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@nebul2’s 14 reasons why 2015 will be yet another #UHD #IBCShow

Ultra HD or 4K has been a key topic of my pre and post IBC blogs for over 5 years. I’ve recently joined the Ultra HD Forum, serving on the communications working group. That’s a big commitment and investment, as I don’t have any large company paying my bills. I’m making it because I believe the next 18 months will see the transition from UHD as the subject of trials for big operators and precursor launches to something no operator can be without. Time to get off the fence. I once wrote that the 3D emperor didn’t have any clothes on; well, the UHD emperor is fully clothed.

Of course much still needs to be achieved before we see mass adoption. I don’t know if HDR and 4K resolution will reach market acceptance one at a time or both together, and yes, I don’t know which HDR specification will succeed. But I know it’s all coming.

Below is a list of 14 key topics ordered by my subjective (this is a blog remember) sense of comfort on each. I start with areas where the roadmap to industrial strength UHD delivery is clear to me and end with those where I’m the most confused.

Note on vocabulary: 4K refers to a screen resolution for next gen TV whereas UHD includes that spatial resolution (one even sees UHD phase 2 documents refer to an 8K resolution) but also frame rate, HDR and next generation Audio.

So as I wander round IBC this year, or imagine I’m doing that, as probably won’t have time, I’ll look into the following 14 topics with growing interest.

1. Broadcast networks (DVB)

I doubt I’ll stop by the big satellite booths for example, except of course for free drinks and maybe to glimpse the latest live demos. The Eutelsat, Intelsat or Astras of this world have a pretty clear UHD story to tell. Just like the cableCos, they are the pipe and they are ready, as long as you have what it takes to pay.

2. Studio equipment (cameras etc.)

As a geek, I loved the Canon demos at NAB, both of affordable 4K cameras and their new ultra sensitive low-light capabilities. But I won’t be visiting any of the studio equipment vendors, simply because I don’t believe they are on the critical path for UHD success. The only exception to this is the HDR issues described below.

 3. IP network; CDN and Bandwidth

Bandwidth constricts UHD delivery; it would be stupid to claim otherwise. All I’m saying is that by putting this issue so high on the list everything is clear in the mid-term. We know how fast High-Speed Broadband (over 30MPS) is arriving in most markets. In the meantime, early adopters without access can buy themselves a UHD Blu-ray by Christmas this year and use progressive download services. The Ultra HD Alliance has already identified 25 online services, several of which support PDL. Once UHD streams get to the doorstep or the living room, there is still the issue of distributing them around the home. But several vendors like AirTies are addressing that specific issue, so again, even if it isn’t fixed, I can see how it will be.

 4. Codecs (HEVC)

The angst around NAB this year when V-nova came out with a bang has subsided. It seems now that even if such a disruptive technology does come through in the near-term, it will complement not replace HEVC for UHD delivery.

The codec space dropped from a safe 2 in my list down to 4 with the very recent scares on royalties from the HEVC Advance group that wants 0.5% of content owner & distributor’s gross revenue. Industry old-timers have reassured me that this kind of posturing is normal and that the market will settle down naturally at acceptable rates.

 5. Head-ends (Encoders, Origins, etc.)

I always enjoy demos and discussion on the booths of the likes of Media Excel, Envivio, Harmonic, Elemental or startup BBright and although I’ll try to stop by, I won’t make a priority of them because here again, the mid-term roadmaps seem relatively clear.

I’ve been hearing contradictory feedback on the whole cloud-encoding story that has been sold to us for a couple of years already. My theory – to be checked at IBC – is that encoding in the cloud really does make sense for constantly changing needs and where there is budget. But for T2 operators running on a shoestring – and there are a lot of them – the vendors are still mainly shifting appliances. It’s kind of counterintuitive because you’d expect the whole cloud concept of mutualizing resources to work better for the smaller guys. I must have something missing here, do ping me with info so I can update this section.

 6. 4K/UHD resolutions

While there is no longer any concern on what the screen resolutions will be, I am a little unclear as to the order in which they will arrive. With heavyweights like Ericsson openly pushing for HDR before 4K, I’m a little concerned that lack of industry agreement on this could confuse the market.

 7. Security for UHD

Content owners and security vendors like Verimatrix have all agreed that better security is required for UHD content. I see no technical issues here – just that if the user experience is adversely affected in any way (remember the early MP3 years), we could see incentive for illegal file transfer grow, just when legal streaming seems to be taking of at last.

 8. TV sets & STBs

Well into second half of my list, we’re getting into less clear waters.

When it’s the TV set that is doing the UHD decoding, we’re back at the product cycle issue that has plagued smart TVs. It’s all moving too fast for a TV set that people still would like to keep in the living room for over 5 years.

On the STB side, we’ve seen further consolidation since last year’s IBC. Pace for example is no longer; Cisco is exiting STBs etc. It seems that only players with huge scale will survive. Operators like Swisscom or Orange can make Hardware vendors’ lives harder by commoditizing their hardware using software-only vendors such as SoftAtHome to deliver advanced features.

 9. Frame rates

This is a really simple one but for which consensus is needed. At a 4K screen resolution the eye/brain is more sensitive to artifacts. Will refresh rates standardize at 50Hz or 60Hz? Will we really ever need 120Hz?

It’s clear that doubling a frame rate does not double the required bandwidth as clever compression techniques come to play. But but I haven’t seen a consensus on what the bandwidth implication of greater frame rate will actually be.

10. Next Gen Audio

There are only a few contenders out there, and all have compelling solutions. I’m pretty keyed up on DTS’s HeadphoneX streamed with Unified Streaming packagers because I’m helping them write an eBook on the subject. Dolby is, of course, a key player here but for me it’s not yet clear how multiple solutions will cohabit. It isn’t yet clear how if and when we’ll move from simple channel-based to scene based or object based audio. Will open source projects like Ambiophonics play a role and what about binaural audio.

11. HDR

High Dynamic Range is about better contrast. Also, the brain perceives more detail when contrast is improved, so it’s almost like getting more pixels for free. But the difficulty with HDR and why it’s near the bottom of my list is that there are competing specifications. And even once a given specification is adopted, its implementation on a TV set can vary from one CE manufacturer to another. I final reservation I have is the extra power consumption it will entail that goes against current CE trends.

12. Wide Color Gamut

As HDR brings more contrast to pixels WCG brings richer and truer colors. Unlike with HDR, the issue isn’t about which spec to follow, as it is already catered for in HEVC for example. No, it’s more about when to implement it and how the color mapping will be unified across display technologies and vendors.

 13. Work flows

Workflow from production through to display is a sensitive issue because it is heavily dependant on skills and people. So it’s not just a mater of choosing the right technology. To produce live UHD content including HDR, there is still no industry standard way of setting up a workflow.

 14. UHD-only content

The pressure to recoup investments in HD infrastructure makes the idea of UHD content that is unsuitable for HD downscaling taboo. From a business perspective, most operators consider UHD as an extension or add-on rather than something completely new. There is room for a visionary to coma and change that.

Compelling UHD content, where the whole screen is in focus (video rather than cinema lenses) gives filmmakers a new artistic dimension to work on. There is enough real estate on screen to offer multiple user experiences.

In the world of sports a UHD screen could offer a fixed view on a whole football pitch for example. But if that video were seen on an HD screen, the ball probably wouldn’t be visible. Ads that we have to watch dozens of times could be made more fun in UHD as their could be different storied going on in different parts of the screen, it would almost be an interactive experience …

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Real UHD deployments in 2016 says Thierry Fautier, UHD Forum will help

Most of the video ecosystem is agreed on one thing: Ultra HD or 4K will happen, but none of us agree yet on when and how. It is clear is that the standards will play a key role in determining the timeframe. In previous cases, say with DASH for example, an industry body above competing standards has been the most effective way to speed things up. It seems like two separate initiatives are coalescing independently, which may be a good thing. CES 2015 was the place to be and many UHD issues where addressed. To get a clearly picture, I spoke to someone at the heart of it all. Here is my interview with Thierry Fautier VP of Video Strategy for Harmonic Inc.

Q: First of all Thierry can you confirm that UHD was a prominent them in Las Vegas this year?

A: Most certainly, Ultra HD was one of the most prominent topics at CES 2015. This was the first major show since some key announcements of Ultra HD services in late 2014:
UltraFlix and Amazon that offer OTT services on connected TVs,
DirecTV that announced a push VoD satellite service (through its STB that stores and then streams with decoding in the Samsung UHD TV),
Comcast that announced a VoD streaming service directly through the Samsung TV, with content from NBC.

Q: But these services require UHD decoding on a Smart TV?

A: Yes that is a first takeaway from CES: TVs are the ones decoding UHD for now, STBs will start doing so from second half of 2015.

Q: Beyond the few services just described, what signs did you see that UHD might really start becoming available to all from 2015?

A: Several, for example the announcement that Warner Bros has decided to publish UHD titles using Dolby’s Vision process. Netflix also announced that its Marco Polo series would be re-mastered in HDR (but without announcing which technology). So on content and services side, things are moving on HDR.

Q: Do you see HDR as one of the first challenges to solve for UHD to succeed?

A: I do. The plethora of HDR demonstrations by all UHD TV manufacturers was impressive. I will not go into the details of the technologies used, it would take too much time and this may change (due to the standardization effort of HDR). The only thing I would say is that there is a consensus in the industry to produce UHD TV, it will be around 1,000 nits (against 10,000 for the MovieLabs spec) [a NIT is a measurement of light where a typical skylight lets in about 100 Million Nits and a florescent light about 4,000 Nits]. On the technology side, LG is the outsider with its OLED technology that was shown in 77 inches, while the rest of the industry seems to focus on the quantum dot (Samsung announced in 2014 that it was abandoning OLED).
This suggests that we will have HDR in 2015; the real question is on which spec HDR will be based? You now understand the eagerness of studios to standardize HDR.

Q: so is HDR a complete mess?

A: HDR is actually already in the process of standardization, but with more or less synchronized work:

– ITU began a call for a technology which was answered by Dolby, BBC, Philips and Technicolor.
– EBU / DVB is working on a standardization of HDR mainly for live broadcast applications. The goal is to finalize the spec in 2015.
– SMPTE is defining the parameters required for the production of HDR content. A first spec (ST 2036 for HDR EOTF and ST 2086 for Metadata) has already been ratified.
– MPEG is currently defining what to add to the existing syntax to HDR in a single layer. The outcome is expected in July 2015.
– Blu-ray is finalizing its HDR (single layer) specification and also hopes to freeze it mid-2015 to optimistically hoping to launch services in time for Christmas 2015. Blu-ray is working in coordination with MPEG and SMPTE. Note that Bly Ray will then follow specifications for streaming / download under Ultra Violet.
– The Japanese stakeholders, through NHK, announced they would now develop their own HDR for 8K.

So you see the diversity of the various proposals that exist, the new “Ultra HD Alliance” should bring some order here. The clue I can give is that to have a Blu-ray UHD service in 2015, this must be done with chips that are already in production in 2015. I think we will see more clearly at NAB (April) and that by IFA (September) everything will be decided, at least for the short term, aligned hopefully with DVB / EBU Ultra HD-1 Phase 2.

Q: I gather what is now called the “Ultra HD Alliance” is actually something different to what I described in my last blog and that it’s first challenge is getting HDR sorted out?

A: Indeed Ben, the Ultra HD Alliance is a group of 10 companies primarily from Hollywood and the world of TV in addition to Netflix and DirecTV on the operator’s side. The first goal of this group is to get HDR (High Dynamic Range) specifications under control (see diagram below) and the quality measurement from the output of the UHDTV. In this regard, Netflix will launch a certification of the quality of HDR streaming; HD to start and we can imagine that this will be extended to UHD. Note that no manufacturers have yet been invited, which is surprising as they are the ones actually going to do most of the job!

Q: So the organization we spoke about last time is something else?

A: Yes Harmonic, with a group of 40 other companies have proposed to create an Ultra HD Forum to take care of the complete UHD chain from end-to-end, including OTT, QoS, Push-VoD, nVOD, adaptive streaming, Live and on-demand. After various meetings that took place at CES, discussions are on going to ensure that the two groups (UHD Alliance and UHD Forum) work closely together.

Q: so as in other areas would you see the need for at least two governing bodies to manage UHD standards?

A: In the short term yes. The UHD Alliance is focussing a single blocking factor at the moment i.e. HDR/WCG/Audio , but will have a broader marketing and evangelization remit. The UHD Forum on the other hand is starting out with and ambition of end-to-end ecosystem impact. In the longer term there is no reason the two entities might not merge, but from where we stand today it seems most efficient to have the two bodies with the different focuses.

Q: Does HDR make sense without HRF (High Frame Rate)?

A: Well I’d say on the chip side there is still a challenge as 2 times more computing power is required; HDMI is also a limiting factor as bandwidth increases. Early services might get away with just a 25% increase. Most encoder providers are not yet convinced that the effort will produce improvements justifying the disruption brought by the doubling of frame rate. We have been asking for 60/120 fps formal testing but we’ll need to wait for the new generation cameras especially in sport, as opposed too currently used cameras often equipped with low shutter speeds coming from the film world where 24 fps is the norm. At IBC’14, Harmonic together with Sigma Designs, was showing encoding of UHD p50 and up conversion in a Loewe Ultra HD TV set to 100 fps, with a motion compensated frame up conversion powered by Sigma Designs. Visitors from the EBU saw the demonstration and were pleased with the result. This will be one of the most contentious topics in the months to come, as the value might not be able to counterbalance the impact on the ecosystem.

Q: What about the chipset makers?

A: I visited Broadcom ViXS, STM, Sigma Designs who all had demos at different maturity levels to support different types of HDR. They are all waiting for a standard for HDR.

Q: So to wrap up can you zoom out of the details and give us the overall picture for UHD deployment?

Ultra HD is a technology that will revolutionize the world of video. Making UHD requires a complete rethinking of the workflow, from video capture, production to the presentation. This will take several years. I’m not even talking about spectrum issues to get this on the DTT network….
As you can see, the specifications are still in flux when we talk about “real Ultra HD”, the technologies are being set up and should be ready in 2016 to make live large scale interoperability testing during the Rio Olympics and also have the first services to OTT or on Blu-ray Disc that supports the HDR and WCG (Wide Color Gamut).

(Disclaimer 1: Thierry is a friend and is passionate about Ultra HD, he was invited speaker at both NAB and IBC last year on UHD, disclaimer 2: Although I have written for Harmonic in the past, I’m not under any engagement from them).

diagram UHD2

To be continued….

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Ultra HD ecosystem getting organized, alliance on the way

I attended the French HD Forum meeting on UHD last week in Paris, which hosted by Eutelsat. France prides itself on being innovative, often with government or strong regulator incentive. How this actually works out is a matter for politicians as in the case of the Minitel that predated the Internet. There is still no consensus on whether it was a good thing for France, with French people becoming used to eCommerce before the term even existed or whether on the contrary it made France miss the first Internet wave.

When it comes to TV standards similar debates rage. Much ink was spilt over the terrestrial switch-over which was completed here in 2011. The transition from SD to HD was always a political hot potato and is still underway with spectrum scarcity in the current DVB-T1 setup restricting HD to 5 of the 23 FTA channels.

Unsurprisingly, when the French get talking about UHD, there’s palpable tension with all the differing agendas. Does it make more sense to finish upgrading the end-to-end environment to HD before playing around with UHD, or on the contrary would it be more economical to avoid two upgrades and go straight to the ultimate target of full UHD? Should TV stations wait for customer demand or try to stimulate it with UHD services in as early as 2015?

Beyond these legitimate debates, there is also some confusion that is artificially created by a lack of information and sharing across the Ultra HD video ecosystem.

The risk of confusion

As UHD TV gradually tips over it’s peak of inflated expectations the TV industry at large, through the diversity of its reactions, will undoubtedly lead it down to the depths of disillusionment. Some TV stations publicly doubt if 4K will ever be a sound business proposition, while satellite operators and many technology vendors have bet their future on UHD success. Sometimes, even within the same industry group UHD is being pulled in several different directions at once as for example between the different UHD specifications of ITU, EBU, Digital Europe and CEA. Some key differences and commonalities are:

Feature

ITU EBU (phase 1) CEA Digital Europe

Resolution 

4320p 2160p 2160p 2160p
Frame rate 120/60 60 60/30/24 60/30/24
Color space BT2020 BT 709
HDMI NA 2.0 2.0
Bit depth 10/12 10 8 minimum 8 minimum
HDR Under standardization Phase 2 Not mentioned Not mentioned

The standardization of UHD has so far been much less chaotic than it was for say 3D technology at a similar stage.

Some clear standards emerging from:

  • the telecoms sector with the (ITU-R) recommendation from ITU’s Study Group 6 (more at: http://www.tvtechnology.com/news/0086/itu-issues-uhdtv-standards-recommendations-/213615#sthash.DXG9J7bU.dpuf),
  • the video technology space, which is also active with MPEG-HEVC having published a specification in January 2013 that can use used for UHD and that is now looking actively at HDR,
  • the consumer electronics industry that provided a vital part of the Ultra HD requirements with the standardization of HDMI 2.0,
  • the broadcasters, with the DVB/EBU ultra high definition broadcast format (UHD-1 Phase 1) specification for example.

But UHD’s success will rely on much more than just increased bandwidth and resolution and many of the other elements are still under discussion like for example the required increases in both color sensitivity and contrast with HDR (High Dynamic Range) or refresh rates with HFR (High Frame Rate). Norms for carrying higher definition audio with a greater number of channels have been standardized by ETSI with AC-4 that is actively promoted by Dolby. The MPEG standards body is currently in the process of creating an object based audio encoding standard with MPEG-H. The IP encapsulation techniques defined by SMPTE (2022-6) are still to be universally accepted by the industry.

To succeed faster, at a lower the cost for early adopters, UHD doesn’t need yet another body defining standards, but one that explains them, helps ensure their interoperability and promotes successful business cases.

After the failure of 3D, the industry needs to regroup around UHD to ensure its success, in a similar way the DASH Industry forum (dashif.com) has rallied all the DASH energies.

The Ultra HD ecosystem is quite complex and we provide here (courtesy of Harmonic) an end to end diagram for Ultra HD:

diagram UHDTo speed up the process of getting through the trough of disillusionment or maybe is it to cross the chasm, I learnt in Paris that a few market leading companies are in talks to set up an alliance. Its intended scope is to cover all parts of the content lifecycle from production to display, encompassing contribution, distribution, post-production and play-out. The Alliance’s stated goal will be to promote interoperable specifications, propagate effective business models, provide forecasting and share all successful application models.

The alliance would identify, describe and share specifications relevant to all parts of the distribution chain in close collaboration with standardization bodies.

Interoperability will be a key driver for all the alliance’s work, defining the system level interop points, organizing interop plug fests and publishing and promoting the results.

The Alliance would also deliver business models for both live and on-demand content, sharing any industry success stories and ensuring any mistakes are only ever made once.

An Ultra HD Alliance would promote existing industry reports but also pool real market data from its members and use projections to obtain the most accurate forecasts for critical market dynamics. The number of deployed UHD capable CPE, the readiness of live TV workflows or the extent of UHD VoD assets will be closely monitored and projected. The alliance also intends to show how UHD can be used in different application domains such as VoD, Live TV, Linear play-out, Push VoD, etc. presenting the benefits of UHD over HD with operator feedback.

To successfully promote Ultra HD, the alliance would be represented at trade shows and conferences. The alliance’s website would encourage interaction with blogging and social media. Webinars and various publications including whitepapers will also shorten UHD’s time-to-market.

The alliance would be open to companies from all parts of the ecosystem. Content providers, broadcasters, production houses, operators, playout companies, encoder vendors, audio specialists, security providers, chipset makers and UHD device manufacturers would all be able to join. Other organisations such as the HD Forum, EBU, DVB, etc. would be welcome too.

The setup of the alliance is still at the stage of informal talks, but the first formal meeting will take place at the CES in Las Vegas in January 2015.

Stay tuned for an update after the show (previous 4K blog on 7 Reasons why UHD/4K makes sense here)

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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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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.