NAB Perspectives: Ericsson’s Furgusson talks 4K ICC cricket, and the evolution of HEVC

Ericsson has been at the forefront of 4K and HEVC demonstrations and innovations at NAB Shows and IBC in recent years, and NAB 2015 was no different. HEVC was all over Ericsson’s booth, along with an NAB Best Paper Award-winning area focused on high dynamic range, and plenty of 4K — including Ericsson’s role in Tata Sky’s delivery of the ICC Cricket World Cup. In addition, Ericsson showcased its latest DVB-S2X satellite-digital-broadcasting-standard solutions for live sports contribution.

SVG sat down with Carl Furgusson, head of business development, TV compression, Ericsson, to discuss the maturation of HEVC, the successful Tata Sky 4K cricket delivery, and how Ericsson’s compression solutions are playing a role in the ‘at-home–production’ model that is changing the face of live remote sports production. 

What is Ericsson highlighting at the show that pertains specifically to sports contribution?

Here at NAB, we have our solutions available with DVB-S2X [satellite-digital-broadcasting standard], including our AVP3000 DSNG equipment and RX8200 pro receivers. DVB-S2X in this scenario is typically offering a 20% bitrate increase in the same satellite-transponder capacity.

For sports, we are starting to see that can be used for higher-quality transmission from a significant sports event or you can start to trade that capacity in order to do a multi-camera–angle [production]. We see some interest in starting to do multi-camera–angle [productions] from event to studio, which allows production mixing and direction and stuff like that to be done in fixed studio infrastructure rather than rolling major trucks out for these events. Obviously, in some events, a sports stadium that has a high-capacity telco link is going to bring multiple camera angles back [in a traditional manner]. Other events, though, where you don’t have that fixed-wire infrastructure and you are on satellite, S2X is giving you some additional capacity on the same dish sizes to start and then use that extra capacity for camera-angle [productions].

The other aspect we have on the sports coverage [has] more to do with low-cost solutions for events where you’re not going to roll out a full production truck and rely on only the satellite or telco capacity. That could be tracking a surfing championship across the island or a college football game or something where people have the content but don’t really have the revenue-generation ability to make the cost of covering and delivering that content worthwhile. Our solution for that uses a managed network, so [it can be used] anywhere you can get Internet access, whether that’s a cable modem, a DOCSIS modem, a public WiFi hot spot. We’re actually using an unmanaged network to backhaul content from point to point.

Can you tell me a bit about the role Ericsson played in Tata Sky’s 4K delivery of the ICC Cricket World Cup from Australia last month?

Tata Sky launched its 4K to the home for the ICC Cricket World Cup in Australia, but our deal with Tata wasn’t just 4K to the home; it was also 4K contribution systems as well. Our 4K contribution solutions used for live rugby coverage with BT and Intelsat at IBC last year are now being commercially deployed for 4K, which is what we sold Tata for the actual event coverage on the content-acquisition side. And then we sold an HEVC Main 10 4K system for actual broadcast to the home. That is the combined knowledge and capacity that [enabled] Ericsson to put both ends of that chain together.

Ericsson has played a key role in the development of HEVC; what are you highlighting in that vein at the show?

On the distribution side, we are also focused on HEVC solutions end-to-end. So we’ve brought out the HEVC decoding and capability of the [software-upgradable] RX8200 pro receiver, of which there are 46,000 or so deployed around the world today. And we are looking at what it would mean for the programmers to start doing HEVC distribution rather than MPEG-4–based distribution when the next transponder refresh or the next midlife refresh is coming up, which is going to happen for many of the networks in the next couple years. We’re showing the bitrate gains and improvements, both of current-generation MPEG-4 over what was deployed three to five years ago and of where HEVC is heading for HDTV-content distribution.

You also have a High-Dynamic Range section at the booth. Can you tell me a bit about that?

We’re highlighting high-dynamic-range TV. We’ve done that in private environments in the past, but here we are highlighting the experience that people are going to gain from a high-dynamic-range TV. And that’s certainly open in the debate about HD with HDR versus 4K TV without HDR. [HDR] will be applicable to both HD and Ultra HD.

Although I think the majority of the discussions that we’ve been having with the industry and operators is starting to flip, the last 12 months, it was about Ultra HD. And if anything, the conversation is almost flipping, starting as “We want to go from HD to HD with HDR,” and then Ultra HD is the add-on. I think it’s because people have now had more of an opportunity to actually visually witness high dynamic range in HD.

Obviously, from an operator’s perspective, being in HD means much lower bitrates than what all of the bit cost was going to be for doing 4K TVs. [Say] you’re a terrestrial broadcaster or a telco operator [with] a restricted last-mile delivery pipe, looking at 4K and saying, “I fundamentally don’t have the bandwidth to deliver 25- or 35-megabit 4K.’ And then HDR comes along, and, finally, everybody gets to see some of it, and it’s like the holy-grail answer. You can do a new consumer experience that’s clearly better but without the data cost as well.

We will see some 4K/UHD services with HDR, but I think we’ll see it for high-premium-value content sports and movie channels. We’ll always have that niche set in the same way that we had HD for so long versus SD. But I can see the industry looking much more at HD than at HDR.

What do you see as the biggest remaining hindrances to the widespread adoption of HEVC, on both the contribution and the distribution side?

We have seen the first commercial deployment for HEVC to the home with 4K service at Tata Sky, and we’re also commercially deploying HEVC at HD resolutions for LTE broadcast. We expect to see HEVC going to multiscreen OTT services, but it’s not yet there, and we expect to see it happen with the operators who have more truly OTT off-network delivery and therefore are pushing content into a public CDN. Then the operators who are delivering adaptive-bitrate multiscreen content across their own network, where they don’t have an external CDN cost — like BBC with the iPlayer or HBO Now. When you go into a public CDN system, you are suddenly ending up with a bill at the end of each month for every bit delivered.

And, of course, all of the multiscreen operators today have got the analytics to know what devices have been pulling the versions of their service, and they can use those analytics to see when there’s a critical mass of decode-capable devices in the field, to know that it’s right to pivot to HEVC rather than MPEG-4. But that’s not there yet.

The other area we’ve been anticipating HEVC happening is with telco operators and trying to do extended reach. But again, the barrier there has been chipset availability [for] set-top boxes that can then get deployed to the home. Tata Sky was one of the few operators that publicly announced that they now have a set-top [box] available. Many of the operators haven’t yet. It’s a huge investment, and so that’s really the time delay for that side.

It’s those technology time delays in terms of going from standard to making equipment a reality that is slowing the adoption of HEVC in the sports coverage and on the backhaul in the event-coverage side as well.

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