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IBC 2013 part 2: Brightcove & Envivio

Brightcove

I met up with Albert Lai who is CTO of Media and Broadcast Solutions. He told me that Brightcove has “traditionally been a big end-to-end black box”. But that is changing as more and more requests come in for just a part of the workflow.

Brightcove has seen the Software As a Service (SaaS) model move to a Platform As a Service PaaS (platform) one, but where modularity and Flexibility have become the key criteria.

All this modularity has come about because of the very different use cases Brightcove now caters for, ranging from the Cloud transcoding services for HEVC to the Viacom native apps including the Nikelodeon one that just recently won an Emmy.

Brightcove was founded in 2004 and IPOed in February 2012. As of December 31, 2012, Brightcove had 335 employees. It is headquartered in Boston with offices in San Francisco, Seattle, New York, London, Paris, Barcelona, Singapore, Seoul, Tokyo and Sydney.

The leitmotiv of my interviews this year was 4K and Albert told me that the Cable Show 2012 was when Brightcove first started getting requests about 4K.

Brightcove has conducted internal tests on 4K content management and has concluded that it’s a very promising approach. At present it is “less a technology issue than a general marketplace one, where availability is still an issue”.

I pointed out that Cinema content was already widely available in 4K but Albert responded, “Sure cinema content is there, but its just a small amount”.

Albert sees 4K representing a 100% to 400% increase in storage and transmission costs although he thought that HEVC will alleviate some of the pain by doubling the quality within the same bandwidth and providing for a better experience. The monetization question must however be addressed, so Brightcove is listening to the market and is ready for, but not pushing 4K right now.

The Zencoder purchase of last year is probably part of that readiness campaign. Zencoder is a pure-cloud software based encoding solution for live and on-demand content.

Envivio

This year I spoke to Jean-Pierre Henot the company’s CTO based in Rennes.

I went straight to the point in asking about HEVC so Jean-Pierre first explained the main demos at the front of the booth. Three screens were showing an HD demo of live content at 24 frames per second and all looked identical. One screen was showing MPEG2 at 8 Mbps, the centre screen displayed MPEG4 at 4 Mbps and the last one was showing HEVC decoded content, currently at 3 Mbps but expect to be reduced to 2 Mbps by EOY 2014. Note that the latter still has a CPU power requirement four times greater which really is an issue in the short term.

All the demos used software encoding.

Jean-Pierre noted that the hardware decoding part of HEVC is stable already for HD content, but that for 4K HEVC decoding is still only available in beta versions as the protocol is still a bit new. Fully compliant reference designs are expected for CES 2014.

This is inline with some minor issues still pending with the specifications for HEVC transport, which is otherwise ready for HD.

Like a decade ago with MPEG4, the situation regarding royalties is still being sorted out.

We discussed the cheaper 4K sets available today and Jean-Pierre scoffed at the 30HZ limit as Envivio sees 60fps as a requirement for sport. The hardware limitation of HDMI should be gone thanks to the new 2.0 specification. This should also be available at the beginning of 2014.

All in all, Henot confirmed the general industry view that royalties, devices, frame-rates and HDMI 2.0 have been the stumbling blocks so far for 4K.

As these are gradually removed, HEVC will take off but start initially below 4K.

HEVC has no noticeable impact on ABR, which is the key enabler for many OTT services.

There seems no doubt that HEVC will be next “best solution” available for video compression and with the shorter lifecycles all round, it will take less time than MPEG4 did to penetrate market.

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IBC 2013, impressions of a 4K OTT show

Although OTT has been an IBC topic for a few years, we actually saw a plethora of end-to-end platforms that actually worked, often purely in the cloud. The range of supplier was impressive from Israeli start-ups like Vidmind to multinationals like Siemens or the pioneer Kit digital, now reprendre Piksel. There was also much more talk of real world deployments. Underlying technologies are of course needed to enable OTT and adaptive bit rate (ABR) was omnipresent with most - but not all - stakeholders betting on the convergent MPEG-DASH flavour. OTT ecosystems can still be daunting and as we predicted in last year's white paper written for VO, Broadpeak and Harmonic, multi-vendor pre-integration was a trending theme. This year's IBC was, as expected, all about the forthcoming Ultra HD/4K resolution, which will now be enabled by the new HDMI 2.0 announced at IFA and HEVC. HEVC was shown in a few real world setups as oppose to last year's lab demos, although there wasn’t yet any consumer-grade decoding solutions. Many demos painfully showed that frame-rate is an issue as Thierry Fautier pointed out to me here. The jerky 25 FPS demos clearly made the point that it's going to be at least 50 FPS or higher resolutions just won't take off.  The 8K, Super Hi-Vision demo by NHK in the IBC's future zone blew my mind. With such an immersive experience, I doubt we’ll be wasting any more time with 3D in the living room. Although less prominent, but nevertheless significant, like the tip of an iceberg, the Smart Home continued its slow forward march with for example a demo of Cisco's Snowflake that dimmed the lights during a movie's night scenes. Several vendors like ADB or Nagra were talking about media hubs in the home. Big data was in a lot of discussions and I was pretty amazed by the power of solutions like Genius Digital's analysis of viewing statistics and how they can being immediate gain. Of course I too loved Wyplay's huge blue frog in hall 5, representing their new open source initiative, which needs to be analysed in the light of the US centric RDK project pushed by Comcast. As every year, I spent some time with a company slightly out of my usual focus, this year Livewire Digital showed me how professional newsgathering can meet BYOD. Some things I had expected (described here), but didn't see much of, included HTML5 that wasn't promoted as the mother of all UI technologies as I thought it would be. Also, despite Google’s recent successful Chromecast launch, dongles were not really visible at IBC (I’m told Qualcomm had one on their booth). Finally, it occurs to me tidying up my notes, that the true implication of the BYOD phenomenon hasn’t really been addressed head-on. Of course the show and conference were full of things to say about tablets and smartphones, but nobody seems to be looking at the deep business model transformation underway. When I learnt to do a TV launch business model, barely over a decade ago, the STB represented 70% of the project CAPEX if you hit a million subs. So in the future will a TV rollout cost 30% of what it used to, with the subscriber subsidising the operator for the other 70%? This is about my tenth IBC. In the jury for best booth, to which I was invited again this year (thanks Robin Lince), we realised that as IBC matures in the age of Internet and social media, the show is less about learning what the latest trend or product is or even what people think about them, we usually know all that before even coming. Face to face networking and building relations are the deeper motivation. In follow-up posts I’ll report on the 17 companies I spoke to this year at IBC: Brightcove, Envivio, Axinom, Visiware, Vidmind, Wyplay, Genius Digital, Astec, Axentra, Gravity, Akamai, Rovi, Cisco, Livewire Digital, Tara Systems, Verimatrix and SofAtHome.

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10 questions on UHD and how not to seem like a 4K Luddite

Despite being a bit of a geek, I feel I need to brush up my 4K basics to avoid seeming lame on such a hot topic. 2013 has already seen UHD/4K bloom at CES; now I need to be ready for IBC. So I had a long chat with Thierry Fautier who happens to be pretty knowledgeable on this. Here’s the transcript of our talk, in case you too want to seem less lame on the subject. 1. What exactly are 4K & UHD? 4K stands for “4 thousand” from the screen resolution of 2160 * 4096 pixels and is the new standard defined by the movie industry. The frame rate is still 24 fps, and the bit-depth remains 8 bit. UHD stands for Ultra High Definition and is supported by the broadcast and TV industries. It differs from 4K, with its greater color depth of 10 or 12 bits (which is a huge dynamic color range increase). The aspect ratio is brought back to the TV’s 16/9 ratio so it sports a 2160 * 3860 resolution. Frame rate is still a big debate. Some broadcasters are arguing that 120 fps are needed for football and that color depth should be 12 bits. The ITU specification gives a range of values, but the industry needs to rapidly agree and settle on some figures so that interoperability can be assured. Thierry’s company Harmonic believes that 4K with 10bit color depth @ 60 fps is a "good time-to-market and cost compromise" for the ecosystem. The following diagram gives a scale of the different quantity of data each screen size involves:

From Wikimedia (4K article)
From Wikimedia (4K article)

2.  Will/should 4K and UHD merge? No, cinema workflow will stay separate even if you'll always get movies on your TV. Broadcasters will not accept such low frame rates on their own production. 3. What time frame do you see for adoption? The 2016 Olympic games will see the beginning of mass adoption. So we need field trials throughout 2015. That in turn means products must be on the market some time in 2014, which implies that we have to sort out the specs in 2013. The Brazil football world cup in 2014 will show a spike of interest but it’s too soon for any real impact. By EOY 2014 however there will be a range of TV sets and mass production can probably start in 2015. A recent Consumer Electronics Association study expects just 1M 4K screens in US in 2015. 4. "HD ready" or 720p preceded "Full HD" or 1080p. Will we see a similar 2K or something here? It seems that the UHD logo will be properly protected, so consumers should avoid confusion. Services like Netflix will target intermediate formats, and we will probably see an intermediate phase before UHD is launched with 1080p50/60. Indeed there is more and more content produced at 50/60 fps and workflows can support this. Once UHD STBs that can easily decode 1080p50760 are deployed, operators will be able deliver an optimized HD quality that will look much better on a 4K screen than today's 1080i would. 5. Are there any short-term stumbling blocks for CPE? The current HDMI 1.4 standard limits 4K to an unacceptable 30 fps. HDMI 2.0 is needed for 60 fps, and this will be the true kick-starter for 4K adoption. CES 2014 should see the consecration of HDMI 2.0. 6. Is the compression ratio linear (i.e. will UHD require exactly 8 times the bandwidth of HD)? No. Today’s HD streams are compressed to 6MPS at constant bit-rate. By the time it’s ready for mass adoption UHD @60fps with 10 bit color depth should require just under 20MPS. 7.  Will UHD require HEVC or can it make sense to use H264? Without doubt HEVC is required for UHD to make it economically viable on existing infrastructure. 8.  Apple created the marketing term Retina display. What would be the UHD screen size to call it that? Early testing shows that there is no benefit below a 65-inch screen. But we are framing the problem incorrectly. Try to watch HD on a 65-inch screen. You will see artifacts, so if you want a screen above 65 you need UHD! 9.  In general, what's the new screen-size vs. optimal viewing distance? I argue with my colleagues in the UHD community who dream of people sitting 1,5m away from the screen. In reality I believe people will stay 3m away, so again the key factor is large screen size. Very large screens will be THE key success factor for UHD adoption. The figure bellow shows the screen size as a function of the viewing distance for various resolutions. 5337324d_resolution_chart_zps161be652 [Author's note: At its simplest it means that with a 50" screen you need to be 5 feet or 1,5 meters from the screen. For the more standard 10 foot or 3 meter viewing distance to really feel the 4K effect in your gut, you need an 85" screen.] 10.  How will the upgrade from HD to UHD compare to the one we've been through from SD to HD, in terms of: a) content production / post production This will be a hard transition for broadcasters this time because there are no connector specs yet. But the cinema industry has been digitally mastering in 4K for a while so there are plenty of 4K movies ready for release. b) content acquisition / preparation This should be fine as much acquisition is already in 4K. c) encoding Except for some early prototypes, 4K encoding is not yet available in real-time, mainly due to lack of CPU power. IBC 2014 should have some products but they might not yet be cost-effective. d) transport / Broadcast I see no network issue for the satellite and cable guys, indeed several successful demos have already been done (like the Eutelsat demo still available on 10A). For Telcos UHD will be dedicated to fiber delivery and terrestrial will probably need to wait until around 2016-18 for DVB-T to be ready for 4K. e) decoding Broadcom chipsets will be widely available to decode 4K/10bit/60fpw by 2014 so the first mass produced STBs will be ready by 2015. f) content protection This discussion has only just started. For now Sony’s 4K content uses Marlin DRM, which is the only commercial service currently available. g) pricing The very first devices will probably carry a premium for encoders and STBs of a factor around 3-4 on the price tag vs HD, just like we saw in the early HD days vs. SD. h) customer proposition People aren't “dying for new screens” right now, but 4K could be a driver. The industry must convince consumers that much larger screens, where HD sucks, are a good thing. Otherwise 4K on a small screen isn't appealing enough. It's all about the large screen and being closer to it for a much more immersive sensation - without disturbing the brain the way 3D did (at least with glasses). Content and economic constraints will see 4K start life as a VOD experience as audiences will be too narrow to justify broadcast. This is where Telcos and Cable MSO come into play and I’m looking forward to talking to some of them about this at IBC 2013. Disclaimer I have no ongoing commercial relation with Harmonic; I just had easier access to Thierry than to Envivio, Ateme, Ericson, Elemental or any of the other reputable vendors in the space. And BTW I’m looking to do a similar debunking piece on HEVC, so ping me if you’d like to be my interviewee this time. BTW this 4K/UHD topic is one of the hot topics I identified for this year IBC here.

Update (november 11)

Kudos to Elemental who proudly announced the first real-time 4k transmission last week together with telco K-Opticom at 20MBPS - I'm told 12MBPS could have worked. It was for the Osaka marathon, perhaps not the most exacting of sports for TV, so the 30 frames per second limitations was probably not too much of an issue. Details on their press release here. Harmonic is showing 4K decoded at 60 fps on true CE device for the first time this week at inter BEE, but although the target frame-rate is here it'll still be 8-bit color, Harmonic sa the rest of the workflow isn't ready for 10 bit yet away... Seems like the FPS debate is closed as even Elemental people told be 60 is right for sports, but it looks like there's room for a future blog exploring the 8 vs. 10 bit color issue. Stay posted.

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My pre @IBCShow 2013 hot topics

Here’s my take on what the key hot topics of IBC 2013 might be and the questions they raise for me.

Safe bets

Four topics are really way hotter than any others at the moment.

1.    4K/UHD

Will the cinema standard merge with the broadcasting one? Will there be an intermediary 2K, like we had “HD Ready” before “full HD”? [I tried to answer some of these questions with Thierry Fautier's help here]

2.    HEVC

Are we in for the same long wait as when H264 was first supposed to come, or have things really accelerated? It used to take a decade to halve bandwidth requirements.  Last years UHD/4K demos required 35 to 40MBPS, how long will it take to compress down to the promised 10MBPS?

3.    OTT

Technology, ecosystems, devices

  • Is there a future for OTT STBs?
  • Will DASH finally be the ABR to standardize them all?
  • Has the interest in connected TVs peeked?

OTT Business & content disruption

  • What does Netflix or YouTube commissioning content mean to the industry?
  • Is the second screen becoming the TV? Is now the time for mass adoption of play-along apps?
  • Is cord cutting, a temporary phenomenon or the beginning of the end?
  • Oh and I suppose Social TV fits in here, but I'm not expecting it to trend much in 2013.

4.    Big Data, privacy, customer intelligence or the new clothes of recommendation

Content recommendation platform vendors have been screaming into the wind for half a decade already. All of a sudden the industry is listening to their message, but not from them. The Big Data crowd have stolen the limelight. Its ever so hard to form an opinion when something is so very hyped, but it is common knowledge that most operators still have a long way to go to start benefiting form the gold mine of customer data they’re sitting on. Content recommendation is probably just the tip of the iceberg.

Outsiders that might get traction in 2013

New subject: Dongles

Despite set makers fantasies, the connected TV still isn’t a reality in terms of usage. But with those millions of out-of-date screens out there, could HDMI dongles like Google’s latest offering finally make that change?

An ten-year old story; that may at last be true: The time is coming for IP, another 4 points:

1.     The rebirth of IPTV

I used to write about the death of IPTV, so, I got the timing wrong. Well actually I may have gotten the whole story wrong. As OTT services seem to be more than a fleeting fancy, Telcos are realising that all that expensive multicast IP technology could actually make a difference. Maybe they won’t have to sue money out of the global players like Apple or Netflix, but actually be able to cut deals with them in exchange for guaranteed last mile delivery.

2.     Targeted advertising

Companies have come and gone on this subject. My take was that although the targeting tech sort-of worked, there were never big enough segments to personalise to, making an ad just costs too much. That may at last be changing with the scale available to some operators.

3.     Guaranteeing service, offloading, DPI, Net neutrality

Technology is now here to enable an operator to offload video streams from 4G to Wi-Fi either because its free YouTube stuff and the Wi-Fi is free or on the contrary because its part of a pay TV subscription that the Telco is getting a cut from and the Wi-Fi has no guaranteed quality.

4.     4G & Fiber

New high-speed networks really are finally here and accessible to significant segments of the market. This is not an IBC subject per se, but it is the fuel behind this whole IP set of trends.

See you in Amsterdam, and here or elsewhere to see how wrong I was ;o)

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9 new trends to help my visit the TV Connect 2013 show floor

Many of us whinged and whined about the name change from IPTV World Forum to IP&TV World Forum because the names were too difficult to tell apart (if you are still looking, it was the adding of the ‘&’ in IP&TV). By naming the event TV Connect the organizers have now moved away far enough for the new name to stick. Now though it must be differentiated from the “Connected TV” events.

This year’s event is too big to just simply attend. I put on my thinking hat to ponder where things are going over the next three years, in order to decide who and what to see in Olympia. The trends below are new impressions of things I’m just beginning to understand, not the obvious ones like drowning in content.

For each trend I’ve suggested, in this blue font, which exhibitor I’ll be looking to see at the show. Please add a comment if you think I’ve missed something important, which of course I have.

Trend 1: Moore’s law looks like slowing down at last

My 2-year old gaming PC still plays all the latest games! Who’d have imagined, Apple still selling iPhone 4’s from its website three years after initial release?

At the same time, if the advantages of Broadband up to a “good DSL” speed  (i.e. from ~10MBPS) seems obvious, many operators are struggling to sell “fibre” speeds (from ~100MPS and above) unless there’s no price increase.

Raw processing power is no longer enough in the TMT sector to reach the mass market beyond geeks & early-adopters, and soon raw bandwidth won’t be enough either. Services must serve a deeper purpose. Ok, how can that be done?

At TV Connect I'll be looking how the numerous device makers (just for the letter A there are already: Amino, Airties, ABox42, …) have improved the packaging and User eXperience of their products without necessarily changing all that much under the hood since last year.

Trend 2: Analytics everywhere

Big Data is a trendy topic currently at the height of its Hype cycle, which also represents a genuinely new approach. After over a decade of promises, the ability to ingest richer data and process it near to real time is finally here. At last, operators can focus on user experience rather than just connectivity.

I’ll try to scratch under the surface of the “Big Data” words I expect to see plaster onto many booths.

Trend 3: Colliding segments of QoE, UX and Security

The User eXperience (UX) domaine has only naturally linked with Quality of Experience/Service and monitoring. So I’ll be looking for how the QoS/QoE/Monitoring vendors are embracing overall User eXperience. I’ve written earlier about security companies as potential candidates for a stake in this new game, as they know exactly what is being watched by whom when it comes to premium content. In the age of abundance we have entered, a key challenge is content navigation that also means UI design, search and recommendation.

I suppose VO and Nagra come to mind first as having merged much of this, but I'll also be checking in no particular order: Witbe, Veveo, Verimatrix, Conax, Red Bee, Mariner, Jinni, Ineoquest, Genius Digital, Agama,  …

Trend 4: CDNs going local and the Cloud coming to a TV near you

Other areas where there seems to still be some low-hanging fruit to improve User eXperience include the distribution of heavy (HD) content in networks. All operators with a fixed line network are racing to bring out their own CDNs.

Broadpeak seems to be the only CDN specialist

Some Cloud services like Dropbox or Network PVRs seem obvious. The jury is still out on others as the early disappointment of Connected TV has shown. OTT service delivery platforms (SDPs) will be another thing to look out for.

In the fog we’re all stumbling around in, I’ll try to see which of the one-stop-shops like Kit Digital, Siemens, Cisco, Ericsson or Nagra have the more powerful fog lights. Of course for a best-of-breed approach you’ll need to stop by at almost all the booths.

Trend 5: declining long-term value of Pay TV?

In the early 90s nothing worked better in the home than the fixed-line telephone. The availability and reliability of basic telephone services, whether mobile or fixed has significantly dropped twenty years later. Subscribers have been happy to trade lower prices and mobility for reliability and what we used to call quality. A similar trend can be seen with pay TV services. Early “cord-cutters” are showing that trade-offs are possible here too. Subscribers will probably trade old-fashioned TV quality for better variety, lower prices and better content navigation.

To keep the value in TV, some operators will use bundling or mashing-up TV types of service with social media and communication services.

The companies I’d talk to, to get a handle on this would be those at the forefront of social media like Accedo, or already close to operator’s triple play like SoftAtHome.

Trend 6: device wars growing fiercer

In what my friend Sebastian Becker calls a new rendition of “The Empire Strikes Back”, many European Cablecos have launched powerful boxes that have little to envy from a PC’s spec sheet, as for example with Numericable's LaBox. At the same time, Google is still happily ploughing millions into various device-centric Google TV projects, and Sony says the PS4 will revolutionize media in the living room. Nobody understands what Microsoft is saying: new OTT devices still crop up in shops ranging from powerful all-in-one boxes to tiny USB or HDMI sticks, … and the list goes on.

So short term, should I need to advise any operators on device architecture, I’ll go for being agnostic.

To get some clarity on this I’d drop in to the OIPF booth to see how standards are helping.

Trend 7: SD à HD à 4K

I saw Sony’s 4K screen at IBC and am a true geek on this one. The 4K industry drive will succeed because it just feels so right in the gut, where 3D with spectacles in the living room never could. 4K or ultra-HD will start to impact on us within three years.

I’ll be keen to see who at the show is already on the ball with 4K, although it’ll be harder to get the timing right on this than just be the fist too early mover.

Trend 8: Capex can really shrink at last

I have written over a dozen business cases for TV rollouts around the world and if you’re small, the killer Capex item is the head-end but if you’re large, it’s the STB.

For the former, new centralized digital “headend in the SKY” services substantial Capex savings. You just send files to be encoded streamed or whatever your head-end requirements are.

As for the larger operators, the STB can still be a killer cost as are fancy devices like the LGI Horizon box. People are actually happy though to spend hundreds of dollars on devices that are even more powerful than any STB. Once the empire has finished striking back, I sense a trend for overall lowering of STB costs.

I’ll drop by the usual suspects here for an update on head ends (Elemental, Envivio, Harmonic, Ateme, etc.) but also try to understand where Avail TVN is at.

Trend 9: Hello TV, Goodbye TV

If the 8 previous trends have a dose of gut feeling, this one - pure conjecture - feels right. I have come to realize that many of us work in the market sector we call TMT. Before I looked it up, I assumed that one of the T’s was for TV. Maybe I’m spending Too Much Time on this, but the acronym actually stands for Technology, Media and Telecoms, no TV anywhere.

So could TV have been just a passing thing? Before IPTV there wasn’t any TV on IP networks, and now in the age of multiscreen galore and OTT, is “TV” already being pushed back out of IP networks in favour of just “video”? Maybe one day there’ll just be Sports, News and Video left so beyond the three year time-frame of this blog we can all come back to the 2017 event which will be rebranded the SNV World Forum.

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IBC 2012 Takeaways

I didn’t actually see much Web-TV as I had expected to (see previous blog), but several IBC 2012 write-ups I have read so far, including those from people I respect like Giles Cottle or John Moulding have said say that there was no new “big thing” this year. I disagree or otherwise, there never is anything radically new – it depends on your point of view. Below is what I picked up as genuine game changers:

  • The Telia Soneria STB shrunk into a Samsung TV app is a true paradigm shifter.
  • VO’s second screen “Deep” app is also a breakthrough innovation; with the “doh-why-didn’t-I-think-of-that” magazine approach to content browsing.
  • Sony's 4K consumer TV hit me in the stomach just as hard as when I first saw an HD display about ten years ago.
  • Huge progress in the way data can be extracted from devices with extensions to the TR-069 protocol shown at the ADB, the SoftAtHome or the Mariner Partner’s stands to name just a few (bit expect more detailed reports after BBWF next month).
  • All this data will need to be crunched, paving the way to a major 2013 theme, which will be Big Data.
  • NDS showed their Solar project that is all about bringing this Big Data approach to TV. Project Fresco (ex project Surfaces) was also being demoed behind closed doors, and even if it's hard to see this impacting the market for many years, it is a mind blowing demo using a massive 6k display.

In my forthcoming write-up also expect an update on Verimatrix’ never ending successes, a sexy start-up called Klia with a CRM product delivering part of the Big Data promise before anyone else, HEVC news or lack thereof, Kit digitals strong attempt to reassure and updates on Zappware, Harmonic, Capablue, Visual Unity, Broadpeak, never.no, Corpus Media labs.

If one of these subjects is of more relevance to you than others, let me know, I’ll be sure to cover it more thoroughly … detailed write-up coming soon.