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.

Colorimetry, how does it relate to the success of Ultra HD?



The initial justification for a move towards 4K was largely made based on improved resolution. However, frame rate has long been the parameter the experts recommend to give the biggest performance improvement over HD. A third factor critical to the success of Ultra HD is colorimetry — the science of color perception. Even if the relative importance of these parameters is questionable, what is not up for debate is the fact that colorimetry is sure to be the most complicated parameter to implement being made up of many interrelated issues, if it is adopted for Ultra HD.

As it stands,  Rec. 709 (ITU-R specifications for HDTV)  color space is being used as the basis for Ultra HD, at least until the industry decides how to handle Rec. 2020 (ITU-R specifications for UHDTV). To the casual observer it may seem strange that Rec.709 is being considered at all for Ultra HD when Rec.2020 has been around since 2012 and is implemented in both the latest version of HDMI (the one we are not supposed to call 2.0) and the latest MPEG compression spec (HEVC or H.265 depending on your perspective). The lack of adoption is nothing to do with transfer characteristics of Rec. 2020, for 10 bits per sample the non-linear transfer function is identical to that deployed for Rec.709. This largely explains why Rec. 709 can be applied to Ultra HD, so why consider 2020 at all then? To answer this we have to return to the aims of Ultra HD, which is namely to improve on HD and deliver the wow factor associated with color rendition in the cinema. In addition to addressing frame rate and resolution, Ultra HD aims to close the gap between cinema and television by improving the dynamic range of Ultra HD screens to match the capability of cinema.

So how do we do this? One approach is to define a wider color space. Rec. 2020 offers a vast improvement over Rec.709 in this respect. Another possibility would be to extend the number of bits per sample. Rec. 2020 supports both 10 and 12 bits per sample. So let’s take each of these approaches in turn. A wider color space has obvious benefits, especially when Rec. 709 compares poorly with the color space supported by film. Put simply, Rec. 709 doesn’t have the required scope to support the color space extension hoped for by the industry or indeed possible with the latest generation of Ultra HD screens. Extending the color space does come with problems though. For Rec. 709, a single color space conversion is adopted, for reasons of compatibility with HD screens, but this is far from ideal in a world where Ultra HD screens may be marketed and priced according to dynamic range capability. For Ultra HD screens to have varying dynamic range capabilities, multiple color space conversions need to be supported according to screen and application type. This greatly increases the complexity and adversely impacts the viability of adoption in media workflows. High Dynamic Range systems aim to overcome the need for multiple color space conversions by retaining a native color space and only applying tone mapping according to the desired screen. Herein lies the explanation for the difficulty in implementing Rec. 2020, namely what native color space should be adopted and how is the tonal metadata handled?

Lastly, what sample bit depth is really required for Ultra HD? I’d speculate that 10 bit can more than utilize the enhanced color space offered by Rec. 2020 for Ultra HD distribution, provided of course at least 12 bits per sample are utilized further up the production workflow. This is contentious positioning though, so I will use my next blog to explain my reasoning.

- Ian Trow, Senior Director, Emerging Technology and Strategy

Post CES2014, what are the takeaways?


While working off my Christmas pudding wandering around the various halls making up CES it occurred to me that branding was more evident at the show than technology. Sure, curved 4K screens are impressive and I’m sure washer dryers large enough to clean an entire family in a single load are state of the art, but for video it was all about alliances. The latest generation of Smart TV’s had no place on the show floor this year if they lacked an App from the likes of Netflix.

CES last year was more technology focused with most vendors positioning HEVC as key for 4K and fundamental to ISP’s getting on top of OTT bandwidth demands. This year the use of HEVC was a given and attention turned to how broadcasters and content aggregators alike will operate in the brave new world where the set-top-box is no longer the dominant form of delivery.

While the commercial case became clearer for OTT 4K delivery, the shift of emphases towards alliances between screen manufacturers and content owners resulted in many manufacturers taking technical liberties. I was glad to see 50 / 60 frames per second being widely endorsed as essential for 4K to make the transition from the darkened domain of home cinema to the bright lights of the living room showing premium sports content. How many of the demos on the show floor were actually showing 50 / 60 fps content through the latest HDMI (2.0) interface is debatable, but as with presents at Christmas, it is often the thought that counts.

Even if technical liberties were taken, what is certain is the 4K bandwagon runs the risk of stalling in the eyes of customers if it doesn’t deliver a clear quality advantage over HD. Nobody wants to see a rerun of the 3D debacle inflicting redundant screen technology on unsuspecting viewers. Once bitten twice shy, as they say, which might make viewers cynical about 4K. Broadcasters are skeptical too, but VOD and OTT providers are enthusiastic. Look at the mileage Netflix got from 4K delivery of House Of Cards — all of the upside with none of the workflow, infrastructure and content issues facing linear broadcast.

Like Christmas, CES offers many opportunities for leftovers to feast on, so I will save the best snacking to last, namely an insight into high dynamic range and colorimetry for my next blog.  Think of this as a late present since I promised it last week, but it has proved to be more than a week’s homework for me!

- Ian Trow, Senior Director, Emerging Technology and Strategy

So what happened at CES2014?

What happened at CES

Like many, I paid homage to Vegas for my regular post-Christmas tech binge.

4K and Ultra HD took center stage as expected, but unlike last year, the offerings were more tuned to a service, at least from an OTT, VOD and streaming perspective. Broadcasters are still skeptical and rightly so. Having just launched HD channels, contemplating another infrastructure refresh is not good news for the cash strapped operators and broadcasters.

As suspected, 4K will emerge via the Internet with Netflix leading the charge with an HEVC-based approach streamed at 11 or 15 Mbps. Now, while this all sounds very encouraging, what I’ve just outlined must strike fear in the hearts of ISPs who will see their networks swamped by even more higher-bandwidth, real-time data, further degrading performance. The only mitigating factor offering relief is if 4K services can gain widespread adoption as downloads. This appears to be the case, if the show floor at CES accurately reflects viewer trends.

From my perspective curvy screens can stay in Vegas, but I’m excited at the thought of reliving Breaking Bad in 4K, along with many movie classics targeted to increase the appeal of VOD services. The only aspects concerning rights holders are whether content protection mechanisms allow for widespread distribution of new releases much earlier in their lifecycle and allow more direct-to-home releases like House of Cards in 4K. Movie Labs has outlined its expectations for content protection, yet it remains to be seen to what extent this blueprint will be adhered to.

Thus far, my blogs have tackled the technical challenges facing those pioneering 4K, and to that end, it was encouraging to see a raft of 4K demos at 60 frames per second, even if these are some way away from productization.

Colorimetry, which is the science of color perception, is another favorite subject of mine and while this didn’t make the show floor, it was comprehensively covered by the likes of Dolby and Technicolor in private suites. I will try to convey what I think are the key issues in my next blog, which will dig further into this area as well as other observations from CES this year.

- Ian Trow, Senior Director, Emerging Technology and Strategy

What will 2014 bring for Ultra HD?

What will 2014 bring for Ultra HD?

With CES in Las Vegas showcasing the latest consumer offerings, this seems an excellent time to speculate on what will be big for video in 2014.

Certainly there will be plenty of Ultra HD/4K screens to impress, but the key issue for 2014 will be how content will be delivered and will it be of sufficient quality to justify replacement of newly acquired HD screens? Key to answering this is an understanding of what will motivate broadcasters and internet providers to make the jump to 4K. For some, it will be the prestige associated with associating their brand with 4K, for others, it will be challenging the status quo and using 4K to further displace linear broadcasting.

Undoubtedly, Internet-based delivery of movie content will be the first 4K services to emerge. True live-to-air linear channels will take some time to launch and will require both infrastructure and workflow refreshes to recently installed HD equipment to allow direct-to-home delivery. In the meantime, we can expect broadcasters to engage in proof of concept transmissions at key events like the Olympics and World Cup to further promote viewer interest in the format. Many prominent players are likely to make premium 4K content available through established OTT platforms using latest generation smart TVs, the latest games consoles, as well as tablets and PCs. The big issue for me is the readiness of the playout platforms and whether the compression CODEC of choice, HEVC, will be fully implemented and enable home delivery of 4K and eventually Ultra HD content.

Also of interest will be whether content protection is robust enough to enable the existing content lifecycles of movie releases to be challenged. As it stands, content owners reluctantly accept that as an asset gains a wider release, piracy will become rife, thereby signaling the end of that revenue stream. Broadcasters would love to bring new releases directly to the home, now wouldn’t that be an interesting development? To do this, content protection needs to be significantly enhanced to placate the concerns of content rights holders who are paranoid about the threat of piracy so early in the lifecycle of valuable content. While 4K will steal the limelight, making HD services co-exist with other IP-based traffic has to be a key goal for HEVC.

I’ll report back on this issue, reaction to Harmonic HEVC encoded streams on the Broadcom, Samsung and Sigma booths, and other items of interest from the show when I return from CES 2014.

- Ian Trow, Senior Director, Emerging Technology and Strategy

Watermarking, is it the Second Line of Defense Against Content Piracy?


Marking content as a strategy to reveal the source of illegal content distribution is now gaining traction amongst broadcasters as a solution to placate content owners concerns about piracy. Rudimentary marking of content with a user subscription number or logo has provided a first level protection, but is easily removed by determined pirates. Such visible deterrents can either be cropped or covered with another logo. This explains why more robust mechanisms are now being explored which are often more complex and remain with the content even when manipulated prior to retransmission.

However, such invisible approaches come at a cost, namely additional content workflow steps, encoding complexity and significantly more bandwidth requirements than the original material. Until now the overhead of introducing watermarking has outweighed the perceived benefit, particularly for live-to-air applications, which has surprised many within the industry given the extent of the problem. Where it does appear to be applied is for catch-up and VOD applications where the cost to implement is reduced. This is because implementing watermarking as part of a non-live workflow is significantly easier in terms of cost and complexity. However, many within the industry are concerned that if a robust mechanism for identifying the most serious breaches is not universally adopted, pirates will concentrate on the weakest link in distribution. These weak links are either a blatant rights breach, where the offenders are not pursued, retransmission where no mechanism is in place to detect the infringement or elaborate content processing where the source of the content has been removed.

Another aspect that makes unpleasant reading for those concerned with preserving the value of content is what happens after the source of the pirated retransmission is identified. Cease and desist orders have been used against both pirates and rival broadcast organizations to prevent retransmission or the promotion of sites where copyright material is illegally available. However, the pirates have proved to be adept at avoiding the authorities to such an extent that the use of cease and desist orders have only proved useful in resolving issues amongst broadcasters or larger offenders hosting massive libraries of content. This strategy ignores the vast majority of offenders who host content below the level where the authorities can and will act.

For the moment, the broadcast industry has yet to get behind a watermarking approach and enforce prosecutions on the scale needed to counter content piracy and avoid a repeat of what happened in the music industry with widespread illegal  sharing. There is no doubt that content security is a key issue in preserving the on going value of television and movie assets. For rights management and watermarking technology to be truly successful, it is essential that the industry vigorously pursue all rights infringements.

- Ian Trow, Senior Director, Emerging Technology and Strategy

NatExpo 2013

NatExpo Moscow

The Harmonic EMEA tradeshow year came to a conclusion this week at NatExpo 2013 in Moscow. With temperatures at an unseasonable 3-5 Celsius, exhibitors and visitors descended on the Crocus Expo Hall to come and see the latest that broadcasters, vendors and systems integrators have to offer for the eastern European market.

At the Harmonic booth, the 4K Ultra HD demo proved to be the main attraction. The stunning video quality produced with Harmonic’s HEVC-ready ProMedia suite, shown on a 65” Sony Bravia screen, drew a constant crowd of impressed spectators, and the knowledgeable Russian and CIS visitors were quick to pepper the Harmonic team with questions.

Harmonic’s Spectrum servers and MediaGrid storage systems are well regarded in the region, and at NatExpo there was a high level of interest in the Spectrum MediaDeck 7000 server, Spectrum ChannelPort integrated playout module and MediaGrid shared storage systems. Demos of the ProMedia Carbon file-based transcoding solution were also well attended.

With this year’s NatExpo at a new location, some exhibitors may have had concerns over possible attendance drop-off, but the heavy visitor traffic proved that this region continues to embrace new technology. Demand for high-quality video production across all platforms remained strong. The future of video in Russia and CIS certainly looks bright.

- Nik Forman, Field Marketing Manager, EMEA