ETSI Aims at Hybrid Scalable Decoding Standard for UHD Migration

Telecoms and media specification body ETSI has launched a new group to develop a scalable video decoding system covering the whole spectrum of consumer electronics devices from Ultra HD capable televisions to smartphones. Motivated primarily by the emerging requirements of ultra HD, especially High Dynamic Range (HDR) and Wide Colour Gamut (WCG), the new body called Compound Content Management Industry Specification Group (CCM ISG) will focus on backwards compatibility with today’s standards so that legacy devices can access new services at the best quality possible for their capabilities.

By legacy the group includes not just old TV sets and set top boxes but also a large number of tablets and laptops which will not be UHD capable. ETSI has stated that backwards compatibility is essential for ensuring a smooth transition between current TV standards and emerging ones in the UHD sphere.

“With this new standardization work, ETSI will offer consumer equipment manufacturers a single and global decoder for all devices, without compromising image quality. This will save time and money for content distribution and consumers will benefit from the latest innovative technologies,” said David Holliday, chairman of ETSI CCM ISG.

ETSI highlighted HDR and WCG as key drivers for UHD technology, the former to reproduce sharper and more life-like dark and light regions, while the latter will allow richer images. However, High Frame Rate (HFR) will also be important for ensuring that fast moving action as in many sports is smoothly presented on larger displays with high viewing angles.

Some observers may question the need for yet another body dedicated largely to UHD when we have so many tackling the field already, including DVB, ATSC, ITU, SMPTE and MPEG, as well as the dedicated UHD Forum and UHD Alliance. But they each have different slants. Although nominally a European body given its name, ETSI has assumed the mantle for global standards around interoperability and backwards compatibility within the whole telecoms and media industry. This global status is reflected in its membership and in this case by the founding members of CCM ISG, which include US based Dolby, as well as Switzerland’s STMicroelectronics, UK Telco BT and Telefonica of Spain.

Tablets are now the largest category of legacy TV receivers requiring backwards compatibility for new UHD content standards.

Tablets are now the largest category of legacy TV receivers requiring backwards compatibility for new UHD content standards.

The DVB is also involved in setting standards, having just released UHD-1 Phase 2 at a meeting of its Steering Board in December 2015. This second phase of the UHD commercial requirements will add support for HDR and WCG. This has brought some clarity to the roadmap for UHD but left plenty of work to be done resolving the different versions and deployment options for HDR. This work is being done not so much by the DVB, but by the two separate though overlapping specialist bodies, the UHD Forum and UHD Alliance.

The UHD Alliance was launched first in January 2015 at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas by a group comprising mostly content owners, distributors and CE vendors, including Netflix, Disney, 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros, alongside Panasonic, Dolby, Samsung and Sharp. The UHD Forum followed around April 2015 by original charter members EricssonHarmonic, LG Electronics, NeuLion, and again Dolby. Since then the UHD Forum has grown quite rapidly with over 30 members now. The UHD Alliance focuses more on content and picture quality while the UHD Forum is more concerned with infratsucture, with both working with existing standards defined by the other bodies and ensuring compliance with them, rather than developing its own specifications.

ETSI’s CCM ISG will aim to develop an efficient and scalable decoder that all devices can use to display images at the highest quality they can on a given device, whether they have been encoded as conventional images or using HDR and WCG. The group was motivated by the failure of proposals submitted so far to avoid compromising either the quality of today’s television images or the quality of the future HDR/WCG images or both. The aim is to develop a Compound Content transmission system that would allow two or more grades of content to be sent simultaneously in such a way that a device running the appropriate decoding software could reconstruct one or more of these qualities or grades without compromising the potential of the other. ETSI has stated that any HDR/WCG transmission solution must take into account the diverse needs of the content creation industry itself, as well as work being undertaken in the ITU-R and SMPTE on HDR and WCG production technologies. It would also take account of the signals to be delivered through DVB or ATSC based infrastructures to both legacy devices and HDR/WCG devices.

In short, the CCM ISG hopes to define and specify the additional functionality needed in CPE devices to enable accurate recreation of both TV signals as transmitted today and future UHD signals incorporating HDR and WCG. ETSI conceded the task is onerous and will take some time, without setting specific milestones.

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