Opening Up 4K: Sony Expands Consumer 4K Market Compatibility with XAVC S
Sony's tight cluster of NAB 2013 4K-centric announcements featured some of the most affordably priced UHD TVs yet seen all the way over to the external recorder-enabled 4K shooting capabilities of its FS700. The latter announcement also made it clear that Sony is looking to put a wide variety of encoding and format options into the hands of shooters -- and beyond, potentially. Aside from external and third-party recording expansion, Sony is opening up its efficient 4K XAVC codec -- native to the F5 family -- to the consumer as well as the prosumer. Read on for some details regarding these new 'lite' encoding/wrapper options, dubbed XAVC S.
First, the news -- from Sony and the XAVC site [PDF], via Cinescopophilia. Following what Sony says is the wide industry adoption of XAVC, desirable for its light-footprint handling of 4K at so-far-10-bit (plus wide S-Gamut color space and 'refined' S-Log gamma):
Sony is today announcing Long GOP (4K 4:2:0 and HD 4:2:2) as choice of high-efficiency codec to serve more widely the requirements of the content production market. In addition, to serve the consumer market, “XAVC S” employing MP4 wrapping format is also introduced as its expansion of XAVC. This expansion will encourage growth of 4K content in the consumer market.
Each manufacturer will decide which profile and operating point of XAVC they will implement in their products:
Sony hereby assures XAVC format to be a video recording format that covers both of professional and consumer market.
XAVC is introduced as an open format, to serve as a driver to promote and establish 4K content production infrastructure. A license program is proposed not only for editing software manufacturers but also for hardware manufacturers. Currently, over 60 manufacturers have filed a request to become a licensee, and 31 manufacturers’ products plan on their support for Sony XAVC format and workflow.
Codec supporters, by the way, include Blackmagic Design, Apple, and Adobe. Now, all this talk about consumer markets echoes what Sony said originally about the codec -- things like, "The new XAVC format underlines Sony’s commitment to bringing high quality content to the consumer market." On one hand, it's not clear how far XAVS will reach into outright-consumer applications, with or without the "S." But on the other hand, no professional working with XAVC will have much trouble working in files wrapped in MXF, so its an understandable addition given Sony's professed goals for the format.
In general, its expansion of the original H.264/AVC codec makes it very powerful for the very efficient storage/transport of 4K -- for anyone looking to do so -- not just serious filmmakers. Sony's original XAVC white paper places it as "the mezzanine level format that fills the gap between the mastering quality format (MPEG4 SStP, or HDCAM-SR), and MPEG2" compression, the latter of which Sony says is common to much broadcast media (see white paper, circa Figure 5):
Of course, that chart (courtesy Sony) was devised prior to XAVC's addition of the "S" and what it brings with it, and therefore -- given the accompanying drop in chroma res -- no one is necessarily stuck in the MXF wrapper when working with XAVC. In other words, Sony has made good on its original words that "MXF wrapping format can be used" (my emphasis) -- an alternative wrapper (prior to the use of import utilities) has finally come forward. RedShark News puts it as such:
Dispensing with the decidedly "pro" MXF wrapper, XAVC S uses MPEG-4 instead. It is based around the familiar h.264, which should ensure wide compatibility once applications support the XAVC S format.
Whether the MP4 wrapper will encourage or greatly increase consumer-ware adoption of the XAVC codec itself is another question, but it surely won't hurt.
Where do you guys see this added support taking XAVC? May your applications find a use for the lighter-weight options?
- Sony Expands XAVC Format to Accelerate 4K Development in the Professional and Consumer Market -- XAVC-Info.org Press Release [PDF]
- XAVC White Papers (Original) -- Sony
- Original XAVC Press Release -- Sony