The Most Beautiful Thing You’ll See Today

The recently launched video “Aurora Borealis from Space,” was praised by Al Roker on NBCs The Today Show as “amazing” while the BBC called it “spectacular,” and CNN claimed that the video “may be the most beautiful thing you’ll see today.” But that was just the tip of the iceberg of how this video came to be.

The “Aurora from Space” video was launched simultaneously at the Harmonic booth at NAB 2016, on NASA’S YouTube channel as well as on the NASA TV UHD channel.

The video was produced by Harmonic exclusively for NASA TV UHD, the first non-commercial consumer UHD channel in North America, which was launched at IBC last September. Leveraging the resolution of ultra high definition video (UHD 2160p60), the channel provides viewers a front row seat to gorgeous views captured from the International Space Station (ISS) in addition to other current and classic NASA missions.

Harmonic provides the end-to-end UHD video delivery system and post-production services while also managing operations. Creating this much high-quality content and working exclusively in uncompressed UHD workflows created the ideal challenge for Harmonic’s digital media team, in order to use the company’s own equipment and solutions throughout the production and delivery workflow.

Joel Marsden, the Executive Producer of NASA TV UHD for Harmonic, supervised the construction of the channel infrastructure and content from scratch.

“We had to set up a veritable factory to create ongoing new episodes for the eight original new series, “ISS Life”, “Liftoff”, “Earth View”, “NASA Classics”, “Solar System”, “Development”, “Deep Space” and “Mars” that are featured on the channel, said Marsden. “This meant that we had four edit and render stations working non-stop from the same shared media storage solution.”

“We were extremely fortunate to get our hands on the new Harmonic MediaGrid 5840, which gave us an instant “half-a-petabyte-in-a-box” with its distributed, scale-out architecture, something you can’t live without if you are generating over 8 TB a day of new media and files during our peak production times.”

Between editing, archiving and heavy renders the pipeline was pushed to the very limit with rock-solid results. But MediaGrid is not the only aspect of Harmonic’s portfolio that was instrumental in bringing NASA TV UHD to the public.

All the finished shows are transferred to the Harmonic technical team in Atlanta led by Scott Woods, where the content is loaded onto Harmonic’s revolutionary Spectrum X playout server and interfaces with the Electra X3 encoder and ProStream processors hosted at a NASA facility, managed by Encompass Digital Media, home to the agency’s satellite and NASA TV hubs.

NASA TV UHD

As the “Aurora in Space” video went live on NASA TV UHD and lit up Harmonic’s booth at NAB 2016, it also went onto NASA’s YouTube channel where it became one of the agency’s top ten watched videos in under a week.

The video and accompanying stories have been published in over 550 online publications in every region of the planet so far, to rave reviews. The Aurora video and NASA TV UHD prove that when the best combine, amazing video happens!

Now, take some time to enjoy the video.

   

Vegas NAB Takeaways – 4K, UHD and HDR (Part 1 of 3)

NAB 2016

As expected, 4K / UHD was rejuvenated by the addition of High Dynamic Range (HDR) and a host of carefully crafted demos to show the latest crop of debutant screens, unveiled earlier at CES in all their glory. The results were certainly impressive, but needed considerable technical insight to unravel what was behind “the screen” and how applicable it would be to real world services. At its best, HDR content shown on the latest 2016 screens looked amazing, but most attending NAB this year were trying to visualize what the route to an HDR upgrade would be?

Fundamental to understanding the likely workflow is an appreciation of the kind of service being developed, Video on Demand (VoD) or Live, as well as the source and format of the content. Addressing these issues was the primary focus of my presentation at the Harmonic theatre this year, always an interesting litmus test of what is challenging the industry. For those not at NAB, a copy can be downloaded using the following link.

So, what are the main conclusions now that we’ve all returned from the show and had time to digest the news and events? It needs to be made clear from that outset that 4K / UHD is here to stay, certainly no flash in the pan like 3D! With such strong consumer adoption of 4K / UHD screens, and an industry keen to future-proof content, the onus of responsibility is for delivery ecosystems to match the confidence in 4K / UHD shown upstream and downstream within the overall workflow.

While bandwidth is becoming more readily available, we are not yet at the stage where a full scale conversion to 4K / UHD delivery is viable. Firstly, the recent investment in HD infrastructure means this is the starting point for many contemplating meeting consumers expectations, to justify consumer’s investment in UHD screens. Consequently, demos showing the benefits of acquiring content in 4K / UHD, down-converting to HD, and then relying on a Set Top Box or 4K / UHD screen to up-convert are very convincing. Many visitors asked whether HDR should be applied to HD? In my view, native 4K / UHD delivery will eventually happen, but in the short-term HD delivery has to be factored in, especially if it is 1080p. This necessitates dealing with awkward backwards compatibility issues concerning signaling and metadata. To date this has not been a strong point of current workflows.

The most convincing demos at NAB and CES all consisted of highly engaging content, displayed on the most recent screens, which while showing HDR at it’s best, in no way paved the way for an HDR service being universally rolled out in the near term. Certainly, there will continue to be 4K VoD streaming services, for those fortunate enough to have top-end broadband provision, but for these to trigger a widespread shift to native UHD services requires the latest standardization decisions to be commonly available on consumer screens, viable signaling to exist throughout the production and delivery workflow and a clear lift in quality compared to current HD services.

I’ll drill down into what this means in reality for 4K / UHD workflows in part 2 and then move from all the hype surrounding HDR, to deal with the business end of service deployment, namely IP, virtualization, cloud services and compression tuned for broadband delivery in part 3.

Can’t wait until then? Download our primer to HDR and why it’s a necessary part of the 4K ecosystem.

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

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