Andy Quested, the BBC’s HD & UHD Head of Technology, told delegates at the SES Ultra-HD conference in London that the broadcaster was fully behind UHD and the ‘Rec 2020’ standard which allows for High Dynamic Range images. “Everything we do today has to stand the test of time. Planet Earth 1, made some 11 years ago, is still being watched and is still selling [to overseas buyers]. We are investing in the very best images that can be generated, and also paying considerable attention to audio which is the cherry on the top.”
He explained how important it was that a single standard was employed so as not to disenfranchise existing viewers, and to avoid having to create multiple streams of video for those viewers. The BBC is behind its Hybrid Log Gamma (HLG) transmission system, developed jointly by the BBC and NHK of Japan.
“All future commissions will be made in HLG (and PQ [Perceptual Quantiser] if needed by a co-production partner or overseas broadcaster) because we are an international broadcaster,” he added.
He noted that a lot of programmes are now made by independent production companies, including the new BBC Studios. “As far as independent production houses are concerned, their archive is their long-term pension! They also want to produce in the highest-possible standard. So we are seeing more and more UHD productions underway. Many are utilising high-quality cameras, but storing the rushes because the client doesn’t need UHD today. But they can go back to them later if there’s a market. I am confident that you will see more UHD especially in high-end drama and episodic series, provided we have the budget.”
Quested said that despite pressures – not least from the TV retail sector – there was not a single UHD channel available in the UK. I can watch UHD on Sky, but that is not a traditional linear channel. I could describe it as a ‘live on demand’ service. This is a great way of doing it because it helps with bandwidth demand. Once Sky gets its act together on HDR, then everyone can see the trials we have done via the BBC’s iPlayer and seen on a much greater range of displays. I would say that one of the reasons we have invested in Natural History productions [in UHD] is because we are good at it. But there are also some high-end dramas and drama series which should be available as many of them are potentially UHD. I am sure Sherlock has been shot on suitable cameras, same with Happy Valley, and there are others. Once there is a revenue stream it is going to happen. The next few years will be a mixed environment. There will be HD with HDR, UHD with HDR and there might even be some 8K floating around eventually. But there will not be a single, fixed service, the way we work today. It is all about the value of the programme, the longevity of the programme and it is common sense that where there’s a value [in adopting the technology] it will be used.”