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To 4K or Not to 4K? (We Know the Answer)

LONDON—In partnership with U.K. cinema operator Vue Entertainment and National Theatre Live, Sony Digital Cinema 4K helped produce a live 4K broadcast of Benedict Cumberbatch (BBC’s “Sherlock,” “The Imitation Game”) in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” The Oct. 15 performance of “Hamlet” at London’s Barbican theater was transmitted live in 4K to Vue cinemas in the U.K. and other theaters worldwide, including the United States. The broadcast marked the first time that a theatrical production was delivered live to multiple locations for simultaneous 4K projection.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Hamlet Tickets for the 12-week engagement of “Hamlet” at the Barbican sold out in just a few minutes when they went on sale nearly a year ago, so anyone interested in seeing Cumberbatch question “to be, or not to be” instead headed to the cinema.

“If there’s an artistic medium that’s naturally suited to the immersive detail and realism of 4K, it’s got to be live theater,” said David McIntosh, vice president, Sony Digital Cinema 4K Solutions for Europe and the Americas. “Cinema projection in 4K delivers the best possible image quality, which enhances the event cinema experience so that the performance can be enjoyed whether you are in the live theater or watching in a cinema. 4K is the next step in event cinema production as it provides a truly immersive viewing opportunity.”

Multiple Sony F55 4K cameras were deployed for the “Hamlet” production. While the F55 in its live configuration is similar to any HD camera that would be used to capture and transmit a live broadcast, the F55 features a 4K sensor. Transmitted with 4K resolution at 50 frames per second, the live broadcast delivered to cinemagoers a smooth, realistic reproduction of the action on stage.

“Detail is incredibly important when you you’re recreating the movement, energy and emotion of these wonderful performers in front of a cinema audience,” McIntosh said. “When content has been captured natively in 4K and is projected onto the big screen, you’re seeing that picture with absolutely no compromise.”

“Sony is proud of its unmatched heritage in 4K live production,” said Norbert Paquet, strategic marketing manager of live production, Sony Professional Solutions Europe. “Now with simulcast production in HD and 4K a practical reality, as we’re demonstrating with the National Theatre, this opens up exciting new commercial opportunities for content creators everywhere.”

Multiple Sony F55 4K cameras were deployed for the “Hamlet” production. Mastering in UHD (3840x2160 resolution) and then creating a 4K DCP for cinema projection (4096x2160 via the addition of horizontal blanking) fully realizes the detail, contrast and color gamut captured by the camera. Capture and archive in both 4K and HD gave NT Live the flexibility to satisfy all anticipated distribution requirements.

Paquet adds that Sony’s F55 4K cameras are not new to the world of live production and event cinema, but they offer a unique proposition that can include bringing 4K screenings to Vue patrons. He says that the resulting 4K presentations can be compared to “the best seats in the house at the actual performance.”

He noted that every step of the production workflow ensured that “Hamlet” looked as good as technically possible. For the Oct. 15 presentation, the Sony F55 cameras were run in a live configuration. With CA-4000 4K fiber transmission camera adapters attached to the docking interface of the F55s, they were turned into 4K live system cameras. The CA-4000 was connected to the OB truck using a standard SMPTE fiber connection into a BPU-4000 Base Band Processor Unit. The BPU then provided all of the 4K and HD outputs for the event.

Signals from each camera were recorded to a Sony PWS-4400 server in the OB truck. With PWA-RCT1 Recording Control Software installed, a Windows PC triggered rec/stop/play/file transfer on the PWS- 4400 so that it could be operated as a VTR. A Sony MVS-X series mixer produced both the 4K and HD shows.

Anastasia Hille as GertrudeSOME HISTORY
The October live 4K broadcast of director Lyndsey Turner’s London staging of “Hamlet” was the second event in the yearlong partnership of National Theatre Live, Vue Entertainment and Sony. The first took place on Sept. 17, when a National Theatre production of “The Beaux’ Stratagem” was shot in 4K with Sony F55 cameras and delivered for encore screenings to Vue customers as a 4K DCP.

National Theatre Live is the National Theatre’s groundbreaking project to broadcast the best of British theater live from the London stage to cinemas across the U.K. and around the world. Satellites allow the productions to be broadcast live to cinemas throughout the U.K. as well as many European venues. Other venues view the broadcasts “as live” according to their time zone, or at a later date. Screenings have been extended into December, check for a participating theater.

Sony has been experimenting with high-resolution transmission of live events for several years leading up to the pioneering 4K screenings this fall.

In February 2014, the National Theatre’s West End production of “War Horse” was transmitted live in 4K to a cinema in Chelsea, marking the first 4K live event cinema screening. Sony F55 cameras captured that performance at the New London Theatre in Drury Lane; the 4K video signal was then transmitted via live uplink to a dish at the Curzon Chelsea cinema and projected live with 4K resolution. After its live transmission, the performance was available to cinemas as a 4K DCP for encore screenings.

In another live cinema landmark, Sony and Vue Entertainment teamed to deliver two matches of 2014’s FIFA World Cup, streaming them live via satellite from Brazil. A July 4 quarter-final match and the July 13 final match were screened live in Sony 4K at Vue’s Westfield multiplex in London.

On March 12 of this year, the National Theatre’s production of “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” was recorded and screened to Vue customers in Sony 4K, though, like “The Beaux’ Stratagem,” not live. “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” was captured in 4K with six Sony F55 cameras and the recorded performance was distributed to Vue cinemas as a 4K DCP. Encoding for the 4K DCP was carried out by Soho Digital Cinema at 250 Mbps, the upper limit of the DCI standard, to preserve as much as possible the camera’s extended gamut in the P3 color space that’s native to the Sony projectors installed in Vue theaters. The encoded master was replicated onto ruggedized hard drives for distribution to Vue’s cinemas. (Vue currently has 84 theaters in the U.K. and Ireland.)

“4K means loads of detail, but that’s not the whole story,” said McIntosh. “Sony 4K digital cinema projectors deliver images with an extremely high contrast ratio, which can evoke a feeling of immersive depth of perception.”