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4K Broadcasting Expanding to More Devices

By | March 6, 2014
      LG 4K TV

      An LG 4K TV set. Photo: LG

      [Via Satellite 03-06-2014] The rapid growth of consumer devices is changing the adoption of 4K content. Increasingly, devices other than televisions are becoming capable of distributing 4K, making the pathways for content equally more numerous. This complication actually makes 4K easier to implement in some circumstances, but ultimately this presents a need for new pipelines so consumers can receive content in the way that they choose.

      “We have some customers that deliver video to over a thousand devices, and that wreaks havoc on the existing infrastructure that was in place before multi-screen use happened,” said Keith Wymbs, CMO for Elemental, a company that does video encoding and transcoding.

      Elemental is known for making many renditions of content for delivery over the Internet. The company has grown nearly 1,000 percent since 2010, making it the fastest growing supplier in its market. According to Wymbs, the two needs decoders should be aware of are the ability to use multiple devices for 4K, and the successful delivery of content at a frame rate of 60 frames per second (60P). The latter of these two revelations stemmed from Elemental’s 4K broadcast of the Sochi Olympics.

      “The key learning, which we essentially already knew, was that for sports content you really need to get to a frame rate of 60 frames a second to deal with the increasing spatial resolution of 4K,” explained Wymbs. “When you’re shooting fast horizontal movement in a P30 format versus a P60, there is a pretty big difference. Getting to P60 in terms of sports content is going to be critical.”

      Elemental completed its first 4K-P60 HEVC showcase in London during December, and followed this demonstration with another at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nev., last January. With this accomplishment, the encoder part of the 4K network has sped ahead of the pack.

      “We are waiting on the ecosystem in terms of the decoders to catch up to where the encoders are … today there are very few chipsets that have been field trialed that can handle a 4K-P60 HEVC [broadcast],” said Wymbs. “We are able to do a P60 in real-time right now, and there isn’t a comparable solution that can do P60 on the decode side. They are limited to P30 right now.”

      The main reason for this development gap is the absence of a fully ratified standard for chipsets. Once ratified, chipset producers can move forward with final versions for full deployments. In the meantime, Internet content delivery networks are streamlining the process for people to use 4K today. Elemental did a demonstration with Samsung using an IP-based delivery of 4K HEVC content that stands as a potential game-changer for the entire 4K ecosystem.

      “That’s an eye-opening moment,” said Wymbs. “You have essentially eliminated a lot of the infrastructure questions, particularly in the home. You have eliminated the HDMI cable that would typically go from the set top box to the TV, and you have eliminated the set top box and it simplifies the chain, but it’s also a little bit bespoke in terms of the user experience. They have to be willing to engage with the applications that reside in the smart TV framework.”

      Smart TVs also lack the overwhelming consumer acceptance of other video delivery systems, but they open up new opportunities for 4K. As long as the bandwidth is present, content can be delivered in bits very similarly to how websites are delivered. In addition, they allow consumers to use popular devices such as tablets as decoders. Elemental completed a demonstration of this technique with Qualcomm and Akami using a tablet and an HDMI cord. They were able to use this set-up to display content on a 4K TV set.

      “That made the tablet a set top box for a moment in time, and I think that’s a way we can envision the future being,” said Wymbs. “It’s not uncommon now for people — particularly with the latest iPad — to be decoding video on it and hooking it up to a TV with an HDMI cable. It’s how I watched all of the Winter Olympics, and being able to do that in a 4K environment would be pretty interesting.”

      The tablet itself can also be used for 4K; Wymbs adds that these devices have discernably improved viewing experiences despite their small size. They are held close enough to the viewer that the difference in resolution becomes apparent even in a tablet environment. Technology like this opens the doors for IP-based 4K content. By using the Internet, content providers are finding new ways to deliver 4K video to make it more appealing to consumers.

      “I typically think of the apps that get delivered where you can go into an ESPN app and see high quality video that’s Internet delivered,” said Wymbs. “Every single operator on the planet is reacting to what’s going on with Internet-delivered video. Not one of them with over 50,000 subscribers isn’t trying to put their video into all different types of environments. They are all reacting to an age that allows users to bring their own devices to the table to do content discovery, selection and viewing.”

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