An HEVC Update: What’s the Current Outlook for the Next-Generation Video Compression Standard?

HEVC-Update

Back in January 2013, the HEVC standard was published by ISO, promising to greatly improve video compression efficiency. You may be wondering, what kind of progress has the standard seen since then? Actually, there’s been a bit of action surrounding HEVC lately. In October of 2014, MPEG LA released the licensing terms of HEVC, and interoperability testing has taken place. On the consumer front, a small but growing number of Ultra HD TVs have been developed that are capable of receiving HEVC over IP.

That’s great news for the next-generation compression standard. But what about real-world service deployments? The truth is there have only been a few commercial HEVC deployments, mostly to UHD TV sets with an HEVC decoder. However, I think a slew of OTT HEVC streaming services will make their way on to additional screens in 2015. An ever-growing number of mobile devices, such as the iPhone® 6 and Android™ phones powered by the Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 805 processor, now support HEVC. As for large-scale HEVC service deployments, I believe those are a ways off into the future since they’ll require an HEVC STB in the home.

One of the biggest concerns the broadcast community has had about HEVC is with regards to the limits of broadcasting at 50fps for sports content. Harmonic has quelled those concerns, having recently demonstrated the first end-to-end live UHD STBs and a 100Hz UHD TV upconversion of UHD 21060p50 signal over HDMI® 2.0 with Sigma Designs.

Where does that leave us as far as broadcast applications are concerned? I think, initially, HEVC will be used in the broadcast world for IPTV delivery where the reach to the final subscribers is still an issue for non-fiber customers. The second phase of broadcast deployments will likely involve terrestrial networks where bandwidth is limited, especially if UHD services have yet to be introduced given the fact that HEVC dramatically reduces the data rate needed for high-quality video coding. As far as encoding goes, HEVC will deliver on its initial promises, faster than initially expected, as the industry shifts toward a more software-centric strategy for the encoding process.

Looking onward to the future, as consumer demand for high-quality video content continues to increase, HEVC is going to be a driving factor in delivering OTT, UHD, IPTV, and broadcast services. Therefore, it is absolutely essential that service providers have an infrastructure in place that can be easily upgraded to this codec.

So how far can content be compressed using HEVC? To replicate existing services 1080i services would require 3Mbps, rising to 6Mbps to realize the service as 1080P. For a move to deliver native 4K movies at 24 fps, would need 10 Mbps. An extension of the 4K movie service to cater for sports application would need the bit rate to rise to 15-20 Mbps, assuming that 50/60 fps is considered adequate. For 100/120 fps for premium sports application would require extra bit rate, at least 25 Mbps and the development of a consumer interface capable of handling frame rates above 50/60 fps.

– Ian Trow, Senior Director, Emerging Technology and Strategy

Harmonic Wins Big at IBC2014

The IBC officials and photographers look on as the BBC Moderator emcees the show.

The IBC officials and photographers look on as the BBC Moderator emcees the show.

 

At IBC2014, Harmonic was presented with multiple industry awards recognizing technology innovation and collaboration, continuing the company’s tradition as a leader in the broadcast environment.

Certainly one the most impressive awards we captured at the show was the IBC Innovation Award. Being honored with this award is a big feat, because the winning project has to show collaboration between a broadcaster and its technology partners in addition to solving a real-world creative, technical, or commercial issue in a manner that is, of course, innovative.

Harmonic’s ProMedia® Package multiscreen stream packager, Electra® encoder, and ProMedia Carbon file-based transcoder were part of the winning project for Turner Sports in the IBC Innovation Award “Content Delivery” category. By providing Turner Sports with an advanced multiscreen encoding and packaging platform for its NBA League Pass broadband service, we are helping them deliver any game live over broadband to any subscriber on any platform (e.g., Apple, Android, desktop, games console, Roku).

With high-quality IP delivery made practical by a variety of technology ecosystem partners, including Harmonic, Turner Sports can deliver as many as 30 games a night, or over 800 streams published in real time. This enables basketball fans to watch the game of their choice, with local commentators.

Turner Sports beat out three other finalists for the award: Airtel Digital TV for its real-time tweets on live television, BBC Future Media for its Media Factory (to include DPP AMWA file convention), and Sky Deutschland and Snap.

At the awards ceremony, George Stromeyer, senior vice president of worldwide sales at Harmonic, said, “It is gratifying to see the hard work that Harmonic product development and engineering perform result in the recognition this award shows. The win is more evidence of delivering results through our thought leadership and market execution.”

I’m also happy to announce that Harmonic was recognized twice in the 2014 CSI Awards contest. Our Electra XVM won in the category “Best Digital Video Processing Technology,” based on being the industry’s first fully converged, broadcast-ready, virtualized media processor. In addition, our NSG Exo distributed CCAP system won “Best Cable or Fibre Contribution/Distribution/Transmission Solution.” NSG Exo is one of the industry’s first and only offerings to support a Distributed Access Architecture. The CSI Awards are among the most prestigious and competitive technology awards in the industry, designed to recognize and reward innovation and excellence in the cable, satellite, broadcast, IPTV, telco, broadband/OTT video, mobile TV and associated sectors.

Electra XVM picked up additional steam, winning the IBC Best of Show Award from TVB Europe.  An independent panel of judges chose Electra XVM based on a variety of criteria, including design, features, cost efficiency, and performance in serving industry professionals.

Last, but certainly not least, Harmonic’s new Ellipse 3202 contribution encoder won the Broadcast Beat Product of the Year Award in the “Content Delivery” category. Designed to optimize the production and delivery of high-value video services for live broadcast and DSNG applications, the Ellipse 3202 encoder is the industry’s first DSNG encoder with an integrated modulator that supports both the new DVB Carrier ID (DVB-CID) standard for reducing interference between satellite signals, and the new DVB-S2X specification for improving performance of DVB-S2 satellite digital broadcasting.

We’re proud of our product engineering, sales, and support teams; technology partners; and customers who played a pivotal role in helping us win these awards! Being recognized with these prestigious awards gives Harmonic further credibility as the world leader in video infrastructure.

– John Scaggs, Director, Sales

Top 10 Takeaways from IBC2014

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1) Targeted Advertising is now getting the attention it deserves, no doubt prompted by the success of the Web. Even for those who don’t have the necessary broadcast triggers, a broad range of solutions exist, many with the vital links to back office scheduling and playout. Cloud-based services were a consistent theme throughout the show with many established players recognizing the need to team up with those who have the necessary enterprise experience.

2) Confusion was abound concerning 4K and UHD, with many citing what a problem the protracted rollout of features has been on unsuspecting early adopters. Screen manufacturers came in for particular criticism. Even though there is a limited number of genuinely 4K streaming services, support is not universal across the established brands. The picture looks even murkier when you dive into the subjects of high dynamic range and color space, where the tendency of the industry is to dive into the technical detail, which doesn’t rest easily with a sector eager to purchase complete solutions. I would rather wait and see a complete solution emerge to the benefit of both TV and Cinematic applications, than a half-baked solution, which will inhibit the long term success of 4K and UHD. During the show many attendees wanted to discuss the relative merits of the main proposals and whether they will scale for live TV from streaming. The picture is a lot brighter for production, where good products are emerging because producers have faith that the format is strong enough to withstand the initial turbulence and deliver a significant improvement over current HD services.

3) Virtualization was center stage, with many visitors keen to access whether software can really replace bespoke hardware, and the likely transition paths. I had many interesting discussions on the booth prompted by presenting Harmonic’s approach to virtualization – VOS™.

Discussions ranged from broadcasters keen to see justification of the assertion that software based encoding has now surpassed hardware, to those within the enterprise and network domains evaluating how applicable virtualization will be to CPU and storage intensive video applications. These have been pretty contentious discussions in the past, but not this year. Many broadcasters and operators were discussing whether it will be hardware, appliance or software solutions forming the basis of future installations.

4) While UHD live services are challenging broadcasters, supporters of streaming APPs are becoming the main beneficiary. Amongst the aisles at the show were pragmatic entrepreneurs eager to enter a market focusing on content rather than having to become bogged down in technical details. The world of streaming Apps is being rationalized with many providers acting as a portal for common platforms, thereby removing a significant hurdle and cost to setting up a service.

5) It was not just the innovators who are riding the enthusiasm for Apps. Broadcasters face a significant challenge if spectrum reallocation progresses and chunks of TV bandwidth are relinquished for the ever growing demands of mobile. What is being trialed for minority long tail content online could become a very realistic prospect soon for sizeable audiences. While the merits of such a reallocation are being heatedly debated, this is a gift for those of us involved in new media distribution. The implications of this industry revamp to DTH, preoccupied many visitors wishing to map out their technical vision for such a transition while attending IBC.

6) Being a regularIBC attendee, I was at university when the show was held in Brighton and got my first job with Sony there, so I’m old enough to have been involved in the birth of digital video. Spin forward an embarrassing number of years and we see many exhibitors confidently predicting the death of SDI. While in the short-term this might be premature, no doubt they are right for the medium to long term. All but the most specialized aspects of workflow will be reworked for a brave new network centric world. My time spent recertifying my network qualifications will be useful eventually.

7) So what is holding the industry back from totally adopting an IT perspective and displacing the ever-dwindling islands of broadcast kit forever? The answer lies with standards for the carriage of video over IP. During a rare earlyish night at the show, I wasn’t the last in the bar, and avoiding a Dutch kebab, I went to bed scanning the details of SMPTE 2022 – top technical porn for those technically minded visiting Amsterdam. This goes a long way to meet the needs of video carriage in the studio, but there is still some way to go if the frustration of those attending the show is anything to go by. Interoperability is still a big issue where proprietary approaches are still hindering video running on standard platforms.

8) While most broadcasters have been through a first iteration of kit to achieve brand recognition on the Web, most now require a refresh that restores profitability to multiscreen. Commonality through the use of mezzanine compression formats, automated Quality Control, enhanced graphics and branding along with dynamic advertising were key to broadcasters and operators alike. A variety of approaches were discussed at IBC2014, with many fully embracing cloud-based services for functions previously under lock and key at the heart of a facility…..and, yes, the merits of web based security, content protection and where fault lies should there be a breach were widely discussed, more on this in a future blog, after I’ve attended the Copyright and Technology London 2014 conference where I’ll be on a panel discussing 4K.

9) To those with an interest in data centers, virtualization summed up the IBC show. It was different for those from a production environment where orchestration dominated. Harmonic announced the Polaris™ playout management suite, offered in partnership with Pebble Beach Systems. In an increasingly complex workflow, it is vital to harness all the elements under a single umbrella management system application.

10) With extensive building construction well underway at the RAI, it struck me as ironic that as the industry adapts to extensive change with a distinct shift of emphasis from broadcast specific hardware to common software platforms, will IBC fully utilize the new space available? I suspect it will, as there was no shortage of new startups keen to enter a market which, although changing, still offers tremendous opportunities for those prepared to think about video laterally.

For more information on Harmonic’s approach to virtualization, feel free to check out TV technology’s recent Virtualizing Video Webinar, as well as the Harmonic Virtualized Video Infrastructure ebook.

– Ian Trow, Senior Director, Emerging Technology and Strategy

What Should the Frame Rate be for Ultra HD Sports Content?

UHD-Sport-Frame-Rate-Harmonic

 

Opinions are divided on what frame rate to use for Ultra HD sports content. There are a number of issues at play. UHDTV is slowly pulling itself away from 4K movies, which have set the expectation for a low frame rate of 24Hz. While this might be acceptable for artistic content shot carefully for the movie market, it is way too low for premium sports offerings! Panning and complex content frequently result in closing speeds that far exceed a 24Hz refresh when viewed on a UHDTV screen.

This has been recognized in the latest iteration of the HDMI specification, which allows for 50/60Hz progressive refresh, greatly expanding the scope of content that can genuinely offer an improvement over current HD services. Yet this is where frame rate starts to get complicated. Many have cited that 50/60Hz is the same rate that is currently used for HD. However, this is not true; not many current HD services are 1080p, with most harking back to the early days of TV and using interlace scanning, often at a reduced resolution.

UHDTV does offer the potential to double the effective frame rate used for UHDTV when compared to HD, but is this enough? To the purists, probably not since the screen sizes typically used are so large that motion portrayal cannot be tracked without significant blur. However, this is where reality strikes in the form of two compelling arguments. First, from a technical standpoint, even leveraging the latest HEVC compression standard, a bit rate of 20-25Mbps would be needed to do justice to 100/120Hz UHDTV material. This presents us with a significant bandwidth and interface issue given the current HD infrastructure currently in place.  Second, from a cost perspective, with HD services gaining widespread adoption, springing a UHDTV refresh cycle onto broadcasters and operators isn’t going to go down well. Thus, it’s no surprise that 4K streaming services are the vehicle of choice for those wishing to pioneer this format.

One solution could be to temporally upscale. Harmonic and Sigma Designs have been working together since CES 2014 on a E/E solution where the content is encoded at 3840×2160 50/60Hz, passed though HDMI 2.0 to the UHDTV set and upconverted in the TV set by Sigma Designs’ FRCX 8000 video processor to provide a pristine UHDTV video quality at 100/120 Hz. This is accomplished using an advanced motion adaptive frame rate conversion algorithm.

At our stand 1.B20 during IBC2014, you will be able to see the video quality improvement on a 100 Hz Loewe UHDTV set equipped with Sigma Designs’ FRCX 8000 video processor showing video content from a soccer competition. The main objective here is to demonstrate that on existing infrastructure (e.g., caption, production, playout, encoder, network, decoder, connectivity), it is possible to have a 100/120Hz experience without breaking the entire UHD ecosystem, and at a modest increase cost, as all 100/120Hz processing is done inside the UHDTV set.

– Ian Trow, Senior Director, Emerging Technology and Strategy

– Thierry Fautier, Vice President, Solutions and Strategy

Does 4K Need High Dynamic Range to Succeed?

Does 4K Need High Dynamic Range to Succeed?

 

As mentioned in my previous blog, before the summer break, high dynamic range (HDR) has featured large on the agenda as being the missing piece of UHDTV armory to trigger commercial success for the format. Certainly the recent DVB-EBU trials in Munich showed impressive results, but how this technology will be realized, what production workflow can be used (particularly for live event coverage) and whether this technology can be launched in cost-effective TVs are yet to be answered.

Screens are evolving and prices tumbling to levels likely to attract buyers, who will no doubt feel they are purchasing now on enhanced web streaming ability and upscaling HD, as well as investing in a future-proof TV that will be able to decode and display 4K. By and large this is true, with most of the 2014 crop of screens supporting the latest version of the HDMI spec and an HEVC decoder capable of operating with the limited number of 4K streaming movie services available. Buyer beware though, for two reasons, there is still legacy functionality on the current “latest products” that will only become apparent when a 4K streaming service is applied to the screen. More importantly, we are still in the midst of a phased introduction of UHDTV, which could make a purchase now quickly lack the latest wow factor feature for 4K. HDR is one such feature, but there are likely to be more, an unfortunate aspect of companies drip feeding features to unsuspecting buyers. The lack of genuine 4K sources is disguising this fact from many early adopters, as is the limited number of viewers who have sufficient broadband bandwidth to sign up for Netflix’s 4K streaming service.

Should you not have 15-20 Mbps broadband connectivity, 1080p would be the fall back option, but is this really a second best option? Many of the HDR demonstrations were made in 1080p and as many of you who visited the Harmonic booth at IBC last year and NAB this past spring will know, I have long been an advocate of 1080p transmission of 4K sourced and displayed material at the bit rates recommended for 4K streaming services. This may seem counter intuitive at first that 1080p be preferred over native 4K transmission, but it is a credible stance. Of the few 4K streamed services available at the moment, many are in fact 1080p or showing 2K digital cinema content. Even though the bitrates recommended for 4K are high, they may not be enough to prove 4K supremacy over 1080p for demanding sports content. This factor will only become apparent when early adopters switch over from 4K streaming of movies to the much debated rollout of live UHDTV broadcasts.

What is certain is that HDR will not yet be factored into the current crop of screens that are clearly only targeted at 4K streaming services. Broadcast formats and specifications are still in a state of flux, and more worryingly, there appears to be no effort to merge the TV and cinema needs from a workflow perspective leaving 1080p to be the safest interim until UHDTV is fully sorted.

-Ian Trow, Senior Director, Emerging Technology and Strategy

10 Reasons Why Virtualization Will Happen in Broadcast

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  1. Virtualization is now mainstream in data centers with up to 70% adoption. Broadcast architectures are now dominated by IT infrastructure so further rationalization within this sector will mean embracing a technology that is already dominant in the IT and enterprise sector.
  2. Video processing is heavily reliant on CPU and storage. This has traditionally meant bespoke products and solutions have been required to address the processing, bandwidth and storage requirements. The performance requirements of video are now down to the levels that are manageable on servers for all but the most demanding video applications.
  3. Traditional broadcast headends have been architected around technology implementations in products that result in a non-optimal partitioning of functionality.
  4. Redundancy in broadcast has all been about replicating functionality to achieve a high degree of resilience to failure within a system. This has led to significant overprovisioning which could be avoided through a more dynamic approach to resource allocation in the event of failure.
  5. Technology refresh in the broadcast domain is seldom about a “like for like” replacement these days, so a separation between the functionality implemented and the base hardware is logical to provide flexibility.
  6. Agility is now a key aspect in today’s media with scheduling and evolving playout platforms dictating a more flexible approach to deployments in order to adapt to media changes and content streaming needs.
  7. While undoubtedly the ability of servers to absorb functionality previously only available in dedicated hardware is a major initial draw to virtualization, the medium to long-term appeal is to layer a range of media functionality dynamically across virtual machines without leading to network or storage contention.
  8. Social media, audience preference and targeted advertising are all examples of analytical data that are essential complements to any form of programming today. These back office functions are already heavily virtualized to mine vast big data, transforming the unstructured into the essential drivers behind programming.
  9. Running multiple functions on virtual machines reduces port counts, interconnections, rack space and power.
  10. Bespoke broadcast infrastructure is expensive to support when compared to more commonplace IT/enterprise installations. Virtualization promotes moves to enable media specialists to concentrate on media content rather than the background infrastructure.

Interested in Knowing More?

I’ll be hosting a Virtualizing Video webinar on Thursday August 21st at 12 p.m. EDT in conjunction with TV Technology. Details on the free webinar are available here.

– Ian Trow, Senior Director, Emerging Technology and Strategy

 

4K in Context

My job presents some great last minute opportunities to view the video market from different perspectives. Having just recovered from NAB 2014, I was dispatched to New York for Streaming Media East.

While both shows were on the 4K bandwagon, those attending were keen to dig deeper on the key issues. For NAB, those attending were quizzing me on Color Space and High Dynamic Range. Streaming Media East was a contrast though with most questions concerning whether HEVC is delivering on the performance promises compared with H.264.

So what are the takeaways? On color space it came as a surprise to most at NAB that the vast majority of 4K / UHD screens were still locked into the gamut defined for HD, basically, buyer beware for those contemplating an early adopter 4K screen purchase.

High Dynamic Range (HDR) was understood to be a requirement for 4K to deliver the necessary Wow factor over HD, but what baffled the Vegas crowd was exactly how this was to be achieved. At a superficial level all seemed good at NAB, and even at CES for that matter, with screen manufacturers keen to claim conformance to UHD color space specifications, but the really critical question is how to convey the correct color mapping to the latest screens. Capability means nothing if you can’t access it.

Basically a screen that can support an expanded color space is useless unless there exists a mechanism to provide the correct color mapping to unlock the extended capability. The industry is struggling to address how to handle delivering color mapping to screens with different capabilities. I’ll write more on this subject in June, after attending the DVB/EBU event on HDR in Munich. Seems a bit late to me though with 4K screens enticing those with deep pockets to upgrade only to be disappointed when the real deal arrives in time for mass adoption.

No such concerns were worrying those at Streaming Media East this week, who were far more pragmatic and wished to understand what players were viable on commonly available platforms. 1080P capability seemed to be the limit for most player-based platforms at the moment, although we’ve really yet to hear from the gaming fraternity about what the latest crop of consoles can support. This is more of a commercial question than a technical one, I think. Bitrates, encoding turnaround times and delivering broadcast quality in a world obsessed with net neutrality seemed to be the order of the day. So much so that I’ll dedicate my next blog to unraveling the myriad of technical details disclosed in New York in next week’s blog.

– Ian Trow, Senior Director, Emerging Technology and Strategy

ProMedia Live Powers OTT Delivery of One of the World’s Most Prestigious Classical Music Competitions

The 14th Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition is being telecast live over YouTube, thanks to Harmonic’s ProMedia Live real-time multiscreen transcoder. ProMedia Live is being used to power the live transmission of the competition, which kicked off on May 13th with the Opening Gala Concert at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, and continues until May 29th. With pianists coming from around the globe to compete, this event boasts a large following, making the YouTube live broadcast of the recitals a vital part of the competition.

The competition began in 1974 to unite the name and the artistic legacy of Arthur Rubinstein with the cultural life of Israel. Conceived in the spirit of this legendary pianist, the Competition is an important international forum for presenting talented, aspiring young pianists and fostering their artistic careers. For more information on the competition, visit www.arims.org.il/competition2014/.

Future Video Strategies for Network Delivery – An Exclusive NAB Show Breakout Session

In conjunction with Integrated Media Technologies, Harmonic invites you to an exclusive NAB 2014 update on video solutions for increasing production capabilities, improving video quality and achieving ultra-efficient video delivery.

A delicate balance between the worlds of video and network engineering are required if services providers are to deliver a quality of experience (QoE) to match scheduled linear broadcasting. So, what video parameters are the most relevant and which new technologies and standards will shift the balance in favor of IP based network delivery? This presentation intends to equip those attending with the key issues influencing how broadcasters, content aggregators and Internet service providers handle adapting to the new opportunities for video delivery.

Guest Speaker Ian Trow, Senior Director Emerging Technology & Strategy has over 20 years of systems and design experience in High Definition and MPEG video products.

Date: Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Time: 3:00pm

Location: The Renaissance Hotel, 2nd Floor Conference rooms

3400 Paradise Road

Las Vegas, NV 89169

Please RSVP as space is limited.