Comcast Media Center eats, breathes, lives video
When it comes to video, either high-definition (HD) or standard-definition (SD), the buck stops at the Comcast Media Center (CMC).
Having been on several tours of the 305,000-square-foot CMC main facility, located just outside of Denver, I've found that it's easy to become enamored with the various bits of technologies and services, and to get totally lost in the rabbit warren of rooms in the main building.
The CMC – which started out as a facility for TCI and featured the Headend in the Sky (HITS) service – serves more than 400 cable operators, both large and small, including more than 3,000 regional and standalone cable headends with origination of 40 TV channels and video transmission for 445 full-time services.
CMC's menu of services includes channel and live origination services in HD and SD, studio and post-production, encoding, and content hosting and storage services, as well as transcoding services for online and mobile video content distribution
When it comes to video, CMC COO and SVP Gary Traver said, "We live, eat and breath this stuff."
With cable operators ramping up more HD channels to stay in competition with satellite and telco operators, the CMC's vision on video has become mission critical.
"Where we spent a lot of time is we broke things down to brightness, color, sharpness and noise, and we really tried to identify the key points off all of those components that are the most important for us to pay attention to when we're looking at compression," Traver said. "We're making sure that the content fits comfortably within our transmission and distribution schemes and that we're delivering absolute quality by focusing on those aspects of the picture."
DON'T FORGET SD QUALITY
While adding HD channels is all the rage with cable, satellite and telco operators, Traver said cable needs to keep up the quality of SD, as well, especially when consumers are viewing both kinds of content on large-screen TVs.
"Consumers are becoming far more discriminating on quality, that's very clear," he said. "As the set sizes go up, and as consumers go from traditional sets to digital TVs, their thoughts and views on quality change, not only with HD, but also with SD content. As a result of that, you'll hear us talking about quality on HD, but we're as focused on SD, as well, because we know that is something that we have to pay very close attention to.
"As we're trying new techniques to create enough space and efficiency to add all of the HD channels, we also have to do it in a very careful and mindful way."
One example of being mindful of the content is with the film grain in movies. While a film director adds film grain as an artistic element, it comes across as noise when a movie is being compressed. While cutting the film grain makes life easier in the compression lab, the CMC does not want to alter how a movie director wants his or her movie to look.
Traver said the quality of HD that the CMC deals with can vary widely, from HD content that is originated on high-end HD equipment to field-grade HD shot with lower-end equipment. There are also tape-to-film transfers to consider, but the CMC is equipped to handle all types of video.
"One of the benefits we have as an organization is that we originate a fair number of channels, including HD channels," Traver said. "We understand HD channels because we get live feeds of games from production trucks, and we get pre-recorded HD content sent to us from movie studios, as well as HD content that has been produced by content creators for origination on some of our HD channels.
"As a result of how we store that content, how we play it back ourselves, how we interface with encoding equipment that we're using to distribute it, and how we're looking at how it's being altered downstream, those experiences have given us some good perceptions into some of the things that are happening in the value chain that we might want to take a second look at."
The CMC also has an HD viewing lab where actual consumers are trooped in to see if they can detect any differences on various TV sets that have been encoded or compressed differently.
"One thing my group has been working on is to really question every one of the norms that has existed in the way that signals are acquired and distributed, and challenging those norms to see how we can simultaneously improve quality and efficiency," Traver said.
—Michael Robuck, Senior Editor, CED
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Company: MobiTV Inc.
CEO: Charlie Nooney
Claim to fame: MobiTV is a developer of wireless media delivery services and technologies that improve the performance of today's wireless data infrastructure, allowing mobile users to enjoy rich media experiences.
Recent news of note: MobiTV – along with Samsung Electronics, Nokia Siemens Networks, Rohde & Schwarz and SES Americom's IP-Prime – plans to build a national mobile TV distribution system in the U.S. The plan includes using the platform to showcase a complete mobile TV technology solution this year, with consumer trials planned in U.S. cities at a later, unspecified date.