- OTT live streaming, especially premium sports, will be the fastest growing sector in pay TV over the next two years
- Quality of experience with ease of use must be delivered cost-effectively and securely for success in live OTT
- A flexible ecosystem allowing best of breed components to be deployed provides the best hope of meeting criteria for success in live OTT in an environment that is still rapidly changing
- Viewer loyalty and monetization can be enhanced by eliminating barriers between live and VoD with time to view as short as possible
This eBook co-sponsored by Unified Steaming and DTS takes a look a the futurs of premium audio streaming.
- Booming streaming video markets are awash with competition and innovation.
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- When exclusive content isn’t available, other unique features are needed to compete.
- Commercial deployments are happening across the globe targeting both the dedicated living room and mobile devices.
- Better multi-channel “theatrical” sound will differentiate any video experience.
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New approaches to development can bring TV innovation from operator speed to web speed with the right systems integration
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Agility and “web speed” have become rallying calls for pay TV operators in the multiscreen era where the rate at which services must evolve and new features appear has increased by an order of magnitude. Bringing on new customer-facing features within weeks was confined in the past to greenfield deployments but is now becoming essential even for operators encumbered by legacy. Innovations in software development, systems integration, operations and testing cycles are changing this, along with a new approach to systems integration.
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HDR and some NGA are here (well almost). Demos will blow your mind and ears, but beware – it can take a geek a couple of hours to get it working at home.
Here is my personal account, as a simple user, of my road to UHD nirvana in my living room. I wrote this in early September 2016, and just updated it at the end of the month as I finally got Dolby Atmos working and it was worth the wait).
When I moved to my new flat in central Paris 8 months ago, I immediately got access to an Orange Fibre connexion with speeds of up to 800 Mbps. With all the work I’ve been doing on UHD as a member of the Ultra HD Forum, I saw this as an opportunity to test some streaming services in the real world of my sitting room.
I’ve had my Samsung SUHD TV (UE55SJ8500) for 6 months now. First demos were with still images from the UHD Zoo app, as it took me a while to get a 4K video that I could effectively stream to my TV. Of course, Netflix was available, and although some 4K series have some stunning shots that show up all the new pixels, many don’t, even though they’re in the 4K section.
After having completed a white paper on Object based sound and getting excited about DTS:X (see here), I went for a mid to high-range Onkyo A/V receiver (TX-RZ 810 B ) that was already Dolby Atmos-capable and will be software upgradable to DTS:X.
Having spent 1,200 € on the receiver, I was no longer ready to splash out on the high-end Atmos speaker system I’d been eying. Amazon had a 400€ set of speakers available for next day delivery so I went for an Onkyo SKS-HT588(B) system, knowing that once my system is stable, I’ll have to invest in real speakers.
A first hurdle for many viewers will be that the TV set-top-box is usually set by default to stereo sound. So before getting anything like 5.1 output from that source one must find the appropriate sub-menu and set HDMI audio output to what in my case Orange calls Home cinema.
The other option (yes, it’s well known that two options make things simpler!) is to use an optical output from the STB, which is always in pass-through mode, and then configure the AV receiver to associate that with the video, from the Orange STB in my case.
The Orange TV service has had a single Dolby Atmos sports transmission but I couldn’t find any next-gen audio in the VoD library so to get some fancy sound demos, back to the Internet where I found Dolby demo files with difficulty on http://www.demo-world.eu/2d-demo-trailers-hd/.
It turned out none of my devices or software was able to send the Dolby Atmos sound track to my AV receiver. I found on an obscure geek chat that the Kodi video player could decode Atmos. So I installed that onto my Mac and Eureka!, the Dolby Demos played on my TV (connected with HDMI to my Mac). It sounded beautiful, but the Onkyo receiver never had the word ‘Atmos’ appear so I’m guessing it just considered it was Dolby 7.1, but hey, it sounded really immersive with the rain falling literally overhead, so who cares? [see update at end of blog, I did finally get the Atmos to work from the Orange VoD store].
Now for some HDR video
Amazon and Netflix have some UHD content but on their own interfaces, it is so far impossible to tell whether there’s any HDR, and I understand Netflix chooses the HDR mode dynamically, so for the next demo, it seems like physical media is the only way.
Which UHD Blu-ray player?
After waiting for UHD capable Blu-Ray players for a year, I decided to go and get one of the two available in France (The Samsung at 500€ or the Hitachi at 800€). But when I got to the retail store, the sales guy suggested I get an Xbox One S for 400€. That would also hopefully get my sixteen-year-old interested, so I went for that option.
Back home with the Xbox unpacked, my next objective was to get UHD Blu-Ray disks to play and at-long-last see some real HDR.
Inside the Xbox parameters, to select HDR, there is no mention (yet) of HDR itself. You need the knowledge that we are looking for 10-bit colour and so must select the 30 (!?) bits per pixel option (I later used the top 36 (12) bits options, which the TV accepted fine, and the video looked a bit better, strangely I had a better sense of very high resolution rather than amazing colours. There was no HDR wow effect with the Man-of-Steel blue ray I got for free with my Xbox, it just looked very nice.
I then got into the Xbox One S’ advanced video parameters and all of a sudden the HDR word appears. And so now, going into the 4K TV submenu (note the confusion it should be a UHD sub-menu as we’re talking HDR and a bit of HFR too), I was all excited to see all the new possibilities:
But let’s not run away with ourselves, there was a last hurdle to cross. The Xbox’s Blu-ray player said I had the wrong kind of TV for UHD. It turned out that the AV Receiver through which my HDMI signal was passing, was not HDCP 2.2 enabled.
In the Inputs sub-menu of the Onkyo AV receiver, I discovered that only HDMI 1 through 3 were HDCP 2.2-capable. That required pulling the TV away from the wall yet again and reassigning the X-Box One S to one of the 3 first ports (and of course reassigning whatever was already there that didn’t need HDCP 2.2 somewhere else). I’ll spare you the screen shot of doing that in the AV receiver’s menus.
Finally, on my Samsung TV I had to hunt down to the 14th menu item of the main Picture menu, called HDMI UHD Color, which everyone else calls HDR.
Then within the Samsung TV submenu I turned on the HDMI ports that are connected to HDR sources. For each value you change here, the TV needs to reboot (no kidding it really does).
A couple of hours after had I started, my Samsung TV finally tells me I’ve succeeded: full UHD with HDR AKA UHD Color. I am of course too hot and bothered at this stage to want to watch anything, but when I have since shown off my new 4K/HDR/NGA setup, I’ve persistently got the most wows for the immersive audio demos. Hmmm, maybe I should have just bought a new stereo… nah, just kidding 😉
Putting my professional hat on, I’m still a true believer in UHD and all its promises, but despite having often written about “This being the year for UHD”, I do see that there is a potential blocking point with these customer-facing issues. I trust that at the Ultra HD Forum and the UHD Alliance folks will get to grips with these interoperability teething problems so that the true benefits of UHD aren’t confined to the tech-savvy. I see a great opportunity for operators and their call centres to fix wires problems today but also for the CPE suppliers to work on processing HDR and one day NGA locally. UHD has to be plug and play to truly take off.
[Update Sept 29 2016: I spent 10€ on a digital copie of Salt (Angelina Jolie) from the Orange VoD store that had about 9 other movies with Atmos at time of writing – so Yeah! I finally got my expensive A/V receiver to actually recognise an Atmos audio stream and generate the right output. The sense of immersion is clearly improved, you really can’t tell what’s coming out of what speaker any more and I heard sounds that seemed to come from “in front of a given speaker”.
If on an imaginary quality scale 1 is bad mono (i.e. the phone), the a jump to good stereo would bring a real wow-effect probably scoring maybe 5, moving from stereo to 5.1 is another similar wow-effect say doubling the score to 10. Object based sound on top of 5.1 (or 5.1.2 in my case) brings another really noticeable improvement, but less of a wow-effect, so I’d subjectively say my current system scores 12 on my imaginary scale.]
The Internet of Things (IoT) has reached a critical stage in its evolution where it seems to be caught between two tipping points, waiting for the final explosion after the arrival of joined up applications connecting different domains. The first tipping point came around 2014 with proven single domain applications and the arrival of big players in retail such as Staples, energy utility like British Gas and ADT in premises security. That was also the year Google acquired smart thermostat leader Nest. The big data centre systems companies also piled in but more on the enterprise side, such as IBM with a $3 billion investment early in 2015 in its Watson IoT centre based in Munich.
Since then though the sheen has come off IoT a little with mixed signals from the leading players. Google in particular has struggled rather as it did initially with Android TV, with Nest failing to bring out promised new products and recently calling time on its smart home hub for wireless control of end devices called Revolv, which was launched amid much fanfare in October 2014 but then withdrawn in May 2015. It now looks like Google is pursuing a more distributed approach promoting direct interoperability among its own Nest devices without any intermediate hub, but that is not yet completely clear.
Another big US technology company Intel has also found the IoT sector harder going than it expected with its IoT Group reporting reduced revenue growth and a 25% year on year slump in operating income down to $132 million for 2015. The common theme here is failure of the IoT to break out of its silos so that both companies were left connecting their own things.
British Gas has fared better largely because as an energy utility it started with the expectation that it would be confined to its own domain for a while before branching out into other smart home sectors such as security and environmental control. The company instead is focusing on developing the analytics tools it believes will enable wider success in a future joined up IoT and has been investing in real time processing of the large data sets generated by its Hive connected thermostat. Hive allows users to control their boilers and central heating systems remotely by phone, which generates 30,000 messages a second amounting to 40 TB of static data so far, distributed across 30 nodes. Like Google, British Gas has created a dedicated IoT subsidiary called Connected Home, which has built an open source software stack running on the Apache Cassandra distributed database to process data both in real time and offline.
British Gas then is preparing for IoT’s second tipping point, which will come with joined up services that exploit synergy between different domains. IBM shares this conviction from its enterprise-focused perspective, drawing heavily on its cognitive computing work at its Thomas J. Watson Research Centre in New York, with one line being analysis of data from multiple remote sensors for predictive diagnostics. IBM is already enabling Pratt & Whitney to monitor 4,000 commercial engines and obtain early warning of faults that cause costly service outages if left unfixed until later, even if they are not safety critical.
Telcos are of course also intent on capitalizing on the IoT from their position as broadband providers to homes. One early mover is Paris based SoftAtHome, in which three major Telcos are investors, Orange of France, Swisscom and Etisalat based in the United Arab Emirates. The software developer has extended its home operating platform with CloudAtHome to enable centralized control of devices with potential for integration between domains. All such initiatives must support all the key wireless protocols such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Zigbee that IoT devices such as thermostats use to communicate. SoftAtHome uses a hybrid model combining some form of home hub and data repository with cloud-based processes. Such a hybrid approach aims to deliver the required flexibility, security (and privacy), performance and functional breadth. Flexibility comes from being able to deploy processes in the cloud or at home as appropriate, while keeping sensitive data within the local repository will ensure security and privacy. Performance may require some processes to be performed locally to keep latency down while some features may need cloud components.
A close look at this cloud/home distribution shows that in some cases the cloud should be partitioned between remote processes that may be executed in a distant data centre (what is usually called the cloud) and intermediate ones that might be best run at the network edge. This is known as Fog Computing, where some storage and processing takes place more locally perhaps in a DSLAM or even a street cabinet. The argument is that as IoT takes off, a lot of the initial data collection and analytics will be best performed at a Fog level before in some cases being fed back to the cloud after aggregation.
Fog could also work well for enterprise IoT where it might serve as a campus level control and aggregation layer within a larger cloud based infrastructure. It could also play a role as enterprise IoT becomes customer facing rather than mainly concerned with internal or supply chain operations. This could be a third IoT tipping point bringing together enterprise and consumer IT if a recent survey from Gartner is to be believed. This found that while only 18 percent of today’s enterprise IoT deployments are focused on customer experience, this will jump to 34 per cent over the year to Q1 2017. This represents a threefold absolute jump given that Gartner is forecasting the number of enterprises with IoT deployed somewhere to soar from 29 percent now to 43 per cent in a year’s time. Gartner also expects IoT to expand into new service related industry segments such as insurance beyond the heavier industries like manufacturing, utilities and logistics where it is concentrated now.
Such enterprise IoT forecasts have a history of becoming more accurate than some of the over hyped consumer analyst predictions. This means that if consumer IoT does continue to stall it may be dragged forward by enterprises seeking competitive advantage as well as new revenues, as we are seeing to an extent with the likes of British Gas.
Las Vegas was again focused on UHD in 2016, at least through my eayes. The four Keywords I came away with were 1: UHD (again), 2: HDR, but also 3: VR and 4: All-IP production. Of course other things like drones were important, but I’m not a real journalist, I don’t know how to write about things I don’t know.
We got in from Europe on the Saturday evening and this year I was on a budget so we stayed in an Airbnb apartment with my colleague Marta. It turned out to be just behind the main LVCC parking lot. On Sunday morning, you can see on thE right what the parking looked like when you arrive before the show is really underway.
Size and growth of the industry
On the Sunday I sat for a moment through the “Media Technology Business Summit” run by Devoncroft and learned abit about the industry trends:
- Starting with radio shows this year’s NAB is the 94th annual Show, so I suppose in 6 years we’ll have a big bonanza, I wonder if we’ll have something like Augmented Reality in 8K by then.
- Devoncroft sees the global media being market worth 49bn in 2015 with the US Media industry having pushed revenue per user to the limit. 3000 vendors make up their industry panel and 2009-2015 CAGR was 1,9% with 2014-2015 OpEx spend at -4.2% and CapEx spend at -4.4%.
- Despite the OTT craze and losing traditional subs, ESPN still gets 7$/Month from linear subscriptions, but only 0,42$/Month from OTT viewers, so hold your hats, linear pay-TV ain’t dead quite yet. Beyond sports, Devoncroft argues that even though there is growth, digital revenues are insufficient to replace linear ones. The big issue is how the ad market can transition.
- 4K and UHD make up the third most import topic for respondents of Devoncroft’s 2016 Big Broadcast Survey the results of which will soon be released. But Demand for UHD is less for “more pixels” than one for “better pixels”. So according to Devoncroft, like Ericsson, the HDR Vs. 4K debate is all but over.
Virtual and Augmented Reality
I then popped into an Augmented Reality (AR) conference where Gary Acock and Juan Salvo were discussing how to add live content to the UnReal video gaming engine. AR is seen as bringing the real world into Virtual Reality (VR). Stitching 360° video is still apparently a “pretty unpleasant experience” and French startup VideoStitch was mentioned as one of the key players working on fixing this. Currently 360° production design is limited by how effectively you can stitch video. But with AR there are also Inherent UX limitations like parallax issues with head movement or camera movement when there’s no head movement. With AR one needs to always know where the head is and how it’s positioned as head movements affect the content that is being created.
The amount of data to process for VR can be well over 1TB / hour so the coming (?) VR/AR revolution needs powerful GPU and CPU.
AR, VR and any immersive experience are still moving targets in 2016. But neither AR nor VR are isolated from the broadcast experience anymore. Indeed VR is less of an isolating and lonely experience, but a new way of engaging, a bit like coming to a conference and interacting with social media on a smartphone at the same time. Content is still king and creating compelling content remains the goal where AR & VR are just other tools. As we still don’t have toolsets like an « Adobe for AR/VR » we need to jerry-rig existing tools.
A VR demo that was not at NAB intrigued me. Frauhoffer’s Stephan Steglich told me about FAME. It’s the simple idea of navigating the 360 video with a remote control. 2 key advantages are removing the isolation aspect of having to wear something over the eyes and moving all the processing to the cloud, allowing for future-proof deployments. It sounded convincing but I’ll wait for a compelling demo before making an opinion.
I had been told great things about the CES Showstoppers being a big event, at my first experience at NAB, it was a very focused affair where great food and wine seemed to be as attractive for the media as the companies to visit.
German manufacturer Sennheiser was showing off their latest MKE440 DSLR microphone, which they say is the first mini-shotgun for HQ stereo sound image in one take. I was more taken by the beautiful design of the prototype VR microphone that goes under VR camera.
I met up with V-Nova’s Fabio Murra who was showing their two OTT deployments based on their Perseus codec. FastFilmz launched on March 26 in India offering SVoD to a mobile-only Tamil customer base with a potential of 120m subs. There were 350 titles at launch and according to V-Nova, Perseus made the business case possible in southern India where only 2G is available in some areas, offering a 64-128 kbps bandwidth. The demo I saw was watchable at 120kbps using 14 fps (I had to point that out though). The Perseus codec is described as “hybrid on top of H264” with a metadata stream on top of H264. I’ll be looking to dig into this a bit more as I no longer understand exactly what this means after a heated discussion several analysts. Content is protected with DRM I couldn’t find out by who.
I only glimpsed the other demo of a 4K STB using OTT delivery. It was showing Tears of Steel at 4mbps and looked fine but without any wow effect at least for what was on screen then, or maybe it was just that I was too far away for the small screen.
V-Nova had already announced a contribution deal with Eutelsat and promised another one for the next day (which turned out to be Sky Italia).
The Japanese company Brother that I wrongly thought of as a printer maker (does any Japanese company do only one thing?) was displaying « Airscouter », a surprising head-mounted monitor designed for cameramen in difficult positions. You see a 720p resolution image in the corner of one eye. It was a bit disconcerting and I guess limited to some very specific use cases. I felt a bit nauseous with it on my head but it does really work and felt maybe like what Iron Man might feel.
Ultra HD Forum
Monday was taken up with Ultra HD Forum activities for me. We had our own press conference in the morning and in the after noon I made a tiny presentation during the Pilot press conference in the Futures Park. I discussed, the forum’s reason for being, it’s history, our Plugfest #1, the Guidelines 2016 and the general « Work in Progress » aspect of live UHD.
« Pilot » is new name for « NAB Labs » that was started in 2012. We were among 30 exhibitors in Futures Park, which aims to promote « Edge of the art » concepts that are not yet commercialized. ATSC 3.0 was the star with 15 companies focusing on that alone. Other stuff is very diverse ranging from commercial R&D, government to academic research. NHK 8k Super High Vision was prominent as usual and the Nippon public broadcaster is still scheduled to launch commercially in 2018 « so people can enjoy in 2020 Japanese Olympics » in glorious 8K HDR with HFR.
Security and analytics
Monday night was over-booked and I chose the Verimatrix media dinner. I had some animated discussions on UHD and the extent to which HDR might be the only big game-changer (I still believe in 4K but am feeling more and more lonely on that front). Tom Munro the CEO gave me a great update on the company strategy and how the move towards analytics, which I now understand can be a logical progression for a security vendor. If the financial transactions are precious enough to secure, then private usage data is worthy of the same efforts. More on that in a dedicated blog soon.
Satellite industry on edge of a cliff and might UHD save it?
On Tuesday I got myself to the Satellite industry day. I have this vision on the industry (at least the broadcast and the Telecoms parts of it) sitting on the edge of a cliff wondering when fiber, 5G and delinearization will push the off the edge.
Despite a great lineup with Caleb Henry of Via Sat Mag, Steve Corda VP Bizdev SES, Markus Fritz Eutelsat, Dan Miner AT&T and Peter Ostapiuk of Intelsat, the opening panel didn’t really give me any new ideas to tackle that problem.
AT&T in particular sees similarities between the move from SD to HD and that from HD to UHD, but IntelSat sobered the audience asking how the content industry will make money from upgrade to UHD. SES’s Steve Corda made it scarier still reminding the audience that during the upgrade from SD to HD we didn’t have competition from OTT as we do now with most early UHD coming from OTT suppliers.
The satellite industry panel agreed that demand for UHD channels is growing especially from their cable operator clients and that the bottleneck is still available content. AT&T’s Dan Miner noted that a key change in OTT delivery in the coming 18 months is that US data plans will enable the TV Everywhere on cellular networks.
The consensus is that to have a monetizable UHD offering you need a bouquet of at least 2 channels, ideally at least to 5 including sports.
When the panel went round enumerating their live 4K services, I counted about a dozen UHD linear channels and as many demo channels as well as a few events based channels.
One of Viasat’s founders Mark Dankberg gave an inspirational talk reassuring the audience that the satellite industry’s future is safe, at least if they copy Viasat. The merger of AT&T and DirecTV is an indicator to him that Satellite without broadband is no longer viable in the long term. Viasat started 1986 in defense, during the 90’s they got into VSAT (Data Networking) just on the B2B side. Dankberg believes high –orbit geostationary is still the way to go (instead of mid of low-orbit (LEO)) because it’s the best way to optimize resources with thousands of beams. He points out that as 95% of demand is in 15% of geography; LEO that orbit the earth can’t do that. I was enthused by his talk and hoping to get home and write a blog about it, but when I looked through my notes I realized that in the end there wasn’t any new information, just the charisma and communicative beliefs of an industry veteran.
TV Middleware on Android
Beeniuis, the middleware guys from Slovenia that I’ve written about a few time caught me in the south hall so I went to have a look.
In demonstrating their new version 4.2 core product, Beenius told me that the EPG is dead but still went ahead to show me theirs. Navigation is via genres with favorite channels on top of a carousel that mixes live and VoD. Recommendation currently uses their own algorithms but can be based on Think Analytics with « Trending » content on second line.
The company is very Google-centric, although they still have a Linux offering with a Hybrid DVB solution. They clarified to me how GooglePlay apps can be controlled by the TV operator with three different approaches:
- 1. Preinstalled apps and an open GooglePlay
- 2. « Walled Garden » where the user chooses apps from the operator’s list typically among a dozen including YouTube, Netflix, etc.
- 3. Apps already embedding into the UI, which is also a closed model.
VoD also benefits from integrated recommendation but is open to extra info from the Web such IMDB content.
Beenius haven’t had much interaction with 4K yet, although they say they are ready. As with any competitive TV middleware you can fling content from screen to screen.
The operator-controlled UI can be updated from a central server so that a new version of the App gets automatically pushed to STB via GooglePlay as soon as it’s closed and reopened. Playing in the google arena has enabled a full-featured app for Android powered smart TVs, Beanies just needs Google to finally get it right in the living room.
Automatically generated HDR
Ludovic Noblet of French institute of research B<>Com showed me a tool to up-convert SDR content to HDR. He sees it as a gap-filler for legacy setups which is already available for offline, with a real-time version planed for IBC 2016. The current version introduced a latency of just 3 images and was convincing even if it didn’t carry that amazing wow-effect of some native HDR content. He was very secretive about the first customers but seemed very confident.
The pull of social media
On the last day I had a quick stop at Texas Instrument’s tiny booth, simply because they engaged with me on twitter ;o)
The LMH1219 is a 12G SDI card shown above enables SDI cables to be up to 110m without any signal attenuation, instead of the usual 20-30m. Its UltraScale processing equalizes and Improves the signal. The TI chip is agnostic to metadata so should work fine with HDR for example.
Another hardware innovation they showed me was a single chip for receive (Cable EQ) or drive mode (TX) that makes BNC connectors more versatile as they needn’t be just IN or OUT but can be either. The device isn’t available yet nor does it have a product name. Launch is expected in Q1 2017.
Note that I didn’t interact with any of the All-IP production vendors, but just noted it as a buzzing theme in conferences and on booth signage.
Oh and the Convention Centre car park looked like this from our apartment window by 9:30 am Monday through Wednesday:
That’s all for now folks.