Outlook: Reducing latency & improving color workflows in virtual production
Paul Turner
Issue: November/December 2023

Outlook: Reducing latency & improving color workflows in virtual production

The past year certainly wasn’t lacking in virtual production technology and workflow advancements, with continued investment in the space driving innovation. We saw many new LED stages launch and more productions experiment with the technique. But while the end result may be beautifully-crafted entertainment from an audience perspective, there’s a lot of troubleshooting to make that magic happen behind the scenes, especially when it comes to minimizing latency and meeting color correction and manipulation demands in virtual-production environments. 
Reducing latency – wherever possible in the chain – is essential to the continued advancement of virtual production workflows. As the use of this technology grows with inevitable reach into realtime programming, having a video I/O solution with subframe latency, like AJA’s Kona X, can be a huge advantage. Using a low latency I/O card dramatically improves interactivity between on-set and remote presenters, and we expect to see more conversation around the topic of latency reduction solutions in the coming months. 
Color adjustment is another area in the virtual production space where ample room for improvement remains. For instance, if a red prop on-set doesn’t blend well with the red hue on the LED wall behind it, it’s much easier to change the red on the LED wall than to repaint the object. Currently, this requires a lot of back and forth between the on-set team and the original engine graphics artist, who must swap out the graphics and render out a file to be fed through the LED processor, where the transform would be completed. While this approach is functional, it’s far from efficient and can introduce delays as well as the opportunity for latency in processing capabilities, bringing on a whole host of other challenges. 

To this end, as R&D for virtual-production workflows continues in 2024, I see a lot of room for innovation in color and color manipulation pipelines as on-set professionals look for a better solution to this challenge, among others. More productions may start to look at how they can offload color processing in these situations, such as inserting a color management and conversion solution like AJA ColorBox between the player and engine. It’s a strategy that could help offload the color correction responsibilities from the graphics artist to the hardware and reduce latency when such color changes are required. 
As practices like this become further defined, virtual production will become more streamlined, and its applications will continue to expand well beyond film. We’ve already begun to see its influence on halftime sports entertainment in-venue, live concerts and events, and newsrooms, so it’s exciting to contemplate what’s to come. 

Paul Turner currently manages the product management department at AJA Video Systems while simultaneously acting as the product manager for the Ki Pro and Helo product lines.