Services Global Viewpoint – November 2016

Virtualization Solves Transcoding Challenges

Broadcast and production teams and facilities need not invest in expensive infrastructure to support multiple video formats, only some of which may endure. Instead, outsourcing those needs to a video transcoding service may be a less expensive and more flexible option.

No technology manager wants to petition for the funds to support a technology or format/feature that may last only a few years. Such a move could be a career-ending. Yet, television sets with new features such as; 4K, UHD, High Dynamic Range (HDR) and Wide Color Gamut (WCG) will soon be on dealer shelves and someone will need to deliver that content.

Then we have packaging formats; MPEG-DASH, Adaptive Bit Rate, plus delivery formats, HEVC/H.265 and AVC/H.264. Such content is needed for mobiles, STBs and streaming appliances.

At least two versions of HDR have been proposed and no one knows which one, or both, finally may be adopted. A similar issue applies to wide color gamut images. There has yet to be an agreed-upon standard.

In the image above, the left portion shows a standard display output of 500 nits. The brighter right display shows the same image encoded for HDR at approximately 1,000 nits. Set makers are betting viewers will pay extra for brighter images.

In the image above, the left portion shows a standard display output of 500 nits. The brighter right display shows the same image encoded for HDR at approximately 1,000 nits. Set makers are betting viewers will pay extra for brighter images.

Such challenges could mean a huge headache for broadcasters, VOD and MVPD providers. These companies may have little choice but to support many of these viewer-enticing enhancements. One solution is to build entirely new facilities or at least new workflows. Think expensive. Another option is to meet this challenge without a high CAPEX investment by outsourcing for the needed solutions.

Service via the cloud

The need to support multiple formats, bit-rates and features can be met by virtualized processing, leveraging the cloud to perform the work that would be expensive to do in-house. Then, if/when a format changes, it becomes a software change for the service provider. What does the broadcaster do? Nothing, the workflow stays the same.

CIE 1931 chromaticity diagram showing the Rec. 2020 (UHDTV) color space in the triangle and the location of the primary colors. Rec. 2020 uses Illuminant D65 for the white point.

CIE 1931 chromaticity diagram showing the Rec. 2020 (UHDTV) color space in the triangle and the location of the primary colors. Rec. 2020 uses Illuminant D65 for the white point.

New type of solution

Broadcasters have traditionally wanted to own everything that might touch their signal. As technology got more expensive, that self-protective layer became more costly. Station managers asked their engineers why each of six stations in a city had to build a $1million tower? “Can’t we share these expensive hunks of steel?” they asked. Money talks. Competitors found ways to cooperate, resulting in lowered costs for each station. Today, the cost of proprietary ownership of technology is often too high to be CAPEX justifiable.

When the solution is offered as software, the benefits of outsourcing can be great. The service provider can “sell it” and then “sell it again”. The client gets the benefit of lower costs because the expense of providing the required software and service can be spread across multiple users.

Why outsource?

One example of how outsourcing can help involves a VOD platform. Offering HDR content over a VOD platform is challenging. The files are large, with some programs having 600 Mbs sources. With high-speed action, CGI and rapid-movement shots, streams may exceed 1 Gbps. Few broadcasters or MVPDs are equipped to handle such content. And, the expense to build a system with such headroom makes little business sense.

In April, 2016, VIZIO announced its support for HDR10 in its SmartCast P-Series and M-Series Ultra HD HDR Home Theater Displays.

In April, 2016, VIZIO announced its support for HDR10 in its SmartCast P-Series and M-Series Ultra HD HDR Home Theater Displays.

Then there is the matter of standards. More accurately, the lack of standards. How many different workflows might be needed to process content with 1080i, 1080p, 4K, UHD, some with SDR and HDR characteristics? Even if one could afford all the encoding technology to deliver that content, the actual hardware might be five years from reaching the market.

Finally, how many versions of a technology can you afford to support? There currently two versions of HDR; HDR10 and Dolby Vision. Care to bet your career picking one format?

TV manufacturers Samsung, VIZIO and Sony are backing HDR10. LG has a line of sets that support both Dolby Vision and HDR10 formats in one display.

HDR10 is supported by several studios, content providers and associations. However, HDR10 doesn’t roll off the tongue or have the name recognition as does Dolby. In addition, Dolby Vision is an easy-to-remember brand coming from a familiar company. Which format will your facility support? Both?

Unlike when Dr. Peter Venkman in Ghostbusters first saw the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and said, “Nobody

Unlike when Dr. Peter Venkman in Ghostbusters first saw the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and said, “Nobody "choosed" anything!”, VOD and MVPD facilities will have to decide which services and formats to support.

Avoid picking anything

Recall a line from the original Ghostbusters movie where upon seeing the Stay Puft Marshmallow man come to life, Bill Murray, as Dr. Peter Venkman says, “Nobody choosed anything!”

A facility manager or broadcaster actually can choose to pay someone to else invest in the coding, formatting and front-end lifting by outsourcing the required work. One can choose desired options based on need, not just lowest cost.

The benefits of using a service go beyond lower CAPEX. Consider the time required to build the needed pipeline and workflow. Think about the training of staff, QC and monitoring that will be required.

I like flashing lights as much as the next engineer, but if the solution is quicker to market and costs less, then why not let someone else do it?

Let us know what you think…

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