pixels than HDTV) has risen from 13.7% in 2015 to a projected 24% in 2016, although in the realm of brand leaders and their professional solutions, this technology is already virtually standard. In fact, prototypes of 8K cameras and monitors are being unveiled.
If you’ve ever had the chance to see a 4K-resolution monitor or television, known as UltraHD (3840 x 2160 pixels for TV and 4096 x 2160 for digital cinema, you’re aware of how striking it is. Now imagine quadrupling that resolution: 8K Super Hi-Vision (7680 x 4320 pixels). It is the closest thing to opening a window and looking outside. It’s simply incredible.
The big test for this technology will be the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, where it will be used by Japanese broadcast giant NHK and Britain’s BBC.
The quality and dynamic range of 8K images are so perfect that some manufacturers at the fair placed a magnifying glass alongside their monitors so visitors could try to discern the pixels. I tried. I couldn’t see them. The density is so high that it resembles the printed page.
Is TV dead?
As we once knew it, yes. But TV as a content-viewing experience hasn’t died; it’s merely changed.
Never has there been so much audiovisual content, with OTT (over-the-top) providers like Netflix churning it out like never before. Between 2009 and 2015, the number of screenplays written for series and films in the United States doubled – certainly a very positive development for consumers.
Meanwhile, the amount of time people spend watching linear and online TV in the United States grew from 165 hours a month in 2012 to 177 hours per month in 2015. Of course, the behaviors for watching television have changed: people now view content when, how, and where they choose.
Online is rising 50% every year, with the mobile market as the growth engine. A total of 1.5 million Android smartphones are activated every day worldwide. This equates to 45 million new screens each month, around the globe.
Due to the democratization of on-demand distribution, what we once called the “second screen” has become the “first screen.” The irony is that at the beginning of this article we talked about the race for the highest resolution, yet at the same time we realize that the most important screen for today’s consumers is between 4 and 6 inches. So this TV renaissance will have some blurred distinctions in terms of online and offline, live and on-demand.
VR: Very Much a Concrete Reality
The field that has seen the greatest advances over the past year has been virtual reality. Experts predict that by 2020 the augmented and virtual reality industry will generate US$150 billion in revenue, a figure with real impact.
Those of us who are creating content in this new artistic and communications medium (which has been described as “the ultimate empathy machine”) believe it has enormous potential because it transforms the viewer’s passive position vis-à-vis the media consumed. It’s the difference between watching something and experiencing it.
And that’s not just my perspective, but also that of clients we’ve worked with here at Newlink to create VR pieces.
Virtual reality will reach a mass audience in the coming months. Thousands of HMD (head mounted displays) like Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Sony Morpheus will surely inundate homes during the year-end holidays, expanding on the continued success of more affordable options requiring the use of a smartphone, such as the Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear VR headsets.
In the camera market, 360-degree solutions catering to a wide range of tastes are emerging, including the Theta, Giroptic and Bublcam in the consumer segment; the Orah, Omni and 360Heros in the prosumer segment, and highly advanced VR cameras like the Nokia Ozo, the Jaunt and the Google-GoPro team’s Odyssey.
In terms of content, progress is also expected in entertainment, news and education. Not only are thousands of hours of VR 360 videos being uploaded to YouTube (and other platforms) every month, but in addition YouTube will allow live-streaming, 360-degree video. The year 2017 will also be a groundbreaking milestone for the Hollywood film industry. Steven Spielberg will debut his first VR project, the film “Ready Player One.” Based on the legendary science-fiction novel, this film will provide impetus for filmmakers and producers big and small.
Some very interesting and innovation-filled months are on the horizon.