SVG@NAB Perspectives: Harmonic’s Trow on Virtualization, the Cloud, and the Future of HDR

Much of the big news at Harmonic’s booth hit right to the core of the biggest themes at the NAB 2016: the cloud, the migration to IP, and 4K and HDR. The show also marks a coming-out party of sorts for the combined portfolio of Harmonic and Thomson Video Networks, which it acquired earlier this year.

Harmonic launched two VOS software-based media-processing offerings powered by the cloud: VOS Cloud and VOS 360. VOS Cloud enables content and service providers to manage the video production and delivery workflow for broadcast and OTT applications via standard IT hardware, over public or private cloud infrastructure. Meanwhile, VOS 360 provides operators with a software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution hosted in the public cloud and maintained and monitored by Harmonic, enabling customers to launch revenue-generating, broadcast-quality OTT services “in a matter of minutes instead of months,” according to the company.

On the UHD and HDR front, Harmonic is showcasing the latest version of its ViBE 4K/UHD encoder, which features support for the HDR10 and Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG) HDR technologies and low-latency, high-bitrate 4:2:2 encoding for 4K contribution applications; the addition of UHD-encoding capabilities to the ViBE CP6000 contribution platform; and the ability to deliver high-quality UHD over the internet with the software-based Harmonic PURE Compression Engine.

SVG sat down with Ian Trow, senior director, emerging technology and strategy, to discuss Harmonic’s new offerings at NAB 2016, its role in the future of 4K and HDR, and the “virtualization revolution” taking place in the broadcast industry.

Harmonic’s Ian Trow at the company’s demo of HDR/SDR/upconverted HDR

Harmonic’s Ian Trow at the company’s demo of HDR/SDR/upconverted HDR

Tell us a bit about the new VOS Cloud and VOS 360 offerings you’re debuting.
VOS is a very big message for us this year. We are genuinely at a stage where broadcasters and solutions integrators are at the mid way between an appliance and a software solution for full service. That sounds like a nightmare scenario, but it’s not because we deal with software-based solutions as the core of all of our products now. Whether it be an appliance or a software solution or a complete service, we’ve got the same core technology. So a lot of broadcasters are interested in VOS as a cloud-based proposition, where they’ll be basically using what they used to buy as products offered as a full software solution, and operating and installing that themselves. Or, in the case of VOS 360, they are basically looking for a fully managed and operated service, that allows broadcasters to concentrate on producing content rather than understanding an increasingly complex [technology].

How do you see the “virtualization curve” changing? Do you see more broadcasters and content producers embracing the move away from hardware onsite and into a virtualized infrastructure?
For us, it breaks down traditional product barriers. It means that we can innovate faster, but it also means that we’ve got to adapt and get used to actually providing our technology and expertise in a different environment. We were one of the first to push virtualization in the form of VOS, and we’re well under way with that. Many of our encoder products have for some time now been available as software instances for people skilled to operate in a virtualized environment.

There are some people who want to go at a more [cautious] pace and actually buy an appliance, where the line of responsibility is clearer. And then there are others … who believe that their future is in a more SaaS, cloud-based environment. I think there are two reasons for that. One, broadcasters and content providers are spinning up channels and capability at a much quicker rate than previously seen. They’re playing around with business models for multi-stream delivery, which means that, frequently, there’s a burst in demand, where they’ve got to process a huge back catalog and there is no way on earth that the capex would make any sense for them to own and operate that material. Or, alternatively, they’re dealing with a one-off event where they have to scale all the way up and back down again. The Olympics is a perfect example of that.

I think, for many, the biggest issue [where] they still have to be convinced is security. That is an obvious area of concern for people, but I think people are becoming much more comfortable with that issue.

You have an HDR demo at the booth with three identical LG OLED displays showing HDR, SDR, and SDR upconverted to HDR. What’s the purpose of this demo. and what challenges need to be addressed on the HDR front?
Yes, we have a wonderful HDR demo here similar to what we had at CES. HDR comes in two guises. First of all, the releases where you’ve got HDR 10, which we are demonstrating here. There’s a lot of interest in HDR, but a lot has to slot into place because a lot of these are staged demos, not [real-world scenarios]. What we’re trying to do is put some clarity into that and say here’s what HDR looks like in the form of HDR 10, or Hybrid Log Game for live application, which is the BBC and NHK solution and gaining a lot of attention.

There’s a lot to do. You have to deal with things like what you use as your grading format? Everyone would love to use RAW, but that means absolutely massive [files]. Typically, people are going to things like ProRes and [codecs] like that: there’s a limited scope for what you can do with HDR, but it is more realistic to work with, and it, nonetheless, still looks very impressive.

Do you have any announcements related to HEVC development here at the show?
Two things. First of all, we have single-slice encoding. Most of the [4K] contribution circuits that have been run are typically quad circuits, where they stitch all the content back together at the end. We have a product in the CP 6000 that does that and is acting as the backbone for a lot of sports venues. We’ve also got the ViBE 4K, one of the things that we picked up from the amalgamation with Thompson. That’s a single-slice encoder that has the kind of efficiency drive to make UHD contribution viable. And now decoders are starting to come onto the market where we get back to more normal sense of what infrastructure is required for contribution.

Other highlights from Harmonic’s booth at NAB 2016:

  • High-performance media storage: The new Harmonic MediaGrid 4000 scale-out shared-storage solution is optimized for diverse media workflows and offers twice the performance of the MediaGrid 3000 system, as well as a 50% increase in storage capacity.
  • High-density transcoding: With an upgrade path to HEVC, the ViBE XT1000 Xtream transcoder provides a smooth and cost-effective solution for advanced video delivery.
  • Immersive 360-degree VR viewing experience: With UHD encoding powered by the Electra X3 media processor, Harmonic and selected partners are showcasing an immersive professional-sports 360-degree VR viewing experience.

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