What to Expect from the 2016 NAB Show

What to Expect from NAB2016

There is no doubt that High Dynamic Range (HDR) will dominate discussions at NAB, while virtualization, IP interfacing and rationalized workflows will continue to quietly change from bespoke hardware to Software as a Service (SaaS) or Apps and be absorbed by the show noise. This isn’t to decry the importance of HDR but highlight the dilemma facing many attendees, who now more than ever are searching for technology to improve the bottom line, but still want to believe that video is a technology led business.

The end goal is clear for many where there is a clear distinction between server-based processing and software-based applications. In the mid-term, those commissioning video technology solutions are split between, appliances, software, or outsourced services, reflecting that no one solution fits the myriad of applications making up the complex production and distribution scenarios. At first glance this industry shift appears to compel solutions providers to operate in two ways, to sustain legacy hardware while at the same time deliver software or appliances. While undoubtedly there is some duplication of effort, in reality it is increasingly common to have software ported to different applications and servers, featured as part of a cloud-based service. This has certainly dictated thinking at Harmonic in recent years, where development efforts are now being driven towards software solutions within the virtualized VOS family, or as appliances like the Electra X range.

IP is now dominant within professional broadcast workflows but I expect many companies to update their NAB 2016 products by reworking existing broadcast products with Ethernet connectivity. This might feel like progress to some, but stops well short of the ideal where there is a true separation of underlying hardware from video specific applications. The real area of interest for me will be the proof of concept demos showing demanding video processing on COTs platforms. Like many, I’m prepared to compromise on density if performance can be demonstrated! One thing is certain though, once an area as demanding as video switching is mastered on COTs infrastructure, scaling such a solution to match comparative density targets is a given.

Related to the shift towards IP and software solutions is the subtle change in the application of standards. Workflows of old were defined by specific products and interfaces which drove the standardization process to ensure interoperability. This is now being eroded where systems providers are increasingly expanding their solution footprint and only relying on standards for ingest, emission or monitoring. No surprise then that this has acted to define current standards activity as a reworking of existing broadcast techniques in an IP domain. However, the real IPR is preserved to gain technical supremacy and expand, in order to drive complete solutions from sole vendors. This is music to the ears of those integrators who’ve latched on to the fact that turnkey solutions from a single vendor for many broadcast and production challenges, are the key to keeping ahead in a world seeking services rather than distinct products.

Other areas of interest are compression optimized for streaming, surely the key to making OTT scale, harmonized targeted advertising solutions and the advancement of compression to enable the usage of lightly compressed Mezzanine formats for IP encapsulation in the production arena. As ever I’ll be on the Harmonic booth presenting, this time on production workflows with an emphasis on that sure fire crowd pleaser, HDR!

Join us at NAB2016 on Booth SU1210.

– Ian Trow, Sr. Director, Emerging Technology & Strategy, Harmonic

Cable & Mobile: A Match Made in Heaven

Mobile and Cable - A Match Made in Heaven

When telcos started offering, voice, broadband, video and mobile, cable and pure play mobile operators had a good reason to work together. Historically, telcos had not been pushing hard on the quad play services, primarily because people bought mobile and triple play services independently. However, we can see that after the acquisition of DirecTV, AT&T is now running a very aggressive promotional campaign to give AT&T mobile phones to all DirecTV customers, leveraging the 20 million DTH subscribers.

Today on the cable side, there are only a few operators that have a mobile offering, Rogers in Canada and StarHub in Singapore. Virgin has an MVNO in the UK that is running a quad play with some success, but the MVNO is not very profitable and more of a churn reduction tool, which is why it is not widely deployed. The most recent activity on the cable side though was that Numericable (part of The Altice group) in France bought SFR, who was a quad play telco. This was the first time a Cable MSO bought telco properties.

On the mobile side, we still see operators who do not have a mobile video offering or do not have a wired Internet offering. The biggest example is Vodafone, one of the largest mobile network operators, who bought KDG and ONO, both cable operators, in order to offer a quad play, Note that Vodafone had some broadband properties in Portugal with a successful IPTV system, based on Mediaroom previously.

In the US, Sprint and T-Mobile are pure play mobile services, with Sprint offering its own video service and T-Mobile offering the Binge On service, where OTT services can be used without impacting the broadband quota.

Of course the big bang came from Liberty and Vodafone who created a joint venture in the Netherlands, spending 19 billion Euros to put together their cable and mobile assets. This will put pressure on KPN, the incumbent telco who offers a quad play service already.

Harmonic believes that the cable/mobile consolidation will continue to accelerate, especially if people consume more and more content on mobile devices, as the STB consumption might become in a distant “side entertainment” in the future. From an infrastructure point of view, this will have a major implication. Cable will have to transition to IP in order to streamline its content preparation infrastructure and make it fully agnostic to the delivery network. This will not happen today, but this is a warning sign of what’s to come.

– Thierry Fautier, Vice President, Video Strategy at Harmonic and President of the Ultra HD Forum

The VR 360 Ecosystem is Starting to Take Shape

Virtual Reality VR

This blog will review what has recently happened in the VR space, why we believe VR is here to stay and have a major influence in the way we consume video in the future.

The VR narrative in 2016 started in January at CES where we saw pre-announcements of the new VR devices (Oculus, HTC Vive & Sony PlayStation VR). It continued with Facebook announcing they have found a way to save up to 80% of the VR video transmission cost, by mapping the video on different surfaces. As it is described though, it can be a breakthrough only for offline delivery. See Facebook’s post for details.

The following month at the MPEG meeting in San Diego, we witnessed contributions from Nokia, Samsung and QUALCOMM advocating for a standard way to deliver VR video over DASH. If you combine this with the Facebook proposal, this could benefit the entire video industry.

As a result of the momentum in VR, there are now a group of companies that have started discussing the formation of a “VR Video Forum,” that would define guidelines of an end-to-end VR system for live & on demand distribution. Harmonic is part of this group, which had an informal meeting at CES, with another planned at NAB to solidify the directive. In parallel, the DVB (Digital Video Broadcasting) group has launched a study on VR video, which Harmonic is an active participant in. Note – if you plan to attend the DVB World Conference in Venice this year, VR will be an active topic.

These initiatives show that VR is not only a phenomenon limited to the big web giants (Google, Facebook) or startups (Jaunt, NextVR, etc.), but that the video ecosystem that generates several hundred billions of revenue with TV, is also looking at it very seriously.

Now, if you look at the news from Mobile World Congress (MWC) last week in Barcelona, you can clearly see things are also moving fast on the devices side. Samsung made several significant announcements on VR. First it announced that the Galaxy S7 would have 40% more CPU power and 4x GFX acceleration, while offering a Gear VR for the first 300K pre-orders. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook was also present to reinforce the VR collaboration of the 2 companies.

The second Samsung announcement was the introduction of the Gear 360 camera, which can capture VR 360 video and store or stream it in Bluetooth to the Galaxy S7, which will do the stitching and HEVC compression. The output format is 3840 x 1920 x 30, which is good enough for recreational content.

We should note that the main competitor of Samsung, LG, also announced its new G5 smartphone, a VR headset and a VR 360 camera at MWC, so we see competition increasing for the entire VR ecosystem. Of course the elephant not yet in the room is Apple, which has not made any announcements but has been prone to multiple rumors.

These are the first real mobile consumer solutions that will open a VR 360 user-generated content market, much like GoPro and YouTube 10 years ago. Will this replace the cinematic infrastructure used to produce professional content? Absolutely not, but this will democratize VR content and who else than Samsung, Facebook and YouTube are better positioned to democratize VR 360 video?

What is the take away for the VR players in the market? Well, first new standards are being defined, new devices are coming to the market and new consortiums are going to seriously look at VR. Next is the VR content and consumer experience that will be the subject of our next VR blog.

– Thierry Fautier, Vice President, Video Strategy at Harmonic and President of the Ultra HD Forum

The Mobile Video Evolution

mobile video evolution

With Mobile World Congress starting this week, I thought I would share my thoughts on the evolution of mobile video. Mobile video has gone through a transformation over the past several years, it started as a standalone service by Mobile Network Operators (MNO) using Real Time Streaming Protocol (RTSP) technologies, while displaying on feature phones. This was called “on deck” or a “walled garden” service as the content was created by the MNOs and could only be watched on their network. Those services got limited success partly because of the networks (not yet 3G), but also because of the user experience, as devices were only capable of QVGA resolution.

The real shift came when the iPhone and Android entered the market. They were capable of offering a decent video experience with HD rich screens, using adaptive streaming technology pioneered by Apple with the now famous HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) protocol. This was the turning point for the mobile industry for several reasons.

  • First the network (migrating from 3G to 4G) was becoming suitable for video applications without relying on the capability to stream over Wi-Fi
  • Second, the user experience on the device was really good, thereby creating demand
  • Third, because it was based on Internet technology, a new class of OTT services could now address those phones using the broadband connection (Wi-Fi or wireless). Netflix has been the most popular service, but others like Amazon, Hulu, Google Store and iTunes (offering download) have followed very quickly in Netflix’s footsteps.

Then came TV Everywhere (TVE) provided by Multichannel Video Programming Distributors (MVPDs), some of which had a mobile network (MNOs), while others used a pure OTT mechanism to deliver content to their subscribers’ mobile devices.

We are now seeing content offerings especially designed for mobile such as the Verizon Go90 service targeted to millennials. In the case of Go90, when the phone is LTE broadcast enabled, Verizon will broadcast to that phone and use unicast for the other ones.

Reliance Jio, a mobile telephony and broadband services company in India, is another provider that will offer a brand new service that will be launched on mobile before being delivered on fiber. We also see Spotify, a music-on-demand service that is now launching a new video service to mobile & PC devices with tier-2 content. My question is, is video a good business for mobile operators at the end of the day?

We know that mobile video is taxing on the networks, as highlighted by a Sandvine report which measured that more than 40% of worldwide traffic was real time media (YouTube, Netfix, Hulu, etc.). But mobile video is consumed largely on Wi-Fi (estimates talk of 80% but is highly dependent on the country and 4G deployment), which provides a better QoE, as well as offers unlimited usage. MNOs in the past have used video optimization techniques (e.g. Bytemobile/Citrix) aimed at rate shaping and pacing the traffic whenever full network capacity is reached. With the use of HTTPS, now used for over 50% of web traffic, this will prevent the use of video optimization techniques. On the other hand, with adaptive streaming, operators can now decide which profiles are to be transmitted. The recent T-Mobile US launch of Binge On, explicitly mentions that after a certain quota has been reached, the user will be limited to a certain level of quality (480p instead of 1080p). Binge On has shown twice more usage vs other operators to date.

Does mobile video scale for live content? Well, the first thing we should say is that mobile video is mostly consumed on demand. In this specific case, unicast streaming does not scale and the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) has defined a mechanism to deliver Live over LTE, called LTE broadcast. This is deployed today at a very small scale for some national channels as well as for high-density stadiums, where cells are quickly saturated (e.g. Olympic events). We have seen a few operators (Telstra, KT, Verizon) deploy LTE broadcast in stadiums.

Is there a better way to use mobile networks for video? Absolutely and this is what we see with the download and go model, used in emerging countries where mobile connectivity is still using EDGE technology as well as in very dense commuting areas (such as highway corridors). Note that content providers (e.g. Canal+) and MSOs (e.g. Comcast) have already deployed such services, which is not offered by Netflix due to rights issues.

So what is the future of mobile video for service providers? They first need to offer strong network connectivity while having the tools to shape the traffic according to network capability, type of device (a tablet will require more bandwidth then a smart phone) and level of service the subscriber has signed up for. Integrated operators like telco’s can offer service continuity to all the screens, while cable and DTH operators will have to use OTT to deliver a similar experience on mobile. We have not yet seen the telco’s leverage their quad play to challenge the cable or DTH operators, but this could come very soon in an increasingly competitive environment between operators.

The author wants to thank Patrick Lopez for providing some background information on his blog www. coreanalysis1.blogspot.com.

– Thierry Fautier, Vice President, Video Strategy at Harmonic and President of the Ultra HD Forum

Top Video Predictions in 2016: IP Technologies


This week is the final post of  The Top 16 Predictions for the Video World in 2016.

2016 will see the rise of IP technologies. Here’s a preview of what we can expect to see.

LTE Broadcast Coming Eventually?
Being standardized with release 9 (with AVC) in 2012, with an update in 2014 with Release 12 (with HEVC), eMBMS, now called LTE broadcast, has gone through some speed bumps. It started with questions about the use case (i.e., stadium, national feeds), and then went to the infrastructure discussion, followed by the chipsets available in smart phones. Now we have ended up in an “HEVC Advance situation.” With most MNOs deploying trials and a few (e.g., KT, Telstra, Verizon) starting to deploy an LTE broadcast service in 2015, we will see more services deployed in 2016. Stadium use cases are understood by everyone; what is less clear is national broadcast. We see more people consuming mobile services on-demand (typically time shifted content), and it is unclear if live will have real market traction. The industry has learned from the failures of DVB-H or ATSC M/H, so caution will have to be applied here.

Next-Generation Broadcast is Coming to Life
ATSC 3.0 has been around for several years, and 2016 will see the first public demonstration of what we call the next-generation broadcasting system. ATSC 3.0 will have a new modulation scheme, IP-based multiplexing, a new codec for audio and video, and mobile and UHD resolution support. But more importantly it will be able to dynamically allocate spectrum resources and use IP delivery to provide content to all screens. This is a major shift for broadcasters that have decided to depart from transport stream (20 years already!) and take a future-proof approach, where video can be directed to a carousel type of IP delivery over the air or can be streamed to an IP network. In 2016 we will see decisions being made on the coding scheme, especially with regards to how to transport mobile UHD/HDR. We expect to see several trials this year, especially with the Olympics in July, paving the way for the first commercial deployments in 2017 in Korea and later in the U.S.

The Broadcast World Goes IP
The production world is evolving from an appliance-based architecture with SDI connectivity, to a software and virtualized environment where IP is the only way to connect different functions. In addition, even in a hardware appliance world SDI connectivity is reaching its limits; here IP connectivity makes a lot of sense, especially when new formats like Ultra HD will be introduced. Several industry groups such as SMPTE, AMWA, VSF and now AIMS are pushing the IP agenda very hard and we expect 2016 to be the year of video over IP. Now the question will be to figure out which flavor should be deployed: SDI over IP (SMPTE ST 2022-6), lightly compressed (TICO, LLVC, VC-2) or other proprietary formats, which some companies would like to see emerge.

– Thierry Fautier, Vice President, Video Strategy at Harmonic and President of the Ultra HD Forum