As NAB 2016 wraps up and the tired masses depart Las Vegas for another year, here are some of the key trends that captured my attention during this year’s show.

As expected, virtual reality had a headline billing at the event. Seemingly from nowhere, at least compared to last year’s show, VR competed for the prize as the media industry’s ‘Next Big Thing’. There were a number of conference sessions addressing the topic and many of them had long lines of attendees queuing up outside their doors. The discussions were broad and beyond the general excitement there were mixed opinions on how and where VR could be employed in mainstream media.

Most agreed that sports broadcasting was an interesting candidate to provide more immersive viewing and where ceding control of the camera directly to the audience could be a compelling proposition. For more traditional linear story-telling there was less consensus. The practicalities and creative benefits of shooting VR in this mode seems more like a solution searching for problems. But with a number of product announcements on the acquisition and production front, no doubt we will see plenty of experimentation in the year ahead and next year’s NAB will provide a better test of the real potential of this new medium.

There was no shortage of product demos and conference sessions on the subject of UHD and more specifically HDR. With more consumer products coming to market in 2016, there is general agreement that HDR and associated improvements such as WCG are destined for mainstream adoption. As most people have already seen the demo reels running on bright screens, the conversation turned to implementation issues such as the co-existence of SDR and HDR from a workflow and distribution perspective. The fact that two different approaches seem likely to persist into the future, PQ and HLG, meant issues such as content conversion between formats, the impact of compression and the cost of multi-format delivery were widely discussed. With many new productions now being created with HDR in mind and consumer appetite likely to rise as new TVs are purchased, we need to address these questions soon, particularly from a linear broadcasting perspective, and NAB got the debate moving forward.

Last year’s NAB had a significant focus on the next generation broadcast technology stack and the replacement of SDI with IP variants and hardware with software products. This year there was plenty of progress on display among the vendor community but also a realization that significant questions remain in terms of how such infrastructure can be efficiently deployed and managed. There was also general agreement that the initial approach to replacing SDI with IP by simply encapsulating it using SMPTE 2022:6 was not a satisfactory conclusion and a more granular stack based on TR.03/04, AES67, IEEE PTP and various other components and extensions will form the basis of an evolved implementation.

There was of course plenty more besides and NAB 2016 proved to be yet another large and well attended show. The industry seemed in an optimistic mood and while we all get back to work, spare a thought for those who have to pack away their stands and make plans for IBC in September.

Steve Plunkett, Chief Technology Officer