What can software-driven cameras with new CMOS technology offer OB?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

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“Perhaps the biggest time saver for OB engineers and technicians is the EEPROM built into the XCU cradle. The EEPROM remembers the previous settings used by the base station in the cradle and can automatically re-configure the base station to the requirements of the production environment.”

As Open IT technology continues its proliferation into the broadcast sector, Klaus Weber, Product Marketing Manager for Camera at Grass Valley, explains why he believes the new LDX series is helping to deliver innovative new nonlinear production techniques and operational advantages.

“Perhaps the biggest time saver for OB engineers and technicians is the EEPROM built into the XCU cradle. The EEPROM remembers the previous settings used by the base station in the cradle and can automatically re-configure the base station to the requirements of the production environment.”

The majority of developments in live production have been aimed towards the viewer: black and white to colour, mono to stereo, stereo to multichannel, slow-motion to super slow-motion, and most important, analogue to digital and standard definition to high definition. But today’s merging of broadcast and IT technologies—especially for live production—focuses squarely on the production, distribution, and business aspects of television.

Open IT is bringing about the current transition from hardware-centric to software-centric solutions. While it would appear that this transition has been going on for some time – with nonlinear editing software running on personal computers – lately, the industry hasn’t had many significant IT-based enhancements, especially in live OB production...until now.
One of those advancements is in a product category that broadcasters have previously never thought of IT having very much of an impact: cameras. In my view, the Grass Valley LDX Series of cameras are unlike any other professional camera. While all modern cameras run firmware in order to operate, the LDX Series is unique in a number of very IT-specific ways.

IT-based Imaging

LDX Series cameras are based on CMOS imagers – which are similar to integrated circuits – instead of the more typical CCD. While CMOS is used in everything from cellphones to DSLR cameras, its major obstacle for broadcast use is what’s called ”rolling shutter.”

The new Xensium-FT imagers from Grass Valley are based on a Frame Transfer design of the pixels. This permits the isolation of the exposure period from the transfer period. Because of this, the Xensium-FT imager provides what is called global shutter behaviour, identical to all CCDs. Therefore, Xensium-FT imagers do not have any of the limitations of previous CMOS imagers with a rolling shutter, such as sensitivity to fast camera movements with short exposure time, and sensitivity to short light flashes. In this aspect, the new Xensium-FT imagers are not different from any of the best CCD imagers used today.

Additionally, Grass Valley has used the processing power of the Xensium-FT CMOS imager at the chipset level, with the integration of multiple A/D converters, timing, and read-out circuits placed on the CMOS chip itself. The LDX Series has also made 1080p production as easy as 1080i production, with the only lossless 1080p imaging that maintains full sensitivity – and the same sensitivity as 1080i imaging (F12 at 2000 lux). Other benefits of CMOS imaging include lower power consumption, less heat, and higher integration, with the potential for higher resolution, extended dynamic range, and higher frame rates in the future.

Software Driven

LDX Series cameras are software upgradable. All the three models are physically the same out of the box. It’s the software that controls the acquisition formats available from each specific camera model. By simply upgrading the software within the camera, production format flexibility is increased. Users have the ability to start with LDX Première (1080i/720p) upgrade to LDX Elite (adding 1080PsF) and further upgrading to LDX WorldCam (adding 1080p). LDX Series users now have a way to link camera CAPEX and OPEX with their business goals.

Nonlinear Live Production

Live production has always been produced linearly: cameras acquire, vision mixers mix, servers serve, and the final output is distributed to one or more destinations and sometimes in differing formats. But in today’s multi-format and multi-distribution world, linear production is a drain on both efficiency and the bottom line. Especially since many secondary distribution channels don’t yet generate significant revenue. It’s what’s called ”nonlinear production“ where production, manipulation, and distribution are thought of as one controlled process. This switch opens up new ways of doing live production, and the LDX Series is at the forefront.

As an example, let’s look at the situation of a live production with output going to both air and the web. A camera operator at a stadium using one LDX Series cameras has the ability to send metadata using a trigger from their camera that initiates a set of actions. We call this trigger the PickMe button. 

While the camera’s output makes its way through the traditional production process for on-air program output, PickMe has automatically switched the online feed to its camera with the shot automatically pushed to the web, skipping the traditional linear (and human-controlled) switching processes. Of course, rules are determined and set in place ahead of time to handle this automated workflow, but there’s something else this provides: the ability to easily create an online highlight or home team feed for the web, complete with revenue generating possibilities.

Artistic Vision

Another imaging innovation is ArtTouch, an intuitive interface between the operator and hardwired controls, which significantly enhances artistic possibilities within a live broadcast. 
Looking back at the last five years in broadcasting, a lot has changed with respect to the way productions are being managed from an artistic point of view. To an increasing extent, there is a close collaboration between creative directors and the camera shaders, who adjust each camera feed to perfection. By using the full latitude of the Xensium-FT CMOS imager, control of every aspect of the image is available, so any degree of creativity can be applied.

The Endless Returns function gives the camera operator router control of the signals being sent to the camera's return input of the camera’s base station. The number of different signals which can be selected is limited only by the size of the external router. The LDX Series provides enhanced colorimetry, colour-matching, and picture performance. Colour temperature and tint are just two of the parameters that can be simultaneously adjusted across multiple cameras. Knee saturation control maintains a correct hue by using secondary compression. Chromatic lens aberration correction (CLASS) is applied both vertically and horizontally, and offers impressive sharpness improvements on the left and right regions of the image. Other features assist in aperture correction, detail preservation, and more.

Multiple Setup Possibilities

There are times when additional cameras are needed in OB vans, and those cameras may come from other trucks in the fleet. Typically, this would mean moving not only the camera, but the base station as well. Clearly this is not the best of situations.

In conjunction with the LDX Series, Grass Valley has also introduced the XCU WorldCam (1.5G/3G) base stations to replace the current range of LDK 3G base stations while offering the same functionality and performance. XCU is designed around a unique “cradle” concept which allows for easy “slide-in” and “slide-out” of the XCU base station into and out of a pre-mounted XCU cradle. 

Empty XCU cradles can be installed in an OB truck or at fixed studio installation. All the video, audio, intercom and control cables are connected to the XCU cradle allowing for the XCU base stations to be easily relocated without disconnecting many cables.

PICTURE 3 & 4 (SIDE BY SIDE) CAPTION: The XCU base station and cradle. An EEPROM built into the XCU cradle will remember the previous settings and can automatically re-configure itself to the requirements of the production environment.

Perhaps the biggest time saver for OB engineers and technicians is the EEPROM built into the XCU cradle. The EEPROM remembers the previous settings used by the base station in the cradle and can automatically re-configure the base station to the requirements of the production environment. With this configuration, XCU WorldCam creates maximum business flexibility and many operational advantages. 

For management, the primary benefits are not only minimising the time spent to reconfigure the OB truck, but also minimising cabling mistakes—as cradles remain cabled for easy exchange of XCUs between different OB trucks, with quick setups due to pre-settings in the XCU cradle. 

Considering how live OB production is currently done, the benefits available from the LDX Series of software upgradable cameras are obvious. In my opinion, the LDX Series delivers more creative power and workflow efficiencies than any other camera system available. Plus, it delivers the image quality that producers, directors, and camera owners have come to expect from Grass Valley.

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