It has been about a month and a half since NAB 2013 and the Internet is still abuzz with news about BlackMagic Design’s 4k Cinema Camera announcement and the ATEM 4k Video Switcher. The reason I bring both items up is that they are part of what I see as a problem in the industry right now which is new technology being passed off as a new standard: 6G SDI.
What constitutes a standard?
Well, frankly in my industry SMPTE decides.
The Society of Motion Picture & Television Engineers are pretty much wizards who do magical things related to making film and television actually work with some semblance of order amongst the chaos which is visual storytelling.
I sort of imagine SMPTE members as all vaguely resembling Gandalf The Grey:
A bunch of wizened old grey-hairs who absentmindedly wander around talking to themselves who have forgotten more than the rest of us will never know about arcane topics like refresh rates, raster and aspect.
So why do we need standards?
In fact, on a web forum recently, I read a disturbing piece of opinion lightheartedly masquerading as fact that since BlackMagic Design has developed and released what they call 6G SDI on a number of their products that they have in fact designed the new standard for 4k.
Let me start by offering an analogy:
Imagine that the Fiat 500 engineers designed the first motor car to meet an all new classification that all new roads would be built to around the world.
Without outside influence by a governing body, what could happen is that all designs from that point forward would reflect solely the needs of that development team and their design.
- Tunnels would be built to a height of a little over 5 feet
- Roadways would have lanes a little over 6 feet wide
- Street parking spaces would be approximately 14 feet long
- Overpasses, bridges and parking structures would be built for vehicles weighing less than 2500 lbs
- No diesel fuel would be available for sale
By only considering the perceived needs from such a myopic view, the needs from a larger industry perspective could potentially be ignored.
What about transport vehicles? Emergency vehicles? Taxis, buses and other mass transit?
So what does this all have to do with 6G SDI and the BMD implementation?
Right now, 6G is solely the playground of BlackMagic Design, with a number of their products supporting the format. You’ll notice I said “format” and not “standard”. They have cameras, switchers and recorders available to work within their system.
- What about displays?
- What about projectors?
- What about scalers?
- What about matrix routers?
<chirp chirp chirp>
Real world application:
On my way back from NAB I ran into a fellow I know from my past as a musician in Winnipeg. He too has moved to Vancouver and is working with one of the easier to find video producers in this city. He was excited about the company committing to buying a bunch of 4k gear to work live events with.
So… how do you integrate a presenters laptop PowerPoint presentation into the system?
“Simple. You take an HDMI feed out of the laptop and plug it in”.
Currently, the hardware does not support video scaling on the input side. According to the BMD website, the input resolutions for HDMI input are: NTSC, PAL, 720P, 1080i and 3840 x 2160 (4k or Quad HD).
As of the day I write this, Apple is advertising their MacBook Pro with Retina Display as “The world’s highest resolution notebook” with a screen resolution of 2880 x 1800 pixels.
So in short, today’s highest resolution notebook is some 3.1 million pixels short of being recognized and displayed by the BMD ATEM 4k.
“Okay smart guy. I’ll use a scaler”.
At NAB, I talked with a representative from one of the most respected and industry leading manufacturers of pro A/V systems integration products about their support for the BMD 6G products.
In fact, if you do a search at Extron Electronics website for 6G SDI solutions, this is the search result it will return.
Extron.com 6G search results
These guys are the leaders in the industry, in my not-so-humble opinion, and are frankly priced accordingly.
So, while the BlackMagic Design 4k solutions ARE groundbreaking, they are currently an island unto themselves.
And that is being overlooked by fanboys who are hot to be the first on their streets to offer a service to their clients that isn’t completely thought out yet. (also see: “hyperbole”)
If you want to record your own studio production live switched using BMD 4k Cinema Cameras through an ATEM 4k to a 4k enabled HyperDeck Studio Pro for later editing and graphics integration, go ahead.
But to market this solution as the next big thing in live event coverage to screens is asinine, shortsighted and downright disrespectful to our mutual potential clients.
Until the rest of the industry decides on (remember what I said about SMPTE earlier…) and begins to support a new standard, whether based on this technology or not, I’m staying out of this segment of the market because frankly I don’t ever want to have to tell my client “Well… I THOUGHT it would work because someone on the Internet said it should”.
And if the video production service provider you are talking to about your event disagrees with my position, ask yourself this question: what do they stand to gain by disagreeing with me?
Likely they are trying to sell you something.
I have the ability to go out and buy a complete BMD 4k system right now if I wanted to start playing in this sandbox. I choose not to for valid and well thought out reasons.
To be clear and fair – the big issue I have here isn’t that BlackMagic Design are pushing the boundaries and introducing groundbreaking products – I’m concerned by the absolute glut of misinformation surrounding 6G as a standard and the sales pitch of the fanboys.
And BMD Fanboys are a loud and numerous bunch these days.
I own a fair bit of BlackMagic Design gear and most of it works quite well even though not always as advertised. The core of my multicam setup is based almost exclusively on BMD gear. I feel pretty confident and justified in espousing the opinions I hold from actual Real World application.
Thus endeth the sermon.
Thanks for reading!