Steve Plunkett, chief technology officer, Red Bee Media, shares his thoughts on the topics being discussed at this year’s NAB in Las Vegas
Ultra High Definition Television will be one of the headline acts and a lot of progress has been made since last year’s show. However, UHD TV is a composite of various technologies and not all are ready for primetime. This did not stop the CE industry from promoting their latest TVs so what should we look out for at NAB?
Spacial resolution has been the focus of UHD to date and it’s certainly an important feature. But much has been written about the practical limits of more pixels on average size TV sets in typical viewing conditions the conclusions suggest you need a big TV and a big room to really benefit. Meanwhile, four times the bandwidth of full HD is a serious burden and it will be interesting to see how the vendor community is responding with solutions to overcome quad 3G-HDI complexity and lower bandwidth contribution and emission encoding.
High Dynamic Range provides higher levels of luminescence (brightness) and thus a greater contrast between dark and bright objects on screen. The visual impact can be stunning and works just as well on HD (rather than UHD) resolution and small screens (including your mobile). There will be a lot of interest in HDR support in products, standardisation activities and the experience of early creative pioneers in this area.
The only vendors who will not be promoting some level of cloudiness at this year’s show will be the catering ones. However, unpicking the hype from the reality requires some pointed questions.
Software based components
The most basic question is whether the product is supplied in a truly generic form. Many products will be on a journey from hardware supplied to virtualised and ultimately cloud native. Simply porting an implementation from a hardware platform to a virtual machine does not constitute cloud readiness so ask about support for object storage systems, encrypted assets, performance dependencies (IOPS, RAM, CPU, GPU, LAN), IP interfaces, APIs and licensing models.
Many vendors are adding native IP support for input and output which is not only a very good thing but a pre-requisite for cloud support. The important considerations here include support for compressed and uncompressed signals, standards and interoperability (many of the current IP implementations are proprietary and vendor specific), performance needs (not just bitrates but delay/jitter tolerances) and support for resilience through FEC, multipath streams and so on.
As the vendor community migrate their product portfolios to the cloud, a new go-to-market channel opens delivering their products as pay as you go services that include all the underlying infrastructure and support in the price.
This is an interesting development that will change how the industry procures and builds systems. It is also a non-trivial transition for product vendors who much now build 24/7 operational teams and design highly resilient distributed infrastructure along with new commercial models that alter income flow and staffing levels.
It is important to understand how a product will be supported, what SLAs will be offered, what infrastructure it sits on, how content will be protected within the service, how the pricing works and how the API will be developed over time to ensure integration stability.
Another tech buzzword that now permeates the broadcast industry is Big data. This is actually a very important development and one which should be understood and applied appropriately within an organisation. The use of large scale data collection combined with machine learning and predictive analytics is transforming how we understand viewers and how we optimise the platforms that serve them. Expect to hear more on this topic at the show.
Of course there will be a lot of other tech on display at NAB, from drones to workflow tools and everything in between. It’s what makes the event so interesting and I hope to see many of you there.