How to Brand Your Channel

On this week’s edition of Media Empire, the channel is now up and running internally at Harmonic HQ but the next assignment is to add all the bells and whistles expected on a professional channel. After receiving a custom graphics package, Megan and Ruchir must now add these elements as secondary events to the channel utilizing Spectrum ChannelPort integrated channel playout system.

The group is abruptly interrupted with an urgent message, as they are notified that their test stream has been knocked off the air. In order to get the problem solved, they give Harmonic’s tech support a call in hopes of getting the channel back online.

Will this speed bump be too much to handle? Be sure to watch the next episode to find out!

How to Control Your Integrated Channel Playout Workflow


The 4th episode of Media Empire is now available for viewing. Need to catch up on the first 3 episodes? Then visit our previous posts to get the details.

This week the team have enough content to start programming the channels, but the administration crew must first learn how to transcode the content using Harmonic’s file-based transcoding solution, ProMedia Carbon.

Secondly, in order to get a professional look and feel for the channel, Megan talks with a motion graphics designer in order to obtain a full graphics package, including station ID’s and bugs. Once the assets are received and transcoded, the team starts to see the fruits of their labor, as they develop playlists using Polaris Advance, an integrated channel playout automation system.

With programming in hand, the team sets about testing the channels internally. This is a big step, as all their hard work will now be put to the test. Will they be able to get the channels up and running? Be sure to watch the next episode to find out!

You’ve Configured Your OTT Channel. Now You Need to Feed The Beast!

The 3rd episode of Media Empire is now available for viewing.

Need to catch up on the first 2 episodes? Then visit our previous posts to get the scoop on this documentary/reality show that showcases what’s involved when building an integrated and branded OTT channel using automated channel playout solutions from Harmonic.

On this week’s edition of Media Empire, now that the equipment is racked and configured, the pressure is on the content team to generate programming to fill the channels. Even though they delivered an initial program last week, Ken and Catrina’s jobs are just beginning as the hunt to acquire more content consumes them. In the hope of getting their hands on more, they speak with a cinematographer who is well versed in video quality and recently wrapped shooting on location in India, Japan, and Italy.

Will they be able to generate enough content to feed the beast? Be sure to watch the next episode to find out!

What Technical Components are Required to Launch a Branded TV Channel?

The second episode of Media Empire is now available for viewing. If you didn’t see the first one, then visit our previous post to get the scoop on this documentary-style reality show – all in good fun of course.

On this week’s edition of Media Empire, the technical team gets hands-on with the equipment while receiving guidance from one of Harmonic’s in-house tech gurus. They rack, stack and configure the equipment getting it ready to consume content, which leads them to discuss what programming they need to produce.

Should they highlight the beauty of the moving image by producing cultural and environmental vignettes, or should they focus on the technical aspects of video delivery infrastructure? Be sure to watch the next episode to find out!

Live UHD to Come Soon?

ultra-HD-4k-Harmonic

Undoubtedly the buzz starting off this year was around 4K video on demand (VOD) services, with little tangible evidence relating to wider Color Gamuts, High Dynamic Range and how 4K VOD will transition to live UHD. However, there appears to be renewed interest in exactly how both 4K and Ultra HD will be packaged into viable services beyond just VOD.

Broadcasters, Telcos and OTT service providers have been active with post-CES announcements concerning a 2015 rollout of Ultra HD, with many specifically stating ambitious plans for live sport coverage. Sky announced a summer launch of an Ultra HD 4K set top box in response to British Telecom outlining superfast broadband plans capable of driving 4K to the home. Of course there are many technical issues in play, particularly for those with broadband delivery aspirations. Net Neutrality appears to be hindering investment from all but the most bullish Tier 1 operators able to take a long term view on investment. Nevertheless, it can’t be denied that these announcements, along with those of DirecTV and Dish at CES this year, show Ultra HD/4K being taken way more seriously than the flash in the pan that was 3D.

Satellite appears to be taking the lead with a new rash of providers eager to demonstrate UHD/4K capabilities. At this stage, readiness is being demonstrated to show UHD contribution handling capability, allowing proof of concept (POC) channels to launch. All seems very encouraging, so it was with surprise that it was announced last week that the Rio 2016 Olympic Games won’t be broadcast in 4K. Special provision will be made for 8K destined for the Japanese market, but lack of demand was cited as the major reason rights holders have shunned UHD/4K. There is a rational explanation for this impasse, any move beyond a POC channel, requires tackling Colorimetry, High Dynamic Range and possibly Frame Rate issues, which are being hotly debated as I write this blog. Standardization bodies may be able to impose some sense of order and prevent a lowest common denominator solution being adopted that is based on nascent 4K VOD services.

What is for certain is the longer this standoff exists, the more reticent sports rights holders and broadcasters will be to endorse the format. One surprising aspect to the roll out of UHD/4K screens is this delay for content doesn’t appear to be denting consumer enthusiasm for upgrading their screens. This is further evidence that as long as the content looks better than existing HD screens, the future looks good for 4K screen shipments. Of course many viewers believe they are future-proofing by riding the early wave of UHD/4K. To what extent this is true will be the subject of my next blog, which will examine the readiness of current UHD/4K screens to sustain native UHD content when it is eventually broadcasted, as well as provide an early indication of what will be hot at NAB 2015.

– Ian Trow, Senior Director, Emerging Technology and Strategy

What Does it Take to Launch Your Own Branded TV Channel?

So you’re interested in launching your own TV channel.

Let me introduce you to Media Empire, a project we’ve been quietly working on here at Harmonic.

Media Empire is a new six-week web series that follows six Harmonic employees tasked with building two HD over-the-top (OTT) television channels using Harmonic products, in an effort to start their own media empire.

The series kicks off with the employees arriving at work just like any other day. However, little do they know that they would be chosen to launch their own television channels, let alone a media empire.

The six candidates are immediately immersed into the world of broadcasting as our CMO Peter Alexander sheds light on why they have been called upon.

They are broken into 3 teams – Administration, Content and Technical – and given the task of working together to build two industry standard HD television channels, similar to that of our customers.

“Our customers have amazing time restraints, and so will you!” exclaims Alexander.

With their mission now clear, the teams are introduced to the relevant products: Spectrum ChannelPort integrated channel playout system, Spectrum MediaDeck integrated media server, ProMedia Live real-time multiscreen transcoder, MediaGrid scalable storage, ProMedia Carbon file-based transcoder, and the Polaris Advance automation system. With the technical components required to launch a channel in hand, the teams must now get started on their assigned tasks assembling the equipment, filling it with content, and administrating the channels.

Now what? How does one go about starting a TV channel? What is going to be on these channels? Will they get these channels built in time?

Media Empire is going to going to answer all of those questions and more.

Stay tuned each week for new episodes!

Video Developments at CES 2015

Ignore the wearable tech and drones, it’s time to pay pilgrimage to the latest video developments at CES 2015.

As an attendee for the past few years it was interesting to see the attention to cutting-edge technologies this year by-passed 4K and move straight on to 8K. Talking to a fellow attendee, who had obviously drunk the marketing Kool-Aid, his view was that 4K is sooo 2014, clear evidence that a pinch of salt is needed to the taglines adopted for tech innovations on the main show floor. This is not to say that the appearance of 8K is unwarranted, true it may be running in advance of the requirements of home users, but for digital cinema it could represent the crucial step to bring the worlds of TV and cinema into the same realm.

The show also brought surprises, who would have thought that further innovation would be brought to the primary interconnect to the latest screens. HDMI 2.0 appeared to be the last word on the subject, leaving the question of exactly how higher frame rates and wider color gamuts can be supported for the consumer. Hidden away on the show floor were two potential solutions, DSC on the Display Port booth from Hardent who solved the problem using mild 3:1 compression to best utilize the available bandwidth and Display Link, using the even more ubiquitous interface USB 3.0 and adaptive compression to solve the same bandwidth issue and no doubt further transform the TV into a computer monitor, if successful.

Issues of industry convergence come to mind when TV is being transformed so rapidly by the rise of OTT services, the undoubted headline for CES this year. Of course, nobody uses the dreaded convergence word any more, but it is clear this is happening with Dish Network grabbing the headlines offering a la carte services for cord cutters. Certainly this makes sense with a clear shift for the younger demographic towards OTT services. However, I find it ironic in a time when OTT services are on the rise that true video streaming is beyond the capability of all but premium WiFi connections at hotels here in Vegas. A balance has to be made between OTT and linear scheduled services, if viewers aren’t to feel short-changed by a transition that costs more and potentially delivers less. With Spectrum re-allocation a clear issue for broadcasters and net neutrality stalling many broadband upgrades, the industry must find a way of containing bandwidth demands by services that don’t pay for the underlying network infrastructure. The genie is out of the bottle and OTT is with us, so it’s time to make the business model work and truly align broadcast video with the web and apply targeted advertising.

From the demos I saw at the show, it is clear that 4K High Dynamic Range (HDR) works for movie releases, and it is only a question of time before releases are made to the public by Netflix and Amazon. Screens are due to be launched, but were lacking on the main show floor, no doubt testament to the large inventory of pre-HDR capable screens that need to be sold before the next cycle of selling can commence.

Good times are ahead for home cinema fans as the wow factor is now in sight for 4K. Further work is needed on HDR for live applications, as shown by main floor demos that tried to apply the techniques on content lacking the offline analyses and processing applied to 4K VOD assets.

Glasses-free 3D re-emerged at the show, with some vendors correctly pitching this technology for digital signage. To the casual observer it appeared to be still a gimmick for TV, with many feeling it was “kinda weird” and not yet ready for the living room. With the wealth of screen developments offering both HDR and wide color gamut, I was certainly impressed by the latest crop of screens on display that offer the necessary depth of picture, and I hope that production yields will allow these technologies to make their way into my home.

More on screen technologies in my post CES blog, when my feet have recovered from walking the aisles and dodging the drones!

– Ian Trow, Senior Director, Emerging Technology and Strategy

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