Tag Archives: IBC

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.

‘T2-Lite’: a new candidate for mobile broadcasting

European digital TV standards body DVB has introduced a new, slimmed-down profile as part of the latest version of its next-generation DVB-T2 standard, targeting ‘low-capacity’ applications such as mobile broadcasting.
Known as ‘T2-Lite’, the new profile avoids processing- and memory-heavy modes, allowing more efficient receiver designs to be used – e.g. for a DVB-T2 tuner in a smartphone or tablet.
T2-Lite is limited to a maximum bit-rate of 4MBit/s, whereas the full HD-centric profile can run up to 48MBit/s (in the UK, DVB-T2 uses around 40MBit/s for DTT HD – see here.)
DVB says that “One possible use for T2-Lite enables the simulcasting of two different versions of the same service, with different bit-rates and levels of protection, which would allow better reception in fringe areas.”
According to a post on the BBC’s R&D blog, the BBC has been testing T2-Lite since July 7. In the trial, an HD signal for fixed reception and a T2-Lite version are combined within a single multiplex, with the T2-Lite frames placed in the gaps between the HD ones.
The concept that a single DVB signal could contain different versions of a broadcast which could be extracted by different receivers with different capabilities was proposed by the ‘god-father’ of DVB, Prof Ulrich Reimers, when DVB was originally set up, but has yet to prove popular in practice.
The BBC solution will be demonstrated at the forthcoming IBC exhibition in Amsterdam.

IBC Report – Microsoft considers Canvas as possible Mediaroom feature

Microsoft is considering supporting the UK Canvas specification – backed by a BBC, ITV and BT joint venture – as a possible feature of its Mediaroom IPTV suite, but only if it is genuinely open.

The suggestion came from Ted Malone, senior director of product management for TV, video, music and platform business at Microsoft, when Connected TV met up with him at IBC.

“If it proceeds as an open approach,” said Malone, “we could add support as a feature of Mediaroom.” Malone said that Microsoft would be paying close attention to the Canvas specification, when it finally emerges, to see if it included any proprietary standards. If so, Microsoft would not consider it to be “an open format.”

Malone declined to comment on what role BT Vision might play within the Canvas venture (a source of considerable speculation at IBC) , but, since this incorporates Mediaroom technology, albeit in a limited implementation, it does suggest one way in which the hybrid concept could be extended to accommodate Canvas. That, of course, will depend on what technology elements the Canvas venture eventually decides to incorporate in its specification, and whether it gets regulatory approval.

Malone pointed out that Microsoft was itself in the process of refashioning Mediaroom to make it a more open platform: for instance, he said, the current Windows Media Player DRM used in its IPTV suite was viewed as having reached the end of its working-life. It would now be replaced by PlayReady, a next-generation DRM product which is already part of the Silverlight platform.

This would make it easier for a Mediaroom set-top box to stream protected video content to other devices in the home. “We’re looking to migrate all of our proprietary DRM [to PlayReady],” Malone said.

The move reflects increasing convergence between the Mediaroom product – intended for managed IPTV platforms – and Microsoft’s ‘over-the-top’ technologies. For instance, Mediaroom will be extended to support Silverlight itself as well as the PlayReady DRM it incorporates. It will also adopt Microsoft’s Smooth Streaming technology. This adapts the quality of the video stream in real time, based upon the consumer’s changing bandwidth and the performance of his or her device, to minimise buffering time and offer faster startup times.

“Mediaroom will embrace these and extend the reach of the Mediaroom service,” said Malone.

Connected TV views this as a natural progression: as the performance and reliability of consumers’ broadband links increases and offers a video experience more akin to that of a managed IPTV network, the need for Microsoft to support two entirely distinct product lines is disappearing.

IBC Report – DVB-T2: a possible home for the DVB’s next-generation handheld standard?

Connected TV met up at IBC for the first time with Peter Siebert, who recently took over from Peter MacAvock as executive director of the DVB Project office (earning himself the nickname ‘Peter 2.0′ in the process), and was treated to the latest version of the DVB standards road-map.

One of the most interesting elements to come out of our discussion concerned the fate of what used to be known as DVB-H2 – the next-generation version of the mobile/handheld broadcast standard DVB-H.

Temporarily shelved because of an intervening effort to get the satellite/terrestrial hybrid version of DVB-H (DVB-SH) underway (its first European implementation will be on the Solaris Mobile venture (see previous post), it is now back on the books again – under the working title of DVB-NGH (for ‘Next Generation Handheld).

Asked whether DVB-T2 – which has always encompassed advanced mobile broadcast capabilities as well as high-capacity fixed HDTV ones – mightn’t itself play the role of a DVB-H substitute, Siefert conceded that “maybe [DVB-NGH] is only DVB-T2. The elements of DVB-T2 are a good candidate.”

On the face of it, this might make good sense: operators in some countries are already looking upon robust profiles of DVB-T as a potential substitute for DVB-H, simply because such implementations re-use a pre-existing transmitter network.

Equally likely, perhaps, would be DVB-T2 with ‘add-ons’ – for instance, DVB-NGH could contain DVB-T2 plus LGE (4G) elements – or, indeed, it could end up as something entirely separate from DVB-T2, Siebert said.

In any event, the next DVB Technical Module meeting is expected to give the go-ahead to a new technical group which will decide what NGH will be based on.

At that same meeting, a study group will be reporting back on current industry 3D developments (very much the theme of this year’s IBC show) with a view to a decision being reached about what DVB’s role should be in the 3D standardisation process, if any. Siebert suggested DVB come contribute elements to do with service information and transport protocols.

Siebert said there was also an ongoing discussion going on between the HBBTV backers (see previous story) and DVB as to “whether DVB should play a more active role” in the hybrid DVB standardisation space, perhaps acting as an umbrella group for various industry initiatives.

Amongst other recent developments, nine European operators, including the likes of Kabel Deutschland, Kabel Baden Wittenberg, Ono and Com Hem, have now committed themselves to the next-generation version of DVB’s cable standard, DVB-C2. Siebert commented that in Germany in particular, cable operators were running out of capacity, so they required the extra capacity DVB-C2 could offer. As an example, he pointed to the fact that Kabel Deutchsland’s RFPs now contained questions about whether set-top box manufacturers were able to support DVB-C2.

The first DVB-C2 prototypes are due to be shown at the Anga Cable show in Germany next year, and IBC 2010 would certainly feature the technology, Siebert said.