The Top 4 Topics at IBC2015 – HDR, IP, COTS and HEVC


And so we return from another busy IBC, a show that was mostly consolidating previously launched technology and lots of rain!

My time was divided between the Media over IP showcase in the Harmonic theatre and various 4K / UHD presentations, amongst the wealth of customers trying to make sense of a very complex media landscape. Good content always wins though, and having compelling Ultra HD NASA material encoded by Harmonic, certainly attracted a lot of attention.

Another topic generating huge interest was High Dynamic Range (HDR). With many IBC attendees cautiously endorsing the picture quality, the concern is what is practical on consumer grade screens and how such a feature will co-exist alongside existing HD services and the already significant Standard Dynamic Range (SDR) UHD install base.

Backwards compatibility is the trickiest of issues and certainly exercising the best brains in the business. This issue deserves a dedicated explanation of the latest thinking. Stand by for my next blog when I’ll try and scope out the key issues!

The BBC’s Hybrid Log-Gamma paper quite rightly won the Best Conference Paper Award and a whole host of interest from broadcasters who are viewing this as the solution to a dilemma that has dimmed enthusiasm for HDR amongst broadcasters contemplating launching a UHD channel.

The almost universal support for SMPTE 2022 amongst vendors prompted lots of discussion about how IP will emerge in a production environment. To date IP has dominated in the distribution and file storage arenas, tackling synchronous switching in a COTs network domain will herald IP being universally applied across media workflows. COTs based switching sounds easy and has obvious appeal, but is a tall order, especially if you want attractive TCO comparisons with existing SDI infrastructures. For now, proof of concept demonstrations tantalized forward thinking visitors to IBC, but expect to see these transition to full blown software based products, ticking all the Software Defined Network, Virtualization and layer based processing boxes at future shows.

Solutions were split between a true COTs based video switch, albeit probably high-end multilayer network gear, an SDI switch reworked with IP inputs and a hybrid interim solution for those needing to purchase now. Timing and control differentiated the various methods, with some adopting network based Precision Timing Protocol feeding SMPTE 2059 epoch/profile while others are distinctly old school, with Black and Burst!

What was clear from IBC was that once in the IP domain, processing audio, video and metadata of individually time stamped streams makes for a superior solution than dealing with an MPEG multiplexed stream. This is not to decry SMPTE2022, which comprehensively addresses IP carriage of compressed and uncompressed video away from legacy ASI and SDI connectivity. The point here is that once in the asynchronous IP domain the need to support MPEG TS and SDI techniques lessens to such an extent that alternative methods, more appropriate for a production environment, are actively been considered. Of course any workflow will have to eventually interface with existing SDI infrastructure, as legacy equipment cannot be ignored in the short-term. However, there is significant momentum behind a drive towards all IP workflows and so, in the fullness of time, IP from ingest to screen will become a reality in the long term.

Clarification on HEVC licensing and royalty payments was sought by many at IBC2015. I did expect to see at least the beginning of the end for Quad SDI interfacing and the emergence of 25 or 40G interfacing for baseband UHD. 10G was definitely the emphasis for IP interfacing, allowing for multiple HD or lightly compressed UHD, hardly surprising given the cost associated with these next generation high bandwidth Ethernet interfaces.

For those wishing to see more about media over IP, feel free to view the Theatre presentation I used on the Harmonic Booth.

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

What Will be Featured at IBC2015?

Media over IP, the state of the emerging 4K/UHD market and workflow optimization will continue to be the headline issues. Undoubtedly many attending the show will be trying to assess to what extent IP has continued to advance on the few remaining broadcast specific islands of functionality and how they’ll influence future purchasing decisions. To those with file-based workflows it’s clear that IP already dominates, where capture and ingest are the last stand for SDI.

The main areas of interest for those involved with video infrastructure at IBC this year concern live or hybrid scenarios which require IP networks specifically configured for non-blocking behavior with a reasonable solution density and percentage bandwidth utilization, to truly make the CAPEX and OPEX arguments stack. There’ll be many approaches demonstrated showing significant variations in terms of implementation, reliance on existing SDI technologies and use of COTs network infrastructure. There’s some way to go in terms of a workflow devoid of a bespoke broadcast kit, but SMPTE 2022, Precision Timing Protocol (PTP) and significant thought given to organizing the various control, media and timing planes brings the end goal much closer.

As well as the move from SDI to IP, the industry is absorbing the need to separate video applications from underlying processing capability. This manifests itself in Virtualization and Software Defined Networks (SDNs) being actively considered for inclusion in future video workflows. The approaches shown will range from evolutionary to revolutionary, where the suitability of specific Virtualization and SDN techniques depends on how much legacy infrastructure exists, the adherence to open standards and expertise in commissioning and running datacenters.

The pace of 4K/UHD adoption is running at different rates depending on where you are within a video workflow. For production, the desire to commission in 4K is key in order to future proof content. This is driving the industry to rapidly reassess network storage and the role of more widespread compression usage in an environment where quality, editability and visually lossless post production are essential. For 4K storage those seeking solutions are holding back until a truly network-based solution exists. This has as much to do with which high bandwidth Ethernet variant triumphs in the long term for uncompressed video interfacing as it concerns how current 10G transport lightly compresses content.

25, 40 and 100G may be regarded by some as too far removed from what’s realistic, given the 10G restriction imposed by current networks. Many IBC attendees will be keenly evaluating TICO and LLVC as challengers to AVC and HEVC. The criteria for such comparisons will undoubtedly be suitability to process and encapsulate within IP networks, availability of both software and hardware codec solutions as well as widespread industry adoption. Fundamental to all the technology on show at IBC will be the desire to further rationalize workflows and evaluate when UHD will transition from broadcast novelty to mainstream viewer expectation. I look forward to seeing you at IBC, my next blog will provide a post-IBC analysis!

Harmonic will be at IBC2015, Stand 1.B20.

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

Industry Spotlight: TATA

TATA discusses why they chose to work with Harmonic, and how our virtualization solution, VOS is central to their infrastructure. VOS brings together the technologies that have made Harmonic the leader in broadcast playout, pay-tv encoding, IPTV headends and multiscreen transcoding. It leverages the computing power of contemporary servers to host a robust set of dynamically deployable application modules which can be selected individually, or in combination with any of the others. Playout with HEVC encoding for multiscreen? No problem – just add the modules.

– Joel Marsden, Sr. Video Producer, Harmonic

Triple-Play Service for MDUs

Harmonic NSG Exo_MDUsTelecom operators have historically had two tools available to them to connect broadband and video services to subscribers: fiber and copper. The most common approach to broadband delivery involves the use of a digital subscriber line access multiplexer (DSLAM) that connects the DSL network to the subscriber over a digital fiber link, with twisted-pair copper, or local copper loops, covering the last mile to the subscribers’ premises.

This architecture is commonly deployed, but has a key drawback: the copper loop distance between the DSLAM and subscriber severely limits DSL speeds, which typically ranges from less than 1 Mbps to 25 Mbps. With new technologies these speeds are increasing, but are still constrained by loop distances that diminish throughput the further away the customer is from the DSLAM: anything over 200 meters can result in excessive data slowing.

In recent years, FTTH—an architecture in which the last mile of copper is replaced with fiber—has emerged as a technologically advanced alternative to DSL. Where available, FTTH offers the highest broadband speeds by eliminating the distance limitations of copper. However, the labor and infrastructure cost of deploying FTTH has generally confined its penetration to newly built homes. The challenge is even greater for subscribers in buildings without fiber wiring, as is common in MDUs. Running fiber to individual units in an existing apartment complex is not only expensive—it’s also extremely disruptive to the occupants.

Harmonic now offers an alternative for delivering high-speed, triple-play services to MDUs: the Harmonic NSG™ Exo distributed CCAP system. Compact and cost-effective, NSG Exo is a part of Harmonic’s distributed access architecture (DAA) solution, which allows providers of data, video and voice services to use their existing digital fiber networks to overcome the bandwidth limitations of DSL and to avoid the upgrade costs of pulling fiber to individual subscribers. With NSG Exo, the coax infrastructure provides far greater maximum bandwidth to subscribers—up to a gigabit today, and up to 10 gigabit in the near future.

To learn more about this topic, view our NSG Exo Application Note.


Industry Spotlight: SKY PerfecTV!

SKY PerfecTV! discusses why they chose to work with Harmonic, and how our Spectrum media server system and Electra encoders are central to their hardware. As the established market leader in media server and storage technologies,  is the ideal platform for streamlining media production and broadcast operations and implementing file-based workflows. Possessing a modular architecture, Spectrum is used by producers and television professionals worldwide to support efficient tapeless television operations, while ensuring maximum reliability and flexibility.

– Joel Marsden, Sr. Video Producer, Harmonic

All IP Video Production Workflow

Harmonic_IP-VideoCOTS infrastructure for networking and storage now dominates media production workflows to the extent that the talk is of islands of video-specific functionality in a sea of IP, a complete reversal of the situation the broadcast industry was addressing only a few years ago. This trend shows every sign of accelerating now that the last bastion of broadcast, the video switch, shows every sign of succumbing to the inevitable shift towards IP!

So, what’s involved with the absorption of such a major workflow element into the realm of standard network media? Put simply, a lot of standardization and impetus towards a datacenter approach to further drive down CAPEX and OPEX, as well as further signal the demise of SDI. Cisco® presented a proof of concept at NAB this year showing frame accurate video switching during the VBI period.

This is no easy task  ­̶  moving video in an asynchronous, packet-switched environment strikes fear into the hearts of dyed in the wool broadcaster engineers only too aware of the cavalier attitude IP networks have to drop packets and retransmit later, a scenario totally alien to the real-time carriage of live media. First, let’s be clear about the level of COTS equipment we’re dealing with here, a high-end router!

No doubt the intention is to implement on more common IP switches in the fullness of time, but for now this is a glimpse at the way the industry is heading. For some infrastructure providers the move to a full IP workflow based on totally standard hardware is too much and there are already Trojan horse solutions purporting to be totally IP COTS friendly, which in fact are old school video hardware dressed up with IP interfaces. This isn’t a problem though, as the state of COTS based network hardware is somewhere between the two scenarios discussed.

I suspect that there’ll be plenty of IP based video specific products to enable the overall move towards a complete IP based workflow while the high throughput packet handling is switched synchronously according to newly crafted standards like SMPTE 2022. This will no doubt be a hot topic at IBC this year (Harmonic’s Booth, 1.B20) and it’ll be featured in the IP video ebook we’re working on for the show.

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

VidTech InFocus: Electra X

In this episode of VidTech InFocus, Keith Lissak, Product Marketing Director, takes an in-depth look at: Harmonic Electra X — the industry’s first fully converged platform for broadcast and OTT delivery of SD, HD and UHD content. During this video he interviews Neil Brydon, Product Line Compression and Stream Processing Director, about the benefits of using Electra X, along with its superior video quality, function integration and bandwidth efficiency. By the end of this segment, you’ll learn why the workflow flexibility of the Electra X is sure to simplify your infrastructure, reduce costs and drive new revenue-generating services.

Learn more about Electra X by downloading our Complete UHD Guidebook.

– Keith Lissak, Product Marketing Director, Harmonic

Centralized Video Storage System

The primary goal of virtually every file-based production or broadcast workflow is to improve efficiency. Advanced media storage solutions, now capable of supporting media workflows from end to-end, play a critical role in helping content producers and owners realize this goal.

Centralized storage, which provides a single shared resource available to every application, as opposed to the conventional model in which independent storage systems serve different applications, is especially appropriate for media workflows.

The centralized model not only eliminates the time-consuming transfer of media between discrete storage systems, but also facilitates workflows in which multiple applications can access media concurrently. While there are many network storage solutions in the market, most don’t effectively meet the demanding requirements of broadcast workflows due to insufficient performance and lack of key media-specific capabilities.

Harmonic MediaGrid is an Ethernet-based network storage solution specially designed to provide users of media applications with massive bandwidth and consistently low latency without interruption or bottlenecks. Possessing highly scalable bandwidth capabilities, this system accommodates a growing volume of large media files and supports a large number of concurrent users. Low latency ensures that content can be accessed quickly and simultaneously by applications such as nonlinear editors while maintaining the feel of local storage. MediaGrid is optimized specifically for quick-turn media workflows, such as news, and offers “active transfers,” allowing content to be accessed while it’s still being written to disk.

The MediaGrid centralized storage solution utilizes a distributed file system designed to scale capacity from a few terabytes to multiple petabytes, and bandwidth from one gigabyte per second to tens of gigabytes per second. MediaGrid presents a single name space to access a file system that spans many discrete hardware devices and contains two types of data: the actual file data and the metadata associated with the files (file name and location). File data stored on the system is further divided into slices ranging from 256 kb to 8 MB; slice size is configurable by file type at a folder level, or even as granular as a single file.

To achieve connectivity between MediaGrid and the existing network, aggregated 1-GbE or 10-GbE links are used, and no special host adapters are required on any client device, as all access to the system is via standard Ethernet connectivity. This aspect of the system allows it to provide the connectivity and performance required, and to seamlessly integrate into existing environments. Communication between clients and the system (as well as inter-communication between its components) uses an IP-over-Ethernet network fabric. The main advantage of using Ethernet over other technologies is its widespread acceptance and availability, which results in lower hardware costs, lower operating costs via wider familiarity by operations and support personnel, and faster innovation in the application layers.

Learn more about this topic by clicking this link to download our new tech guide: Harmonic MediaGrid Shared System Overview


VidTech InFocus: MediaGrid 5840

In this first episode of VidTech InFocus, Keith Lissak, Product Marketing Director, takes an in-depth look at: Harmonic MediaGrid ContentStore 5840. During this video he interviews Carl Davidson, MediaGrid Engineering Manager, about the benefits of using a MediaGrid system, along with the raw storage capacity of the ContentStore 5840. By the end of this segment, you’ll learn why this scalable, cost-effective video storage solution might be right for your organization.

For more details, download our Why Video Storage is Different ebook.

– Keith Lissak, Product Marketing Director, Harmonic

Why Video Storage is Different

Harmonic_MediaGridVideo workflows are very different from the enterprise applications that IT organizations are accustomed to deploying and supporting. Large video files and demands for fast access and real-time performance result in requirements for highly scalable storage systems with enormous bandwidth, consistently low latency and the ability to effectively support highly specialized video applications.

IT organizations in the enterprise world may be accustomed to focusing on applications, such as CRM, ERP and email, and core elements such as databases and virtualization technologies. Though unstructured content is gaining in importance, in the enterprise world data is often block-oriented, and the relevant performance measure is frequently transactions per second.

Attempting to force-fit traditional enterprise storage into a video workflow introduces the risk that an IT organization will have dissatisfied users unable to work trouble-free with the tools of their trade. Further, IT may face support challenges resulting from attempting to deploy storage where it simply wasn’t designed to go.

Video is unlike other types of data. In the video world the focus is on workflows, where various specialized applications are utilized almost like stations of an assembly line to process and distribute video content. In such an environment, it’s critical to quickly access concurrently large video files between different systems in the workflow. Thus the key performance metrics are around latency and bandwidth, not transactions per second.

Previously, video workflows were based on analog media. Moving images were captured on film or analog videotape, and clips were physically spliced together to create new film or video materials in final form (e.g., TV shows, movies, commercials, etc.). Digital, film and video media production workflows have increasingly become file-based. As with many IT applications, the video processing infrastructure may initially use islands of direct attached storage (DAS).

However, with workflows requiring that video files be shared across different applications and by different users, the ideal approach is to have high-performance shared storage at the heart of file-based video workflows.

Learn more about this topic by clicking this link to view our new ebook: Why Video Storage is Different: An Introduction for IT Professionals.