The New Era Of Broadcast - Mezzanine Links And Beyond

20 years ago, broadcast television went through an evolution as it transitioned from analog to digital distribution. This migration was driven by the demand for larger channel counts and spectrum reallocation. Since that transition, another, even more significant sea change has occurred, the internet.

It has fundamentally changed the way media is consumed, forever. With this paradigm shift — and more robust data networks — media is now consumed at a rate no one could have predicted. Today, we are immersed in a world of video, and with powerful mobile devices it’s streaming to the palm of our hands 24x7x365. This new era of ubiquitous video requires purpose-built solutions for specific applications; products that ensure broadcasters never miss a shot — all at the very highest quality, lowest latency, and consuming minimal bandwidth. A new game is on!

Supporting emerging video compression standards is central to this evolution. Advanced Video Coding (AVC/H.264) is the most pervasive codec standard for nearly all television and streaming applications, including Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube — which has 2 billion monthly active users. However, AVC is a standard that isn’t necessarily adequate to support all broadcast workflows. Over the last five years, a more advanced CODEC standard has emerged that improves the compression quality of AVC by another 50%. High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC/H.265) is the latest compression standard designed to support UHD video streams. Our users consider us as a market leader in this field, focused on developing the HEVC CODEC and products that utilize both standards, with products that serve both legacy AVC and emerging HEVC workflows for contribution and OTT streaming.

VITEC's priority is to deliver the highest studio quality content at the lowest bit rates. The team of CODEC engineers spent more than five years maturing our HEVC GEN2+ CODEC. The result is the MGW Ace Encoder and Ace Decoder pair delivering pristine studio-quality video with 16 channels of audio at 8 to 30 Mbs. An uncompressed HD 1080p60 interlaced link is 1.5 gigabits per second (Gbs). To analogize the efficiency of HEVC, you could imagine compressing a cargo ship stacked with shipping containers down to the size of a speedboat. Thanks to all the new and advanced tools integrated in the HEVC standard, the Ace Encoder and Decoder links can maintain studio quality 4:2:2 10-bit performance, providing pristine links for remote and traditional postproduction workflows at aggressively low bit rates. There are virtually no visual artifacts despite consuming a small fraction of the bandwidth of an uncompressed SDI link.

In the broadcast industry, we call the first compressed link a mezzanine link. This compressed link must maintain the highest sound and image quality possible. Traditionally, high bandwidth codecs have been used for mezzanine workflows. In building construction, a mezzanine is traditionally a floor level on a building that’s between two double-height ceilings. They’re often found in hotel lobbies for social gathering areas such as bars or restaurants. In Broadcast, uncompressed studio-quality SDI is the lobby while the mezzanine would be seen as the next level up. HD-SDI operates at 1.5 gigabits, 3G-SDI requires 3 gigabits per second. A mezzanine CODEC maintains the HD-SDI or 3G-SDI quality but operates on a much lower bit rate.

A traditional mezzanine codec, such as JPEG2000 (J2K) requires hundreds of megabits per second to maintain mezzanine studio quality. J2K is traditionally configured from 75 to 300 Mbs to deliver the SDI service. VITEC’s GEN2+ HEVC codec changes the game. It compresses content at 1/10 of the bandwidth of JPEG but with the similar video quality, assuring clean and reliable transport links from 8 to 30 Mbs based on content and customer requirements. HEVC is a mezzanine CODEC perfectly suited for the rigors and demands of live broadcast-quality streaming.

Broadcast workflows operating within a corporate network require the lowest possible glass-to-glass latency. Without consideration of the network latency, our Tier 1 Broadcast contribution solutions deliver content with ultra-low-latency of under one frame glass-to-glass while still maintaining studio-quality 4:2:2 10-bit performance.

Many of the commodity products available today don’t offer the robust features to meet the entirety or variety of demands within a broadcast workflow. As we pivot and focus on Tier 1 Broadcast contribution, users can expect the same reliability and performance.

Emerging workflows demand flexibility. Ross Video’s openGear (OG) platform fits into the Broadcast market very well. The OG platform allows organizations to leverage the general-purpose 20-slot 2RU redundantly powered chassis for solutions from multiple vendors, including VITEC. There are over 30,000 OG frames deployed in media and broadcast facilities worldwide. Organizations that utilize the OG platform have the benefit of redundant power, and cooling, with a central point of control for multiple cards that are hot swappable.

Therefore, our Ace Decoder OG was a natural evolution - it is interoperable within an existing AVC infrastructure but also provides 4:2:2 10-bit HEVC decoding. It supports standard-definition up to UHD/4K P60 resolutions, BT.2020 color and high dynamic range (HDR), 12G-SDI, 3G-SDI, plus 16 channels of embedded audio. It's a truly purpose-built decoder for high-performance Broadcast contribution applications.

As the industry continues to shift and create many new workflows, broadcasters will require increasingly sophisticated tools that support these emerging workflows required. HEVC is a mature CODEC and its share of market is expanding. Our CODEC engineering team is already active helping standardize and developing the Versatile Video CODEC (VVC/H.266) which goes well beyond the capabilities of the sophisticated HEVC/H.265 CODEC. The market and each customer’s requirements will determine what CODEC best serves the application. Regardless, VITEC supports your current and future CODEC requirements. 

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