NAB in Review: With 4K in Mind, Encoding Suppliers Focus HEVC Efforts on Smaller Screen

Early buzz surrounding NAB 2013 suggested that HEVC (also known as H.265) would loom large, and those hoping to learn more about High-Efficiency Video Coding were not disappointed. Over the course of the show, those four letters were mentioned nearly as frequently as 4K — often, but not always, as related entities.

The HEVC/H.265 compression standard, finalized earlier this year, requires 50% less bandwidth than its AVC/H.264/MPEG-4 predecessor to deliver the same video quality. Because this will, theoretically, allow twice the data to be pushed through existing pipes, many believe that HEVC will be integral to delivering 4K to the home.

Manufacturers of software- and hardware-based encoding and decoding platforms, while keenly aware of HEVC’s potential for 4K distribution, largely focused their efforts on a smaller screen at this year’s show.

First Steps in HEVC
Ericsson, having launched its SVP 5500 HEVC/H.265 encoder for the delivery of live and linear TV over mobile networks to mobile devices at IBC 2012, demonstrated a complete, end-to-end use of real-time HEVC encoding for mobile applications.

“The reason why it makes sense for mobile broadcast first is the rapid deployment of handsets. What other appliance do you have in your home or on your person that you replace every six months? It’s that rapid replacement that allows new technology to be able to be tried out,” said Matthew Goldman, SVP, technology, CTO Group, Ericsson. “The second area is the resolutions themselves. Whether it’s a smartphone or a tablet, the resolutions aren’t the Ultra High Definition. … that’s not needed initially in the first application in mobile.”

Envivio announced its HEVC Early Access Program for customers looking to implement the compression standard either through new installation or as a software upgrade for Envivio Muse.

“HEVC offers a number of advantages for operators, most immediately in enabling a high-definition experience for multiscreen and OTT at bitrates that meet the bandwidth requirements for those services,” said Julien Signès, president/CEO of Envivio, in a company press release. “Our software-based approach simplifies deployment for our customers, as they can migrate to HEVC via a simple license upgrade.”

ATEME also has its eye on facilitating HEVC experimentation. In addition to demonstrating its Kyrion CM5000, a modular hardware encoding platform, and Kyrion DR5000, a hardware-integrated receiver decoder, the company announced the industry’s first open-source implementation of a software media player supporting the codec.

“It’s real, and it’ll be delivered this year,” said Mike Antonovich, SVP/GM, Americas, ATEME, of the company’s adoption of HEVC. “Our transition plan is, you will see it released for file transcoding — as we do on-demand TV and catch-up TV in the fall — in September/October and for live streaming to the Web by October/November. That’s the path to market. That’s where the most need is: it’s at the low end of the mobile transportable market — the tablet, the phone — that needs very high quality delivered in increasingly smaller bandwidth, and so that’s where high-efficiency encoding is really important.”

Keeping with the theme of HEVC education, Elemental Technologies issued an industry-wide challenge, called the Elemental HEVC Throwdown. The company also highlighted its signature Elemental Live and Elemental Server performing 4K Ultra HD encoding, HEVC/H.265 encoding, and UltraViolet content creation, with video streaming to a variety of end-user players and devices.

“We’re really ahead of the game in HEVC,” said Keith Wymbs, VP, marketing, for Elemental Technologies. “We’re able to show 1080p bitrates at below 3 Mbps, and that is very disruptive for 1080p signal. It’s really going to change the way things play out. One of the main drivers in the multiscreen space, where we have a lot of focus, is that every bit that is sent over a CDN [has a] cost. If you can reduce those bits by 40% today, you immediately drop your operation costs for delivery, and so the payback is going to be very quick.”

The Hardware-Based Way
Exhibitors focused on hardware-based encoding tended to take a more measured approach than their software-based brethren, especially when AVC is still so widely used and accepted. Adtec Digital showed two new encoders at its booth: the EN-110, a multistream multicodec low-delay compression platform, and the EN-30, a two‐channel multicodec HD and SD contribution and distribution encoder.

“Our development pace is metered by demand, and there’s a tremendous amount of buzz out there [for HEVC]; it is a compelling codec,” said Kevin Ancelin, co-founder/SVP of sales, Adtec Digital. “The next place that we see HEVC really adding value is 4K. … We deliver standard definition to 1080p, 3D, and then 4K with the same technology. That middle vein of our business is so well served by MPEG-4 right now. … HEVC has a very long runway before it’s mainstream in our business. It will be mainstream in over-the-top very soon, and it will facilitate distribution for 4K. I argue contribution for 4K will be done with MPEG-4, and it will be done with MPEG-4 for some years.”

Digital Rapids expanded its StreamZ Live family of live encoders to include options for multiscreen dedicated broadcast and converged broadcast/multiscreen deployments. The company also showed enhancements for its recently released Transcode Manager 2.0 automated, high-volume media-processing software and its underlying Kayak dynamic workflow, including support for HEVC and 4K Ultra HD encoding.

“It’s very clear to everybody that [HEVC] is going to be the future and it’s going to get the same level of traction that H.264 did and faster than H.264 took over from MPEG-2,” said Mike Nann, director, marketing and communications, Digital Rapids. “Depending on the particular applications, it could be anywhere from six months to six years because, if you’re talking about Ultra HD to everyone’s living-room TV [and] replacing set-top boxes, that’s a longer cycle. If you’re talking over-the-top services and more-efficient delivering to mobile, that’s a much more realistic short- to mid-term goal.”

Nevion, which merged with T-VIPS earlier this year, showcased the VS904, a modular H.264/AVC-Intra/MPEG-2 encoding platform that provides high-quality SD/HD-SDI video transport with low latency.

“HEVC today is really in the distribution part [of the business]. … On the professional side of the business, the bandwidth is available to use other compression technologies,” argued Janne T. Morstøl, chief product and marketing officer, Nevion. “HEVC is complex, so it’s costly, and then there is more latency, whereas, on the professional side of the business, you don’t want that latency.”

The issue of latency is especially pertinent for Haivision, for which offering low latency is a key tenet of the company’s mission.

“If you’re really looking to do live streaming, you don’t want the people in the concession stands to be watching something and they hear the audience cheering from inside the stadium but they don’t know why because they haven’t seen the goal yet because there’s a seven-second latency,” said Anna Kozel, manager, marketing and partner relationships, Haivision. “It’s not impressive.”

In addition to launching the Makito X2, a next-gen, dual-channel, low-latency HD-SDI H.264 encoder, Haivision announced the launch of Haivision Video Cloud. According to the company, by leveraging the cloud, users can simplify the complexity of live– and on-demand–video workflows by integrating on-premise source encoding, file-based and live transcoding, media management, microsite builder, automated publishing and feed management, and viewer-based real-time analytics.

Elsewhere in the Las Vegas Convention Center, Elemental Technologies launched Elemental Cloud, its Platform as a Service (PaaS) for securely managing creation of premium live and on-demand content for delivery to every screen, and Telestream extended its Vantage file-based video-transcoding and workflow-automation software to the cloud. Telestream also announced several new formats for the Vantage transcoding-product family, including HEVC.

“We see HEVC [having] two real promises,” said Barbara DeHart, VP of marketing at Telestream. “You need HEVC for 4K distribution — that is something that is going to be coming — but what HEVC also promises is the more efficient use of bits so you can create the same image quality at lower resolutions or, using the same bitrates, you can increase the video quality. For us, it’s always been about the trade-off between image quality and distribution efficiency, and I think HEVC holds a lot of promise in that area.”

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