NAB Perspectives: ATEME’s Antonovich Sees Major Progress in HEVC, 4K Development

The ATEME booth stayed plenty busy throughout last week’s NAB 2014, thanks to a variety of future-looking HEVC, 4K/Ultra HD, and 360-degree experience demos and product announcements.

Chief among the announcements was Live Any-to-Any, ATEME’s carrier-grade video-processing solution for next-generation TV Head-End, which serves as a real-time multichannel/format encoder/transcoder for multiscreen delivery of linear channels (TV, mobile, and Web). The product has been enhanced with a variety of features, including support for live 4Kp60 HEVC encoding.

Also new was LiveSphere — a 360-degree video-broadcast solution for live entertainment, sports events, and television shows — which provides an immersive experience for consumers on second screens. The LiveSphere demonstration explored different types of content and use cases for 360-degree television on tablet, smartphone, and virtual-reality headset.

Other demos included a UHDTV-on-Demand demonstration in partnership with LG Electronics, which showed 4K VOD content encoded with TITAN in HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding) Main 10 profile and displayed on a 65-in. LG television. ATEME also demonstrated the in-depth integration of its Kyrion encoders and decoders into advanced video-network–management software.

SVG sat down with ATEME Americas GM Mike Antonovich to discuss the demos and products on display at the booth and where he sees ATEME playing a role in advancing 4K/Ultra HD, HEVC, and the future of video.

There are lots of cool 4K and HEVC demos on display at the booth. What do you see as the most sports-relevant application?
There is a lot, so I don’t think I can pick one thing, but we are seeing traction with the Zixi implementation for unmanaged network contribution — [for] tier-2, tier-3 sports — through a backhaul of protection circuits and using the public Internet to do B-roll and contribution [tasks]. So it extends the way customers are looking at contribution. It doesn’t displace anything anybody does on the fixed path for the high-end sports. But, for lower-level college sports, where people are finding a market to put any content up, we see this as a huge solution. There is a market for water polo if the cost is down. And Web distribution, of course, has shifted the paradigm and made a lot of this possible.

How are you seeing HEVC 4K develop in the sports market and the media market as a whole?
HEVC 4K is moving pretty quickly now for the nonlinear, episodic world. You are going to see the embrace of HEVC 4K pretty quickly. The sports side will lag because of infrastructure bandwidth issues, as we know, but the market is definitely moving. So HEVC is real; it’s a product we’re shipping. We are using it predominantly in the streaming business. We are still waiting for edge devices, set-top boxes, and so on to come together, but that is part of our demos here. We are doing full [interoperability] between displays and the decoder chips, where we are showing exactly how it’s done for both interlace and 4K. It’s all starting to come together.

Six months ago, we were a long way away, in terms of anybody believing that a chipset was coming anytime soon for the decoders. There’s still a lot of confusion over what the standard would look like and what the final implementation would be. We still have a few challenges with single-wire interface for contribution and distribution. And there’s a lot of work still to be done for HDMI 2.0 and everything else to facilitate this. But we have come a long way.

Any real-world 4K projects that ATEME is involved with right now?
We have a 4K-channel launch going up this month in South Korea. We are providing the encoding for the world’s first  live 4K channel. They are a little content-starved, but they do have a channel and have gotten consensus from the 30 cable operators in Korea to create the bandwidth for this, so it will enjoy mass distribution.

HEVC tends to get a lot of buzz when it comes to its 4K applications. Do you see its having a more immediate impact on HD compression and transmission?
Yes, absolutely, because everybody wants to use less bandwidth to do what they do or make better use of the available bandwidth they have. And the promise of HEVC is a 40% or 50% improvement in subjective video quality or the ability to reduce quality at the same subjective level. And everybody’s driven by economics and quality in one form or another. So HEVC really does become a game-changer for SD and HD channels, too, because of that ability to throttle the bandwidth down, to move into narrower pipes, to go wireless, to go Internet-based. So there’s plenty of opportunity to employ HEVC to do a much better job with today’s television.

So where do you see HEVC impacting the market most in the short term?
I think you’re going see some OTT plays that come out for second and third screen that’ll augment what people do with sports pretty quickly. This is a great opportunity to enhance what you deliver to a fan base by going over the top and creating a private-network experience for folks. I think you’re going see us on more sports portals that are team-based, as opposed to league-based, that can support all the available streams you can get.

Can you tell me a bit about the LiveSphere 360-degree experience demo?
We think it has some wonderful second- and third-screen opportunities for folks who want to be able to visualize the you-are-there. Some of the videos we’ve demoed have been ski jumping, where you’re wearing the helmet on the [way] coming down the hill and you can look sideways and back up the hill. I see a case for basketball warm-ups, where somebody’s taking the three-point shots or dunking and you’re seeing what they see on the court. I can’t see LeBron James running around with a six-camera helmet on during the game, but, during pregame, he just might. It makes a great experience to be able to put some of this on the Web. We see things like embedding cameras in the goal mount, so that people can actually see the field of view of a goalie in soccer or a hockey goalie.

When do you see HEVC truly going beyond the fringes, hitting the mainstream in terms of contribution and distribution?
HEVC for live OTT is available today. You can buy it off the shelf. The challenge, of course, is, everybody who has an incumbent audience has got to figure out how to get them to HEVC[-compatibility]. But the bridge to that is using HEVC–to–MPEG-4 transcoder applications, which are already on the iPad. The new Android devices already have HEVC enabled. HEVC will be on the TVs you buy in the next six months.

The first guys to go to market are going to be the nonlinear services like Netflix, Amazon. You can see a lot of episodic TV going that way. Sports will lag, except for OTT. I think you will see markets like Korea and other markets embrace this a lot sooner. When you’ve got a large install base like North America, that legacy creates the biggest challenge due to scope and scale of our networks. We have more MPEG-2 than the rest of the world because we had such a scale problem, so other [nations] can move a little bit faster now.

If I had to make a fearless forecast, I would say that, by the end of the year, you are going to see a major league with an OTT play using HEVC.

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