That’s a Wrap – Another Successful NAB

Harmonic at NAB 2015


The NAB show is the world’s biggest annual convention covering filmed entertainment and the development, management and delivery of content across all mediums. The organizers say this year’s NAB was the largest ever with over 100,000 attendees from 164 countries viewing 1,614 exhibits that spanned over a million square feet of exhibit space. Following are highlights of the show:

Ultra HD – Here, There, Everywhere  

While Ultra HD was everywhere at NAB, Harmonic raised the bar in joining with SES, Sony and others to deliver three days of live and linear Ultra HD broadcasts over a cable system via a full end-to-end 4K Ultra HD transmission system. The demo showed the advantages of live all-IP in broadcast-quality mode – no more spinning disks while you wait for content to stream. SES set up an Ultra HD studio outside the Las Vegas Convention Center to capture live content. The demo used SES satellites and teleports with a team of technology partners.

Harmonic products in the demo included the Electra™ X3 advanced media processor for live, full-frame, full-GOP UHD (HEVC Main 10 profile) encoding, ProView™ integrated receiver-decoders for satellite reception, ProMedia® Xpress high-performance transcoder managed by the Harmonic WFS™ file-based workflow system for the creation of the HEVC streams, ProMedia Package multiscreen stream packager for MPEG-DASH packaging, and NSG™ Exo distributed CCAP system for DOCSIS transmission. For more details, read the SES press release.

Spectrum™ X Advanced Media Server and the Harmonic Virtual Media API (VMA) – Turning Up the Heat

Announced at our pre-show press conference, Spectrum X advanced media server system was a hot topic. This next-gen media server leverages VOS™ technologies and combines file, baseband and transport stream ingest with comprehensive integrated channel playout (ICP) capabilities. Spectrum X media server reduces the number of discrete devices required to produce and distribute branded programming; it lowers capital expenditures, simplifies workflows and reduces operational costs. For more details, read the Spectrum X press release.

Also announced was the Harmonic Virtual Media API (VMA), an open application control interface for broadcast automation control of its VOS virtualized media processing platform. The VMA, supported by the Electra XVM virtualized media processor and the Electra X family of advanced media processors, has been adopted by service providers and broadcast automation vendors, including Pebble Beach Systems, Dayang Technology Development Inc. and VJU. This VOS platform ecosystem creates a fully integrated, cloud-based playout, graphics and encoding solution that can be used by video content and service providers to create and deliver live linear channels to any device faster, with a lower TCO and amazing video quality. For more details, read the Harmonic VMA press release.

And We Won a Few Awards As Well

  • Best of Show from TV Technology: Electra X Advanced Media Processor
  • Broadcast Beat Innovation Award, Content Management: Polaris™ Playout Management
  • Broadcast Beat Originality Award, Content Creation: ProView 7100 Integrated Receiver-Decoder

What Can we Expect to See This Year at NAB?

I expect three themes to dominate the show, the continued adoption of IP enabling the migration of generic network product and storage further up the video workflow, transition of video infrastructure away from hardware to software and 4K/UHD, with UHD being the main headline issue with those attending, eager to grasp how this will emerge given the breadth of announcements.

To date, the application of IP network solutions in video related applications has been most evident at the distribution end of the workflow. In such applications, all the benefits of IP can be applied with little video-specific capability needing to be developed. Move further up the workflow and a more demanding application for IP is evident, where the needs to convey video synchronously over an asynchronous packet loss environment become apparent. While the industry is applying this technology to the carriage of HD SDI in the form of SMPTE 2022-6, the implications will be wide ranging and no doubt set the blue print for 4K/UHD deployments.

NAB has been the staging point for the demarcation between video specific interfacing and standard IP network solutions to be redefined. Over the years, the demarcation has moved further up the workflow towards the point of acquisition. While some manufacturers are preparing for an all-IP world for HD, NAB has presented two scenarios for UHD and 4K. One perspective breathes further life into SDI by developing solutions and equipment based on 6G and 12G iterations of the 3G HD SDI standard. An alternate take is to jump straight to next-generation Ethernet interfacing by endorsing 40G or 100G variants of Ethernet. At first look the approaches appear poles apart, with one utilizing mild compression to compress down to the carriage capabilities of coax and the other allowing full baseband carriage of over the latest, very expensive, Ethernet infrastructure. I suspect the industry will settle on a hybrid solution which extends the application of HD SDI over IP to embrace lightly compressed 4K/UHD payloads.

This scenario requires the industry to move from merely carrying video over IP to allowing synchronous processing without having to go back to baseband digital signals. For me, this is the most interesting area, where solutions abound from various manufacturers who, to a lesser or greater extent, embrace the unrelenting move towards an all-IP workflow. Vision mixers appear to represent the cross point between a video specific environment making way to an all-IP domain. However, both up- and down-stream from a vision mixer we see IP packaging and transport being widely utilized, prompting the obvious questions of when will a significant proportion of the video Industry succumb to IP interconnect for 4K/UHD applications?

4K/UHD today represents the cutting edge for network-based storage, with the demands being beyond most ingest and playout strategies. The industry is at an impasse where 4K/UHD solutions to date have relied on local rather than network storage with implementers waiting to see true IP-based solutions emerge that go beyond the interim quad 3G SDI used at the moment, which is proving cumbersome and no doubt will be short-lived.

The discussions concerning 4K/UHD will no doubt explore how High Dynamic Range and Wide Color Gamut can be realized at NAB, a topic that will be covered extensively at the 4K theatre on the Harmonic booth SU1210.

Looking forward to seeing you in Vegas!

– Ian Trow, Senior Director, Emerging Technology and Strategy

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?


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