Multi-screen and over-the-top delivery have forced broadcasters wishing to expand the availability of their programming to consider new technology to make content deliverable in different formats, resolutions and protocols. As the broadcast industry makes the metamorphosis to a world where everything is IP-based, new challenges have appeared. Capacity planning must be done to ensure there is enough bandwidth and storage on an ongoing basis. Compression and monitoring technologies will play a major role in broadcaster’s networks and will have a significant impact on distribution, storage and contribution.
“Envivio helps the broadcaster create a range of formats which serve all of the different devices in a multi-screen environment. A broadcaster may need to support five to 15 different formats, each with a range of resolutions and different network connectivity options, plus different transport protocols. As the range of choices increase so does the complexity the broadcaster faces,” says Felts. “IP networks behave differently from traditional networks. When you are dealing with Internet delivery, there are no guarantees that your content will get through firewalls; there isn’t constant bandwidth; and there isn’t a guaranteed quality of service level. But the broadcaster needs to guarantee video quality for the viewer, so you try to maximize video quality given the condition of the network. That is where adaptive streaming comes into play. You send different versions of the same content and the end-user device can choose which to stream. For example, a tablet may train on a 1 Mbps data stream, but if the network doesn’t have enough capacity, the tablet automatically downshifts to a lower speed.”
Morizur says, “To receive video on tablets, smart phones, and other devices, the service provider must condition the video stream to work in different environments. The question is: How do you create video streams for non-traditional devices that don’t disrupt the traditional broadcast delivery workflow? The best approach is to create multiple streams for broadcast and mobile/web delivery from the original source. The source is usually high-quality video and fidelity, which ensures the best final result. This approach eliminates generational loss, which is what happens when you go through multiple steps of encoding and decoding. Harmonic only encodes the source once and then creates different profiles for satellite distribution, smart phones, etc.”
Paul Briscoe, manager of strategic engineering at Harris, points to several important factors pertaining to network convergence in the broadcast world. “There is a major migration going within most broadcasters with a transition from hardwired video infrastructure to a networked infrastructure. The result is a hybrid network, which, in turn, creates operational challenges. A good example is storage of programming as you have a plethora of different file formats,” he says. “Historically, vendors in the baseband video and video compression segments didn’t play in each other’s area. There was no real reason for these technical discriminators, and now there is a convergence of compressed media with uncompressed media. To the broadcaster, it doesn’t really matter whether they send compressed or uncompressed content. At the end of the day, they just want to push video out to their customers. Harris’ new Selenio media convergence platform combines traditional baseband video and audio processing as well as compression and IP networking in a single platform. The single platform infrastructure requires one base of operational familiarity, reduced control complexity as well as common training and standby spares. The Selenio can being repurposed as a broadcaster’s network evolves. This approach provides an economy to both the vendor and customer.”
Contribution-quality video typically has not been compressed, but that is changing with the adoption of HD and 3G video formats. “Compression is becoming a key technology in the contribution market compression and involves no compromise of video quality,” says Jan Helgesen, director of product management at Nevion. “Our main focus is on metro networks and the long-haul transport of contribution video. An uncompressed HD channel requires 1.5 Gbps of bandwidth, but our compression products allow the broadcaster to reduce the bandwidth required on contribution links by a factor of 10, which can save them a significant amount of money. Monitoring the contribution link for errors is a critical part of the overall solution. Hardware probes spread across the network insure that the quality of the content at the receiving end is as good as was at the origination point. Broadcasters and telcos alike utilize our monitoring tools to assure that service level agreements are being lived up to.”
Market in Early Stages
“Outside the broadcast world, I do not see a market leader,and this may have to do with the fact it is increasingly difficult for vendors to lead in every niche outside traditional broadcast given fragmentation in terms of emerging consumer devices and ways to reach these,” said Carlos Placido, senior analyst for NSR. “In the Internet world, Adobe Flash appeared to be positioned as a natural winner in Internet video given that their plug-ins are resent in over 90 percent of desktop computers worldwide, but then Apple emphasized on the iPad a rather ‘closed approach,’ tapping into the open nature of the Internet but sort of diminishing the universality of the Web browser, so there is constant disruption with game-changing players such as Apple.”Video delivery is different from applications such as telephony in that the end user is unlikely to settle for lower quality, says Placido. But the plethora of devices and networks has led to the development of multiple solutions. “Perhaps the biggest hurdle in the near future is how to stay ahead in the curve. I think that it is difficult to foresee the next big thing when it comes to video markets, mainly because consumer appetite for video in the different segments and delivery contexts is not entirely known. Consumer appetite for video on cell phones, as an example, has clearly not lived up to its expectations, and a number of application experts would argue that consumer demand for such an app has been one of the reasons for slow adoption, not as much disagreements about broadcast standards and 3G access coverage. In general, I think we are now in a transitional period where traditional TV players (both vendors and service providers) are seeking new opportunities, but that the long-term picture of TV is very different from what we know today. For service providers, higher last-mile broadband speed and more efficient video compression together threaten control over consumers’ services. For equipment vendors, I think it is Moore’s law at work that video coding and decoding functions can be ported in more devices cost-effectively, so in a sense, hardware is becoming software.”
Greg Berlocher has been active in the satellite industry for 25 years and is the President of Transcendent Global Networks LLC.