Germany Kicks Off DVB-T2 Now That HEVC Coding is Available

Germany has brought forward the commercial launch of the second generation DVB-T2 digital terrestrial technology with a bouquet carrying six public and commercial TV channels in urban areas starting broadcasts on May 31st 2016. This has been confirmed by participating TV broadcasters with the media regulators along with transmitter network and platform operator Media Broadcast as part of the transition towards full DVB-T2 deployment across the country by mid-2019.

The country has accelerated deployment after finding that HEVC will ensure capacity to deliver a full bouquet of HD services within the additional 50% or more bit rate enabled by DVB-T2 as compared with the first generation DVB-T standard. This could leave France as the last major European country to deploy DVB-T2 fully around 2020, although various trials have been conducted over the last few years. Both countries lag well behind most other European markets. The UK was first with DVB-T2 deployed by the country’s Freeview platform in March 2010, followed after a few months by DTT operators in Italy, Sweden and Finland, with a number of others also migrating over the next few years. Germany, although technologically advanced, has lagged behind in TV deployment for historical and cultural reasons, being late to get into pay TV as well.

For these earlier DVB-T2 deployments the H.264 codec was used, replacing the previous generation MPEG-2 deployed for first generation DVB-T. But now H.264’s successor HEVC is being incorporated, which Germany and France have been waiting for in the belief that otherwise DVB-T2 does not provide a sufficient capacity hike to make migration worthwhile.

Now German broadcasters have been encouraged by various findings relating to the capacity of DVB-T2 with HEVC, notably a recently published report from the EBU (European Broadcasting Union), entitled TV Programme Accommodation in a DVB-T2 multiplex for (U)HDTV with HEVC video coding. This report has found that a DVB T2 multiplex in conjunction with HEVC video coding is capable of providing a satisfactory number of HD programmes for most deployment scenarios. It can support 4-11 HD programmes for fixed roof-top reception and 3-7 HD programmes for reception on portable devices, which may include tablets or smart phones if they have DVB T2 capability.

EBU report finds that a DVB T2 multiplex with HEVC video coding can carry enough HD programmes for most services but perhaps not for Ultra HD.

EBU report finds that a DVB T2 multiplex with HEVC video coding can carry enough HD programmes for most services but perhaps not for Ultra HD.

However the report found that the situation for UHDTV needed further study because delivery standards are still being developed. Currently there is a UHD Phase 1 broadcast profile, for which fixed reception will support a multiplex capacity of just 2-4 UHD programmes even given optimistic assumptions over how well the system can be configured, or perhaps only 1 programme per multiplex given a more pessimistic view. For portable reception and even with optimistic assumptions, only 1-3 programmes per multiplex could be accommodated.

DVB UHD-1 Phase 1 will deliver a 2160p image at up to 60 FPS. A higher specification UHD 1 Phase 2 is being developed with two profiles, adding other features, notably High Dynamic Range (HDR) and High Frame Rate (HFR) at up to 120 FPS. As these standards are still being formulated, the EBU report was unable to predict how many programmes could be accommodated in a DVB T2 multiple, but it would clearly be even less than with UHD Phase 1.

For this reason there are rumblings of discontent over HEVC’s capabilities among some broadcasters and pay TV operators. All which is increasing interest in new codecs that claim greater advances in encoding efficiency. Most prominent among these is Perseus launched in April 2015 by V-Nova based in London, UK, with claims of being able to outperform HEVC by a factor of four. 

While this claim has yet to be verified independently by a test laboratory or operator, there has been confirmation that Perseus does deliver on its promise for video contribution from the field where the bit rates are higher. It has been deployed in this capacity by DTH operator Sky Italia.

What is clear is that the HEVC developers are under pressure to deliver even greater efficiency than the current technology offers. The increasing demand for 4K content will only increase that pressure.

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