Monthly Archives: September 2011

IBC 2011 – The wall-size interactive display surfaces at NDS

Take a screen as big as a wall linked to a connected TV, open half a dozen of the OTT apps or widgets at once, and enlarge and scatter them around a centrally-displayed video image. In a nutshell, that’s the NDS ‘Surfaces’ concept: an imagined scenario of how future display technologies could be deployed that the technology company believes could be only five years away.

However, the dynamic visual experience this set-up makes available is considerably richer than that thumbnail sketch would suggest. Controlled through a tablet, ambient lighting can be varied, the video display expanded and shrunk, and different sets of widgets called up depending on who’s in the room. In one of the scenarios shown, a family breakfasting could have weather and travel information showing either side of a TV news bulletin ‘screen’, below which a display of contextual headlines (triggered by tags embedded in the news video stream) would continually update.

Other scenarios showed the entire wall being used for an expanded super HD movie viewing (with the lights dimmed), and a talent show invoking social media applications such as Twitter or Facebook around the screen, together with a voting app. One of the key notions involved is the triggering of changes in the display through meta-data in the broadcast stream.

Simon Parnall, UK Vice President Technology at NDS, said one of the motives behind the demonstration was a recognition that more attention needed to be paid to the consumer’s viewing experience. Given the continually expanding screen sizes available, the scenario being presented was not that far-fetched, he suggested.

The wall-sized video ‘surface’ apart, all the technologies used were available today, with the entire demonstration being run through a Google Chrome web browser using the new HTML-5 standard.


IBC 2011 – Harmonic: first HEVC commercial deployments in 2014?

Encoding specialist Harmonic is expecting the new video compression standard High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) to have become an international standard by mid-2012, with commercial implementations beginning to use it in 2014.

Thierry Fautier, senior director of convergence solutions at Harmonic, said the target was for HEVC to be 50% more efficient than its predecessor, H.264/AVC. “Today, it’s running at around 30-35%,” he suggested. “I think a 50% gain will be achievable by mid-2012.”

As with its predecessors, the new compression system will on its introduction produce the most significant bit-rate savings with high-resolution video formats. “With SD, you won’t be able to squeeze it that much,” said Fautier. “But on HD [or Super HD] there will be a significant improvement. The more bits you throw at the new algorithm, the better it works.”

However, HEVC requires a five-fold increase in processing power over H.264/AVC, and Fautier stressed that the new technology was “not for tomorrow – it’s a long shot.”

Fautier also revealed that there was an ongoing debate within Harmonic about the use of software- rather than hardware-based encoding. While it was clear that for very specific types of scene, hardware encoding performed better, “for 80% of cases, we are finding that software is doing a good job.”

Fautier listed the advantages of a software-based approach as including the fact that it handled high processing requirements more cheaply, was more flexible (encoders could be upgraded more easily and cheaply), and had a reduced time to market.

IBC 2011 – DVB hopeful ‘T2-Lite’ will do better than DVB-H

Europe’s digital TV standards body, DVB, has formally unveiled its new ‘T2 Lite’ profile, designed to provide a subset of the full DVB-T2 specification which is optimised for mobiles and handheld devices.

DVB is hoping it will succeed where the first-generation mobile broadcast standard DVB-H failed, in part because – in the words of chairman Phil Laven – “mobile operators are going to have a serious problem of congestion on their networks” if video consumption on mobile devices continues to increase at current rates.

But Laven also pointed out that the new stripped-down, rugged profile allows the technology to be easily tested in the marketplace, because it can be integrated into a DVB-T2 multiplex without the need to build a dedicated network. This potentially makes its use more cost-effective than DVB-H.

BBC R&D experiments have shown that using a DVB-T2 multiplex normally carrying 40.2MBit/s (as in the UK Freeview HD profile), a T2 Lite channel could be squeezed into a 1.02MBit/s stream, with the DVB-T2 channels taking up the remaining 33.6MBit/s (the loss of 5-6 MBit/s is explained by the extra capacity devoted to making T2 Lite more robust).

Peter Siebert, DVB’s project director, promised that “very soon, all [DVB-] T2 chipsets will support T2 Lite.”

Row over French DTT platform’s transition to DVB-T2

A row has broken out in France over the pace at which its DTT platform should migrate to DVB-T2 – the second-generation version of the DVB-T transmission standard.

Earlier this week, Catherine Morin-Desailly, the French senator who heads up the Senate’s media and new technologies working group, put out a press release questioning the imposition of the more efficient standard on new DTT channels. “Migrating to DVB-T2 is premature,” she said. “There’s no reason to make French consumers change their equipment again just to access a few extra channels.”

The channels in question are the so-called ‘bonus’ channels due to be awarded to incumbent terrestrial broadcasters on December 1st this year, the day after analogue terrestrial television is finally switched off in France. The European Commission (EC) has suggested the awards contravene European legislation.

Last month, the French newspaper La Tribune leaked the contents of a confidential notification by the French government to the EC of a projected change in French legislation aimed at imposing DVB-T2 on new terrestrial channels. The newspaper interpreted the move as a ruse designed to delay the launch of the controversial bonus channels, since no DVB-T2 receivers would be available to receive them.