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From NAB: A reckoning is coming. Not now, but soon enough

Thu, 04/10/2014 - 2:42pm
Brian Santo

Ultra high definition TV. Workflow management. End-to-end multi-screen (or “over the top”) delivery. For anyone even remotely involved in content preparation and distribution, those were the three big themes at the NAB Show that concludes today.

And there’s a glut of vendors aiming to provide each of those technologies. There have long been dozens of encoder companies. There are now dozens offering workflow management solutions, and dozens offering to enable multi-screen delivery – sometimes they’re all the same company.

Something, eventually, is going to have to give. Probably a bunch of those companies. But as of this week, scores of companies are still positioning (or repositioning) themselves to occupy a fairly limited number niches.

Blame it on IP. There are still significant distinctions among over-the-air broadcasters and cable operators and telephone companies and information technology (IT) companies, but as time moves on and everyone slowly migrates to IP infrastructure, the differences are beginning to blur.

This is nothing new; companies with a cable heritage and firms whose roots are in telephony have been getting into each other’s business for more than a decade, so that now there are few practical distinctions between the two.

That of course has had its effect on vendors. OEMs who once upon a time catered to one type of service provider or the other now have tools that could be adopted by a whole new set of customers. The encoders that worked in a cable plant will also work in an IPTV network or a satellite broadcasting system or a broadcast station.

That’s more not-new, but it explains how a lot of companies that used to show up only at Cable-Tec Expo or The Cable Show have become habitues of NAB, a show nominally for over the air (OTA) broadcasters.  

Harris Broadcast is coming from the other direction – a broadcast company trying to reposition itself as an IP delivery company. Harris bought Imagine last year, adopted the subsidiary’s name and identity, and just bought Digital Rapids to further buff its IP cred. The company had an enormous booth with the Imagine logo prominent, somewhat streamlined and now in Harris blue rather than the old Imagine orange.

Companies as varied as AmberFin (purchased by Dalet Digital Management Systems just this week), Harmonic, and advertising technology specialist This Technology are touting multi-screen capabilities.

This Tech released a revision of what it calls its “alternate content delivery” software, now called SwitchStream.

MVPDs use SwitchStream to deliver regionalized content to the right audience, provide alternate content in instances where content has been blacked out, and execute market protection when there are schedule changes.

The update adds unified support for both Title VI IP video streams and QAM-based digital TV platforms. This removes the need to duplicate management efforts across platforms and enhances visibility of alternate content execution.

This Tech’s vice president of product management, Denise MacDonell, said that as more MVPDs move to IP delivery, there is a question about whether this type of content is supported. “Now it is,” she said.

Verizon Digital Media Systems, now with acquisitions Uplink and Edgecast, has repositioned itself as a white-label OTT service. VDMS president Bob Toohey said that the company has basically “onboarded FiOS,” and now “We have 60 partners around the world basically white-labeling what we’re doing. Canal+? ABC? We’re the network.”

Toohey said VDMS focuses on broadcasters, but as more and more companies start creating and publishing their own video, the definition of who qualifies as a broadcaster is widening.  

Harmonic was showing its new VOS (a TLA that doesn’t actually stand for anything [CED approves, and KFC probably does too]). VOS is another demonstration of how IP is flattening the OEM market, and how vendors are responding. When similar technologies are used in production that are used in distribution, it makes more and more sense to create systems deliberately designed to handle content from contribution to playout.

Harmonic describes VOS as a software platform and architecture designed to create a common platform for video production and delivery. Harmonic senior manager, product marketing, Keith Lissak explained that this is basically the result of the company integrating its traditional product line with the product portfolio of video production specialist Omneon, which Harmonic acquired two years ago.

Or, as the company puts it, VOS has the potential to bring all media processing functions into one unified platform and workflow for increased operational flexibility, scalability, and efficiency.

On the 4K front, Atemeenhanced its Titan Live video processing solution to handle 4Kp60 HEVC encoding. The company demonstrated high quality video at 19 Mbps for 4Kp60.

Separately, along with partners Kolor and Finwe, Ateme demonstrated a 360° video broadcast solution called LiveSphere, that should be appealing for live entertainment, sporting events and reality TV shows. To get the idea, imagine Google Street View, only live, and broadcasting (for example) a music concert. Plunk the multi-lens camera on stage. Viewers could hold up any mobile screen (anything from a smartphone to a tablet to VR goggles), turn, and watch anything and everything going on, from the vantage point of the camera’s position.

Elemental Technologies and Akamai joined in a demonstration in which Elemental streamed a loop of 4K video from its headquarters in Portland, Ore. The demo was the first time, the two believe, that full screen, 60 frame per second, 8-bit video, had ever been broadcast live.

Separately, Net Insight announced a new product in its Nimbra video processing line, which helps broadcasters to add channels cheaply by accessing them through the open Internet. The new system, the Nimbra VA 220 guarantees quality, according to company VP Operations Thomas Wahlund.

The Net Insight demo showed a stream of video in which the company was deliberately inducing packet errors at a rate of only 0.3 percent – the video was consistently blocky. The company then took the same stream, ran it through the Nimbra VA 220, which combines an error protected transport mechanism with MPEG encoding and decoding, to fix the video, essentially eliminating the block errors.

The idea is to give any content distributor the confidence to source channels on the cheap to provide niche programming to their viewers. Companies with limited bandwidth, Wahlund explained, could dedicate more bandwidth to premium channels to ensure the absolute highest possible quality, and use the remaining room to add niche channels.

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