Posts Tagged ‘NAB’

NAB 2018 In The Rear View Mirror

I just returned from my annual visit to the NAB Show in Las Vegas and the overall impression was of an industry (or industries) marching in place. Many booths were smaller; there were plenty of empty spaces filled with tables and chairs for eating and lounging, and at times you could hear crickets chirping in the North and Central Halls.  (Not so the South Hall, which was a madhouse all three days I visited.)

There are a number of possible reasons for this lack of energy. The broadcast and film industries are taking the first steps to move to IP backbones for everything from production to post and distribution, and it’s moving slowly. Even so, there was no shortage of vendors trying to convince booth visitors that AV-over-IT is the way to go, chop-chop!

Some NAB exhibitors that were formerly powerhouses in traditional media production infrastructures have staked their entire business model on IT, with flashy exhibits featuring powerful codecs, cloud media storage and retrieval, high dynamic range (HDR) imaging, and production workflows (editing, color correction, and visual effects) all interconnected via an IT infrastructure.

And, of course, there is now a SMPTE standard for transporting professional media over managed AV networks (note the word “managed”), and that’s ST 2110. The pertinent documents that define the standards are (to date) SMPTE ST 2110-10/-20/-30 for addressing system concerns and uncompressed video and audio streams, and SMPTE ST 2110-21 for specifying traffic shaping and delivery timing of uncompressed video.

No doubt about it – the Central Hall booths were definitely smaller and quieter this year.

 

Canon’s Larry Thorpe and Ivo Norenberg talked about the company’s new 50-1000mm zoom lens for Full HD cameras.

 

BlackMagic Design’s Pocket Cinema 4K Camera is quite popular – and affordable.

Others at NAB weren’t so sure about this rush to IT and extolled the virtues of next-generation SDI (6G, 12G, and even 24G). Their argument is that deterministic video doesn’t always travel well with the non-real-time traffic you find on networks. And the “pro” SDI crowd may have an argument, based on all of the 12G connectivity demos we saw. 3G video, to be more specific, runs at about 2.97 Gb/s, so a 12G connection would be good for 11.88 Gb/s – fast enough to transport an uncompressed 4K/60 video signal with 8-bit 4:2:2 color or 10-bit 4:2:0 color.

I’ve talked about 8K video and displays in previous columns, but mostly from a science experiment perspective. Well, we were quite surprised – perhaps pleasantly – to see Sharp exhibiting at NAB, showing an entire acquisition, editing, production, storage, and display system for 8K video. (Yes, that Sharp, the same guys that make those huge LCD displays. Now owned by Hon Hai precision industries.)

Sharp’s 8K broadcast camera, more accurately the 8C-B60A, uses a single Super 35mm sensor with effective resolution of 7680×4320 pixels arrayed in a Bayer format. That’s 16 times the resolution of a Full HD camera, which means data rates that are 16x that of 3G SDI. In case you are math challenged, we’re talking in the range of 48 Gb/s of data for a 4320p/60 video signal with 8-bit 4:2:2 color, which requires four 12G connections.

Sharp is building 8K cameras for live coverage of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

 

NHK demonstrated an 8K 240Hz slow motion video playback system, along with other 8K goodies.

 

Soliton demonstrated H.265 encoding across multiple platforms, including Android devices.

And this isn’t a science experiment at all. Sharp is building cameras for the live 8K broadcasts to take place at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, originating from Japanese broadcast network NHK. By now, this should be old hat, as NHK has been covering the Olympics in 8K since 2012 and showed different approaches to home viewing in Las Vegas. They also impressed with demos of 8K “slo-mo” video at a frame rate of 240 Hz, and yes, it is practical and ready to roll.

In the NHK booth, you could also watch a demonstration of 8K/60 video traveling through a 10 Gb/s switch using so-called mezzanine compression based on the TiCo system. In this case, NHK was using 5:1 TiCo compression to slow down a 40 Gb/s 8K/60 video stream to 8 Gb/s. (Four 12G video connections would result in a bit rate of nearly 48 Gb/s in case you’re wondering.)

Not far from NHK’s booth last year was a virtual city of companies showing virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) hardware and software. That was about twice the size of the VR/AR exhibits in 2016, so I expected to find a sprawling metropolis of VR goodies. Instead, I came across a very large food court and lots of partitioned-off space. Turns out, what was left of the VR companies occupied a small pavilion known as “Immersive Storytelling.” Is VR the next 3D? (Probably not, but you couldn’t be blamed for thinking that.)

Panasonic’s got a 55-inch 4K OLED monitor for client viewing.

 

Epson showed an ultra short-throw laser projection system with excellent edge-to-edge sharpness.

 

The gadgeteers at NTT built a drone with a spinning LED sign shaped like a globe. Why? Because they could, I suppose.

Upstairs in the South Hall, there were dozens of companies hawking video compression tools, streaming and cloud services, targeted ad insertion, audience analytics, and a bunch of other buzzwords I’m probably getting too old to completely understand. (It will be interesting to see how many of these enterprises are still around a year from now.)

But my primary goal in that hall was to talk to folks from the Alliance for Open Media coalition. In case you haven’t heard of this group, they’ve been promoting an open-source, royalty-free codec labeled AV-1 for “next-generation 4K video.” There are at least 18 prominent members of the group and you may recognize a few of them, such as Google, Apple, Mozilla, YouTube, Netflix, Facebook, and VideoLAN.

And that they’re promoting is a codec that is very similar to HEVC H.265, which is made up of lots of intellectual property that requires licensing from an organization known as MPEG-LA (Licensing Authority, not Los Angeles). The AOM contingent thinks it is taking WAY too long to get H.265 off the ground and would rather just make a suitable codec free to anyone who wants to use it to speed up the transition to 4K video.

In addition to giving out red, yellow, green, and blue lollipops, Google had its jump 360-degree camera out for inspection.

 

Technicolor claims to have solved the problem of rapid switching between different HDR formats streaming in the same program.

 

Keep an eye on the AV-1 codec. It could really upset the apple cart.

Of course, they didn’t have a ready answer when I questioned the future viability of any company that had sunk millions of dollars into H.265 development, only to see their hard work given away for free. The stock answers included “there will be winners and losers” and “some companies will probably be bought out.” Note that the primary goal of the members I listed is content delivery, not living off patent royalties, so that gives you some insights to their thinking.

The last puzzle piece was the new ATSC 3.0 standard for digital TV broadcasting, and it’s being tried out in several markets as I write this; most notably, Phoenix. ATSC 3.0 is not compatible with the current version 1.0 as it uses a different modulation process (ODM vs. VSB) and is very much intertwined with IP to make delivery to mobile devices practical. WRAL in Raleigh, North Carolina has been broadcasting in this format for almost a year now.

ATSC 3.0 is already being tested in several TV markets. Will it take off? And how will consumers choose to watch it?

 

CreateLED had this cool LED “waterfall” in their booth.

ATSC 3.0 is designed to be more bandwidth-efficient and can carry 1080p and 4K broadcasts along with high dynamic range video. At the show, I saw demos of ATSC 3.0 receivers married to 802.11ac WiFi routers, ATSC 3.0 set-top boxes, and even an autonomous shuttle vehicle between the Central and South Halls that was supposedly carrying live ATSC 3.0 mobile broadcasts. (It wasn’t working at the time, though. More crickets…)

All in all; a very subdued show, but reflective of an industry in transition from a world of deterministic video traveling uncompressed over coaxial cable to compressed audio and video packets streaming through wired and wireless networks with varying degrees of latency. Where do we go from here?

 

 

On China, IoT, AI, and Trade Shows

As we approach the end of the second decade of the 21st century, it’s worth stepping off the technology express for a moment to consider some of the changes we’re seeing in our industry, in parallel industries, and in everyday life – changes that have been wrought by a combination of geographical, economical, and political factors.

It’s no secret that most of the electronics manufacturing (semiconductors, televisions, mobile phones, computers, tablets, appliances, wireless gear) in the world is moving to or has moved to mainland China and Taiwan, along with several southeastern Asia countries. Just 25 years ago, it was common to spot the words “Made in Japan” on your table radio, television, camera, and even your car.

Nowadays, “China” has been substituted for “Japan,” even for many products manufactured and sold by Korean companies like Samsung, LG, Hyundai, Daewoo, and Kia. That’s because labor costs are so much lower and the Chinese government as a so-called “silent” partner can easily clear land for (and even build) state-of-the-art factories. They also provide a large labor pool to fill the positions in those factories.

And the Chinese have made major investments of their own in new technology. One of the largest manufacturers of LCD panels in the world is TCL, who has a partnership with Samsung in a large LCD plant known as China Star Optoelectronic Technologies. Not only that, TCL manufactures and sells their own brand of televisions in the U.S. Both TCL and Hisense (another Chinese brand who also owns the Sharp brand name) have been selling 55-inch 4K (yes, 4K!) televisions for as little as $500, with some specials dropping below $400.

The Skyworth OLED TV booth at CES 2017.

The result of this shift to the Far East has been a dramatic drop in the price of not only televisions, but a host of other electronic gadgets. I recently bought a new Lenovo laptop with solid-state drive, 15” screen, a fast i7 Intel processor, tons of RAM for both the PC and video card, and the latest in 802.11ac channel-bonding WiFi tech. My cost was a just under $1300 with shipping and tax.

Because the world of professional electronics (including AV gear) is largely driven by the world of consumer electronics, we’re now seeing those same dramatic price drops in everything from HDMI switchers to pan/tilt/zoom cameras. And the U.S., Japanese, Korean, and European brands that sell that stuff have had to cut their prices as well.

Now, we’ve got the Internet of Things in town. Anything that can be fitted with a Media Access Control (MAC) port and has a WiFi connection can now be accessed, configured, and controlled from an Internet connection just about anywhere in the world. All of the gear you’d install in a conference room or classroom can be set up and operated with nothing more than a tablet and software equipped with simple drag-and-drop GUIs. And the software doesn’t cost all that much.

Throw in artificial intelligence (AI) and you now have an AV installation that can configure itself once powered up. That’s right – all of the displays, lighting, screens, audio mixers, thermostats, amplifiers, and switching equipment can talk to the control software, load the appropriate drivers, and create a touchscreen display without you having to lift a finger. And you can talk to an assistant like Siri or Alexa to walk through the process.

Add it all together – lower manufacturing costs, an increasing percentage of CE products (equipped with IoT functionality) finding their way into commercial AV installations, and artificial intelligence to handle the once-tedious job of writing control code and commands. More power in the products at lower costs to you.

That last part is what’s causing major headaches for manufacturers. Instead of price tags with 3 or 4 zeros following the first integer, a majority of products are being sold with two or three zeros. That has a direct impact on profitability, one which cannot be simply fixed by increasing the volume of sales – the availability of cheap electronics has spawned too many competitors, which is great news for price-sensitive consumers.

And that brings me to trade shows. Alert readers will notice that the once-mammoth booths and stands of Japanese and Korean manufacturers at NAB and InfoComm have gotten noticeably smaller as the Chinese booths have gotten larger. No surprise – if you are selling hardware and software with smaller price tags, you have less money to put into a trade show booth. And some of these well-known brands are pushing more and more of their products through distribution, not traditional dealers. (It’s that margin/profitability thing again.)

What’s more; the lines between residential and commercial gear and installations have been steadily blurring for over a decade. (Admit it – you’ve been installing regular TVs instead of commercial monitors most of the time, right? Not that there’s any real difference between them.) Many residential dealers who were once shoveling in the cash have started bidding on commercial work, and vice-versa.

It’s not surprising to see some of the hardware on view at the annual CES in January make repeat appearances at ISE, NAB, InfoComm, and CEDIA Expo as the year winds on. In fact, one prominent Japanese manufacturer (begins with “P”) has focused more commercial product at CES recently, having dropped out of the TV business altogether.

We’ll probably see some consolidation of trade shows in the next few years as attendees come to realize there isn’t a whole lot of difference from one show to the next. The increasing use of CE products for installations, along with improved AI and support for IoT, will actually deliver the promise of ‘plug and play’ (along with a new set of headaches from hackers and malware) to our industry, reducing the purchasing decisions to best price and warranty/reliability.

Some questions to think about: How long before Amazon starts selling commercial AV gear? Is it now practical to view a manufacturer’s product line using VR technology? (Some companies have already tried this.) Just how much education do you need to learn how to configure a room full of IoT hardware?

And just how much of a difference is there between a video encoder made by “You never heard of us, we’re first-timers at this show” and “Buy from us, we’ve been selling into this industry for 40 years” – especially if both products are made in China, possibly at the same factory and using the same chip sets? (Not much, if any…)

NAB 2016: Thoughts and Afterthoughts

I’m back from my 22nd consecutive NAB Show, and it’s always a worthwhile trip. NAB isn’t quite as large or crazy as CES, but it’s still sprawled out enough to require three full days to see everything. (Except that you don’t have to fight the insane crowds that fill the Las Vegas Convention Center in January.)

This year’s theme was “Unleash!” or something like that. I never was completely sure, and it sounded more appropriate for a competition of hunting dogs anyway. But the crowds came anyway (over 100,000 for sure) to see everything from 4K and 8K video to live demonstrations of the new ATSC 3.0 digital broadcasting system, a plethora of small 4K cameras, the accelerating move to IP infrastructures instead of SDI, and video streaming to every conceivable device.

My visit to the show had a threefold purpose. In addition to press coverage and checking out product trends for customers, I also delivered a presentation during the Broadcast Engineering Conference titled “Next Generation Interfaces: Progress, or Babylon?” The subject was a new wave of high-speed interfaces needed to connect 4K, 5K, 6K, and 8K displays (DisplayPort, HDMI 2.0, and superMHL, not to mention Display Stream Compression).

Besides hundreds of exhibits, there are the pavilions. Trade shows LOVE setting up pavilions to showcase a hot technology or trend. Sometimes they’re a bit premature: In 1999, the show featured an enormous “streaming media” area in the central hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center stuffed full of startup companies showing postage-stamp-sized video, streaming over DSL and dial-up connections. All of those companies were gone a year later.

In addition to the Futures Park pavilion – which showcased NHK’s 8K broadcasting efforts and ATSC 3.0, and which was mysteriously stuffed all the way at the back (east) end of the upper south hall, where few people rarely go – there was the Sprockit startup pavilion in the north hall, near the Virtual Reality / Augmented Reality pavilion (more on that in a moment).

This setup was useed to capture HDR and SDR images of the model, stream them to the roof, and link via 18 GHz microwave to Black Mountain...

This setup was used to capture HDR and SDR images of the model, stream them to the roof, and link via 18 GHz microwave to Black Mountain…

 

...where the images where coded as HEVC H.265 4K signals and broadcast on UHF channel 50, back to the convention center. (Introducing about 14 seconds of latency along the way...)

…where the images were coded as HEVC H.265 4K signals and broadcast on UHF channel 50, back to the convention center. (Introducing about 14 seconds of latency along the way…)

There was also a demonstration of ATSC 3.0 in the home, located at the upper entrance (west end) of the south hall. Outside, Nokia set up a concert stage and had entertainment each day, all day long, streaming the performances into the VR/AR booth for viewing and listening on appropriate headgear.

To set the table and see just how much the industry has changed in a little over 20 years, the “hot” broadcasting formats in 1995 were Digital Betacam (two years old), DVCPRO, and a new HD format called D5. Non-linear editing was just getting off the ground from the likes of Avid, Media 100, and Boxx Technologies. A decent SD camera for studio and field production cost about $20,000, and HD was still very much in the experimental stage – the new Grand Alliance HD format was heavily promoting the format, model station WHD in Washington was conducting trial broadcasts, and there was no such thing as 720p/60/59.94 just yet.

The standard connectors for video? BNC and RCA for composite, with BNC doubling for the serial digital interface (SDI) connection. VGA was the connector of choice for PCs, and component video was tricky to implement. Tape was the preferred recording media, as optical disc hadn’t made its public debut yet. “High resolution” on a graphics workstation was around 1280×1024 (SXGA), a “bright” LCD projector could crank out about 500 lumens with 640×480 resolution, and the Internet was still a mystery to 90% of attendees.

We all know how the intervening years played out. TV broadcasters are now in the middle of a channel auction, and we may lose more UHF spectrum (in 1995, UHF channels ran from 14 to 69), possibly as much as 60 – 80+ MHz, or 10 – 14 channels. Demand for optical disc media is very much on the wane as streaming and cloud services are picking up the reins.

You don’t see very many transmitter and antenna manufacturers at the show any more, and when you do, their booths are pretty small. There’s been consolidation in the industry with antenna maker Dielectric shutting down a few years ago, then getting bought by the Sinclair Broadcast Group and revived (just in time for the auction!). Harmonic recently purchased Thomson, which explains the big empty booth where they should have been.

Z3's DME-10 is a super-tiny H.264 encoder for IP streaming.

Z3’s DME-10 is a super-tiny H.264 encoder for IP streaming.

 

Vitec's H.264 encoders aren't much bigger!

Vitec’s H.264 encoders aren’t much bigger!

And the biggest booth at the show doesn’t belong to Sony, or Panasonic, or Imagine (Harris). Nope, that honor goes to Canon, showing you that there’s still plenty of money to be made in video and still cameras, optical glass, and camera sensors. In a sign o’ the times, Panasonic’s once-enormous booth, which occupied the full width of the central hall mezzanine, has shrunk down to about half its original size.

NAB now is all about “anytime, anywhere” content creation, mastering, storage, and delivery. The concept of broadcasting is almost quaint these days (ATSC 3.0 notwithstanding) as more and more viewers avail themselves of faster broadband speeds and opt for on-demand streaming and binge viewing of TV shows.

Brands like Netflix and Amazon are stirring the pot, not ABC and NBC. (Most of the TV shows in the top 20 every week are CBS programs.) YouTube now offers a premium ad-free service (ironic, since ten years ago it was a place to share videos commercial-free). And this year’s “3D” is virtual reality (VR), backed up by augmented reality (AR).

Nokia's VR camera has 8 super-wide-angle lenses and 8 microphones. And I'm sorry, it DOES look like a high-tech hair dryer...

Nokia’s VR camera has 8 super-wide-angle lenses and 8 microphones. And I’m sorry, it DOES look like a high-tech hair dryer…

 

That is a lot of stuff to put on your head just so you can escape reality, isn't it?

That is a lot of stuff to put on your head just so you can escape reality, isn’t it?

Not clear on the difference? VR presents a totally electronic “pseudo” view of the world, which can be represented by custom video clips or generated by computer graphics. AR takes real-world views and overlays text, graphics, and other picture elements to “augment” your experience.

Google Glass is a good example of augmented reality – you’d walk down the street and graphics would appear in the near-to-eye display, showing you the location of a restaurant, displaying a text message, or alerting you to a phone call. Oculus Rift and Samsung Galaxy Gear are good examples of virtual reality, immersing your eyes and ears in imaginary worlds with large headsets and earphones.

I’ve tried VR and AR systems a few times, and the eyewear works- but it’s heavy and quite bulky. And the multichannel spatial audio is also impressive, but I have to strap headphones over those enormous headsets. In fact, the biggest problem with VR and AR right now IS the headset.  Galaxy Gear and other systems use your smartphone as a stereo display (you can do the same thing with a simple cardboard viewer), but the resolution of your smartphone’s display simply isn’t fine enough to work in a near-to-eye application.

After you wear a VR/AR headset for a while and stand up and take it off, you may find your sense of balance is also out of whack and that you momentarily have some trouble walking correctly. That’s another example of a spatial disorientation problem caused by the disconnect between your eyesight and other senses.

If some of these problems sound familiar, they should. We heard much the same thing during the latest incarnation of 3D from 2008 to 2012, particularly from people wearing active-shutter 3D glasses. During the roll-out of 3D, it became apparent that as much as 25% of the general population could not view 3D correctly because of eye disorders, spatial disorientation, incompatibility with contact lenses, and other problems.

Boland's selling the 55-inch LG Display RGBW 4K OLED as a broadcast monitor.

Boland’s selling the 55-inch LG Display RGBW 4K OLED as a broadcast monitor.

 

Fusion is selling the same monitor as a

Fusion is selling the same monitor as a “reference” broadcast monitor and multiviewer. (Sony’s got it, too!)

Back to reality! Here are a few more interesting things I saw in Las Vegas:

ATSC 3.0 is ready for its day in the sun. A consortium of interest groups recently petitioned the FCC to make that happen, and based on the demos at the show, it has a fighting chance to ensure broadcasting sticks around for a while. For current TVs, some sort of sidecar box will be required. But you’ll be able to watch 4K (Ultra HD) broadcasts with spatial audio and stream broadcast content to phones, tablets, and laptops, too.

8K Real-Time HEVC Encoding was on display in the NTT and NEC booths. For those counting, there are 7680 horizontal and 4320 vertical pixels in one 8K image, and both companies had demos of 4:2:0 video streaming at about 80 Mb/s. Recall that 8K has 16 times the resolution of 1080p full HD, and you can see that a ton of computational power is required to make it all work.

HEVC Encoding was also in abundance on the show floor. Vitec had some super-small contribution H.265 encoders, and Haivision brought out a new Makito H.265 portable encoder. The Fraunhofer Institute had an impressive demo of contribution 4K video with HDR and wide color gamut encoded at 16 Mb/s, resulting in picture quality that would rival an Ultra HD Blu-ray disc streaming six times as fast.

The Fraunhofer Institute demonstrated 4K video with HDR and wide color gamut at an amazingly low 16 Mb/s. Image quality was spectacular (and yes, they did encode pieces of falling glitter in the video!).

The Fraunhofer Institute demonstrated 4K video with HDR and wide color gamut at an amazingly low 16 Mb/s. Image quality was spectacular (and yes, they did encode pieces of falling glitter in the video!).

 

Samsung will make its dynamic tone mapping scheme for HDR available to anyone who wants to use it - and has submitted it to SMPTE as a candidate HDR format.

Samsung will make its dynamic tone mapping scheme for HDR available to anyone who wants to use it – and has submitted it to SMPTE as a candidate HDR format.

 

Technicolor demonstrated their

Technicolor demonstrated their “HDR interpolated from SDR” process, and it works better than I expected.

Organic Light-Emitting Diode (OLED) displays are gaining ground on LCD for studio and broadcast operations. Three different companies – Boland, Sony, and Fusion – were showing Ultra HD “client” and “reference” monitors based on a 55-inch RGBW panel manufactured by LG Display. Sony, of course, has 30-inch and 25-inch models, and some of the older 25-inch glass is being used in monitors made by companies like Flanders Scientific. Newer OLED panels use 10-bit drivers and can reproduce HDR signals with a wide color gamut.

High Dynamic Range was very much on people’s minds at NAB 2016. Dolby showed its Dolby Vision proprietary HDR system, and Technicolor privately demoed its dual SDR/HDR workflow and distribution scheme. Samsung was an expected visitor to the show floor – their booth featured a side-by-side comparison of SDR and HDR with dynamic tone mapping, a system they invented and will make available openly to anyone. It’s also a candidate for SMPTE HDR standards.

Super-fine pitch LED display walls are the next big thing, and I mean that – literally. Leyard, who bought Planar Systems last year, had an impressive 100-foot diagonal “8K’ LED video wall (no mention of the dot pitch, but it had to be around 1.2mm) that dominated the floor. An industry colleague remarked that the brightness and size of this screen would be sufficient to replace cinema screens and overcome reflective, contrast lowering glare. (Plus kick the electric bill up quite a few notches!)

Leyard also had a prototype 4K LED display wall using .9mm dot pitch LED emitters and not far away, Christie showed its Velvet series of LED walls, with dot pitches ranging from as coarse as 4mm (remember when that used to be a fine pitch?) to as sharp as .9mm. Top= put all of that into perspective, the first 42-inch and 50-inch plasma monitors that entered the U.S. market in the mid-1990s had a dot pitch of about 1mm, and 720p/768p plasma monitors were about .85mm. How far we’ve come!

Words don't express how spectacular Leyard/Planar's 100-foot 8K LED wall looked. You had to be there. (Next-generation cinema screens, anyone?)

Words don’t express how spectacular Leyard/Planar’s 100-foot 8K LED wall looked. You had to be there. (Next-generation cinema screens, anyone?)

 

Panasonic had a cool 8K

Panasonic had a cool 8K “solution,” consisting of a 55-inch 8K IPS monitor and recorder/player. Still thinking about which 4K gear to buy? Get with the program!

 

NEC and NTT both showed real-time 8K encoding using HEVC H.265. (Have we moved past 4K already? Wow...)

NEC and NTT both showed real-time 8K encoding using HEVC H.265. (Have we moved past 4K already? Wow…)

 

For just $2,000, this box will let you copy HEVC H.265 2K and 4K video to as many as 25 SD cards at once. How do they do it?

For just $2,000, this box will let you copy HEVC H.265 2K and 4K video to as many as 25 SD cards at once. How do they do it?

And there’s still very much a place for AVC H.264 encoding. Z3 had a super-tiny DME-10 H.264 encoder for streaming over IP, as did Vitec. Matrox unveiled their Monarch Lecture Capture system (also based on H.264), and NTT had an impressive multistream H.264 / IP encoder/decoder system out for inspection. Some of these boxes would actually fit in your shirt pocket – that’s how small they’ve become.

Of course, the wizards at Blackmagic Design were at it again. This time, they showed an H.265-based recorder/duplicator system that can write 25 SD cards simultaneously with HEVC 2K and 4K video and audio – just plug ‘em in, and go! Over at the Adtec booth, the Affiniti system held the spotlight. This fast, “universal” bus for encoders and decoders is designed to be configured and maintained by anyone with minimal technical knowledge. It uses an SFP backplane, an approach more manufacturers are taking to keep up with the ever-higher speeds of 4K and UHD+ data.

Finally, I just had to mention the “world’s smallest 8K display,” as seen in the NHK booth. Yep, it measures just 13 inches diagonally and has an amazing pixel density of 664 pixels per inch (ppi). This display, made by the Semiconductor Energy Laboratory Company of Japan, has a resolution of 7680 by 4320 pixels and employs a top-emission white OLED layer with color filters.  (Really???)

NAB 2014 In The Rear View Mirror

The 2014 NAB Show has come and gone, and although attendance was strong, this year’s edition didn’t have quite the buzz that I expected. Given all that is happening with UHDTV currently, that’s surprising: We are seeing a transformation of television into something very different from traditional models, including demonstrations of next-generation broadcast systems (ATSC 3.0), more powerful encoders (HEVC), and a migration to IP-based video production facilities (the cloud, AVB).

I spent three and a half days at the show, taking it all in while setting aside some time to present a paper at the Broadcast Engineering Conference on the current state of wireless AV connectivity and moderating a Wednesday Super Session on the future of video technology. If I really had to pick one word to characterize this year’s show, it would be “flux.”

Some trends were clear. The Japanese brands (aside from Canon) continue to down-size their booths as their business models shift away from traditional cameras, switchers, recording devices, and monitors. There were numerous companies showing cloud-based storage and media delivery over IT networks, and more than a few booths featured demos of HEVC H.265 encoding and decoding; most of it done with software.

Only a handful of booths emphasized monitors, and some of those had super-sized screens for digital signage out for inspection. In the north and central halls, you could find the traditional purveyors of broadcast transmitters, antennas, and coaxial cable, along with microphones and conventional audio products. But the emphasis seemed to be on “connected” anything – video, audio, cloud storage and delivery, and even wireless cameras for field acquisition and live events.

Given the sheer number of booths, it was difficult to compile a “pick hits” list, but I’ll give it a shot. To me, these companies/products/demos made the trip to Las Vegas worthwhile (and having traveled there over 70 times in the past 20 years, that’s saying a lot!).

Visionary Solutions may not be on your radar, but these clever folks are building some impressive hardware and software codecs at affordable prices. This year, they rolled out their PackeTV system, an end-to-end IP-based video delivery product with scheduling, recording, security, and delivery of real-time and recorded H.264 video, all rolled into one. The graphical user interface (GUI) for controlling the system was well-designed and easy to figure out.

Altera showed how easy it is to stream 12 G HD-SDI (4K) over a single piece of plain coaxial cable.

Altera showed how easy it is to stream 12 G HD-SDI (4K) over a single piece of plain coaxial cable.

 

LG and Gates Air demonstrated their vision for ATSC 3.0, using OFDM and HEVC in a standard TV channel.

LG and Gates Air demonstrated their vision for ATSC 3.0, using OFDM and HEVC in a standard TV channel.

LG and Gates Air had an impressive demo of an ATSC 3.0 concept broadcast. They combined Quad HD, 2K, and SD video programs into one 6 MHz channel, using HEVC encoding and decoding. The signals were encoded at 14, 1.6, and .98 Mb/s respectively, and the signal-to-noise threshold for the SD cast was just 1.5 dB. Multipath sets emulating mobile reception were also demonstrated with the 2K and SD streams holding up very well even at 50 mph.

Sony demonstrated a beautiful 30-inch OLED reference monitor that will soon take its place in the existing Trimaster series. This is a home-grown product and employs the same top-emission system with optical bandpass filters found on the 17-inch and 25-inch products. No price has been announced yet, and Sony has a real challenge in trying to figure out what that price should be as its customers aren’t willing to shell out 1990s bucks anymore for reference displays.

Altera had a clever demo of 12 Gb/s HD-SDI streaming over a piece of “conventional” coaxial cable. 3G HD-SDI has a nominal data cap of 3 Gb/s, so this demo used linked HD-SDI streams to hit the magic number (coincidentally, the data rate for a Quad HD video stream with a 60 Hz refresh rate and 4:2:2 coding). The coax link was 60 feet long and the transmission was flawless, aside from some hiccups on the PC playout server.

Ericsson showed there is more than one way to stream live 4K content. They set up a system that transported a live Quad HD video stream (3840x2160p/60) from a server in England, through satellite and fiber links, to the Ericsson and Intelsat booths at the show. But they used conventional H.264 encoding, breaking the 4K signal into 2K quadrants and using their Simulsync process to stich them together at the receiving end in a seamless presentation on an 84-inch monitor.

Ericsson stiched together four 2K image quadrants to stream this 4K image live from England.

Ericsson stiched together four 2K image quadrants to stream this 4K image live from England.

 

NHK's 4-pound Super Hi-Vision camera records video with 7680x4320 pixels @ 60 Hz and is a marvel.

NHK’s 4-pound Super Hi-Vision camera records video with 7680×4320 pixels @ 60 Hz and is a marvel.

NHK once again had their 8K Super Hi-Vision booth set up, but this time they were streaming live 8K (7680×4320) content from a new, compact 4-pound camera head. The signals were broadcast across the booth in two separate streams on a standard UHF channel, using 4096 QAM at 91 MB/s. Half of the data traveled as a horizontally-polarized signal and the other half as a vertically-polarized signal, both on UHF channel 36. (At that frequency, you can achieve about 20 dB separation between polarization angles.)

Haivision was demonstrating their Secure Reliable Transport (SRT) system over at the Renaissance Hotel. SRT is a hardware/software overlay for existing Haivision encoder/decoder products that is intended to better manage end-to-end streaming over public Internet connections. It offers adaptive streaming rates and two levels of encryption (AES 128-bit and 256-bit). SRT is positioned as an alternative to more expensive satellite backhaul links and dedicated MPLS point-to-point connections.

Korea’s Electronics and Telecommunications Institute (ETRI) had a small but intriguing demo of facial recognition linked to ad servers. The recognition system is built into a standard TV and has a range of about 10 feet, can discriminate between older and younger viewers, and will recognize a face turned 45 degrees to the right or left of center. An appropriate advertisement for the viewer is then displayed during a commercial break.

Fraunhofer HHI always has clever technology demos at NAB, and this year they spotlighted real-time software-based HEVC H.265 encoding and decoding at bit rates up to 40 Mb/s. They also showcased a real-time, hardware-based H.265 decoder using an Altera Stratix V FPGA. This decoder can handle bit rates to 80 MB/s and uses standard interfaces for set-top box designs. Fraunhofer also had an intriguing demo of surround sound playback for tablets in a nearby isolation booth.

BlackMagic's Ursa 4K camera costs only $6,000 (EF lens version)!

BlackMagic’s Ursa 4K camera costs only $6,000 (EF lens version)!

Sony's 30-inch Trimaster OLED looked great, but will its price tag break the bank?

Sony’s 30-inch Trimaster OLED looked great, but will its price tag break the bank?

No plasma? No problem for Panasonic, which showed new 84-inch and 98-inch 4K LCD monitors at the show.

No plasma? No problem for Panasonic, which showed new 84-inch and 98-inch 4K LCD monitors at the show.

BlackMagic Design continues to introduce powerful camera systems at bargain basement prices. Their new Ursa 4K field/studio camera has a huge 10-inch LCD monitor, touchscreen control, RAW and ProRes recorders, and upgradable Super 35mm shutter. The EF lens-compatible version lists at $5,995 while the PL-compatible version is $6,495. Their Studio Camera 4K, also equipped with the 10-inch LCD monitor and 12 GB HD-SDI connections, had an even more amazing price – $2,995.

Intel showed a clever use for Thunderbolt technology: Using a display interface for file exchanges. Thunderbolt runs on the DisplayPort physical layer and has a maximum speed of 20 Gb/s. By using a simple mini or regular DisplayPort cable; two MacBooks, two Windows laptops, or a MacBook/Win laptop can link together for file transfers, working just like a 10GigE network connection.

Panasonic showed it still has game after shutting down plasma manufacturing. Two new large digital 4K LCD displays were up and running in their booth – an 84-inch model (TH-84LQ7OU) and a 98-inch model (TH-98LQ7OU). We’ve seen the 84-inch LG Display LC glass cut before offered by other manufacturers, but the 98-inch hasn’t been in wide circulation. These will replace the 85-inch and 103-inch plasma monitors previously offered.

Finally, Christie had regular screenings to show off its new laser cinema projector system. This projector uses two sets of color primaries and matching eyewear, using wave division multiplexing to achieve a high degree of left eye/ right eye separation. According to a Christie rep, the system can achieve a brightness level of 72,000 lumens, and what was interesting to me was virtually no difference in image brightness through the glasses or without them.

NAB 2012: The Show It Is A-Changin’…

This was my 17th trip to Las Vegas to see what once was one of the world’s largest trade shows. Back in 1995, NAB was clearly focused on broadcasting, mostly the digital kind. The ATSC Grand Alliance had a major presence back in ’95 as the United States began its tentative steps towards an all-digital broadcasting system, and there was no question that terrestrial (over-the-air) television was the king of the hill.

 

Today, that’s all changed. The digital transition has come and gone. Cable TV has supplanted traditional broadcasting on the throne, with Internet-delivered ‘over the top’ video sitting next in line. Broadcasters are under fire from (of all people) the FCC, who wants to take back more UHF TV spectrum to solve a mostly imaginary wireless broadband crisis.

Canon's enormous booth was at the center of all the Central Hall action.

 

Gone for the most part are the NAB ‘megabooths’ once erected and staffed by Sony, Panasonic, JVC, Ikegami, Hitachi, and Toshiba. Back in 1995, Sony had exhibits both in the Las Vegas Convention Center and Bally’s Hotel and a multi-million dollar budget to support them. Most of these companies have more modest representation these days as the center of gravity in the electronics world shifts to Korea and China.

 

The profound influence of the consumer electronics world can clearly be seen as you walk the aisles at NAB. Smaller, compact, and higher-resolution camcorders have replaced the $50,000 – $100,000 behemoths of 17 years ago. iPads abound, both in individual booths and attendees’ backpacks. Videotape recorders (VTRs) have all but vanished, replaced by solid-state media recorders and ultraportable hard drives.

 

The south hall of the Las Vegas Convention center, which didn’t exist except on a blueprint in 1995, now dominates the action at the show. Hundreds of small, ‘who dat?’ companies are set up in small stands and hawk their storage area network products, cloud workflows, MPEG encoders, fiber optic connectivity systems, and umpteen-million Mac-based edit, color correction, and audio mixing products.

For some odd reason, RED's 4K LCoS projector was behind wired, breakproof glass.

 

The old names are still there, though. Some have even beefed up their presence, like Canon. Panasonic once occupied the entire mezzanine level of the central hall, but has ceded half that space to other companies. Sony still occupies a big chunk of the rear central; hall, but is also slowly retrenching over time.

 

Here’s why: Back in the middle of the ‘90s, the typical broadcast/production camcorder shot standard definition to tape and cost anywhere from $10K to $50K, depending on bells and whistles. A good reference CRT video monitor would set you back at least $25,000, and tripods, fluid heads, gyroscopic mounts, robotic platforms, and teleprompter heads were all priced accordingly.

 

Today? I have a Nikon CoolPix 8200 that can shoot 1080p/30 movies, 16 megapixel stills, offers multi-zone focus and image stabilization, comes with a 10x optical zoom lens, and records everything to a 32 GB flash drive. The price? All of $220.

Yes, Black Magic Design is in the camera business now. What's next - an Ikegami MPEG4 encoder?

 

And there you have it. Products that once cost in the tens of thousands of dollars now are available with far greater performance for hundreds of dollars, or at least a couple thousand. Want to buy a 4K JVC camera? It will set you back about $5,000. How about a reference plasma monitor? Try $4,000.

 

You can do teleprompting on an iPad now, and pick up a remote-controlled helicopter rig for your Canon digital SLR (which also shoots 1080p video) for about $500 – $700. Or grab a compact cinema camera with 13 steps of dynamic range and 2.5K image resolution for $3,000.

 

Of course, most of this stuff is available on the Internet. There barely was an Internet back in 1995 (remember the dial-up days?), and you had to go to a dealer to buy any of this gear. B&H wasn’t the national powerhouse it is now (yes, they had a big, long booth at NAB, right behind Sony) and production companies often had to take out loans to get the newest, latest goodies.

 

Nowadays, your gear can pay for itself in a few productions. And the barriers to creating and distributing content have largely disappeared, limited only by the speed of Internet connections. ‘Content management’ was a popular expression this year, as was ‘cross-platform delivery.’ Conventional TV broadcasting is still around and trying to re-invent itself, but there are clearly many ways to package and deliver video content that don’t involve traditional media distribution.

Yes, you can actually edit 4K content on the go now. But first, you've gotta go out and shoot it...

 

Will NAB survive? Sure, because it has a sweet spot on the trade show calendar and has successfully changed with the times. Those incredible shrinking booths have been replaced by the likes of Ericsson, Avid, Black Magic, Grass Valley, Harris, Evertz, Ross Video, and a host of other manufacturers whose offerings are platform-agnostic. (Can’t say that about the TV and radio transmitter folks, though…)

 

After wandering the floors for three days and delivering a presentation on the management and distribution of HDMI signals (wait – you can actually manage HDMI?) at the Broadcast Engineering Conference, I managed to find a few interesting products here and there. To the list!

3D TV at home is a piece of cake! That is, as long as you have a broadband connection, and a TV antenna...

 

RED, the makers of those cool video production cameras, apparently had some extra time and money on their hands and decided to roll out a laser-powered digital cinema projector. The design is based on a 4K LCoS light engine developed by HDI (High Definition Integration) back in 2009. Apparently RED acquired the company a year or so ago, and now wants to get into the projection space. No brightness specification was given, but the signage indicated it could light up a 15’ screen and would retail for less than $10,000. The demo showed some promise, but there are lots of things that still need attention (high black levels, low contrast, color accuracy, etc).

 

It sems Black Magic Design has gotten bored with developing interface boxes. That’s the only explanation I can come up with for their new digital cinema camera, which offers 13 stops of dynamic range, a 2.5K pixel sensor, SSD recording, and support for EF lenses. It’s also compatible with the Thunderbolt display/data interface, and the suggested retail price is $3,000. Quite a crowd gathered around this demo!

Be careful where you walk when wearing Epson's MOVERIO AR glasses!

 

You had to crawl all the way to the back of the south hall lower to find them, but Epson made the trip worthwhile with a demonstration of their Moverio augmented realty (AR) eyewear. These glasses contain two small full-color LCD panels in the middle of semi-transparent goggles, allowing you to see normally and watch projected images at the same time. (Kind of a ‘Watchman’ effect.) I’ll be curious to see if these take off, given the adverse physiological reactions that have occurred with earlier attempts at AR (Google Sony’s Glasstron spectacles).

 

Tired of running heavy-duty HD-SDI cables to your otherwise-lightweight 1080p camcorder? Amimon showed a better way to hook up with their demo of a wireless 5.8 GHz HD-SDI transmission system, based on their clever wireless HDMI chipsets. The latter can already move 1080p/60 video and multi-channel audio over a 40 MHz bandwidth, so adapting it to 3G HD-SDI was a piece of cake. Their tests in the South Hall pushed a signal out to at least 300 feet before dropout.

 

Around the corner, Intel made up for their lack of Thunderbolt products at CES by unveiling a suite of Thunderbolt connectivity ‘solutions,’ including a 4K mobile editing package that used a Lenovo notebook PC, a pair of Samsung and Apple LCD monitors, two compact Promise four-bay RAID drives, and an AJA iOXT interface box that breaks out USB, HD-SDI, and HDMI ports.

 

Other companies featured in the Thunderbolt ‘goodies’ showcase included Black Magic Design (UltraStudio video I/O box, Thunderbolt to bi-directional HD-SDI and HDMI), MOTU (analog and digital video recorder with Thunderbolt interface), LaCie (compact portable hard drives), Rocstor (KROC 2M desktop RAID storage with Thunderbolt), Seagate (GoFlex portable Thunderbolt adapter), and Sumimoto (optical fiber Thunderbolt cables). Think Thunderbolt is catching on? (Duhhhh!)

Cables? We don't need no stinking HD-SDI cables!

 

Samsung KBS figured out a clever way to transmit 3D content over ATSC digital TV channels: Send the left eye images as usual, and transmit the right eye images over a standard broadband connection, encoded as MPEG4. All that’s needed is a constant data rate of 6 Mb/s to make it work, something that may be a piece of cake in Asia but is still uncertain even with normal broadband connections on this side of the pond. But the concept does work nicely.

 

Panasonic has swallowed up Sanyo and their enormous projector line (now, that will give anyone indigestion), but their big news at the show – besides a 4k camera system – was a 20,000 lumens projector that weighs all of 95 pounds. By way of comparison, my old Sony 7” CRT projector could barely crank out 200 lumens and tipped the scales at 140 pounds. The PT-DZ21K uses a three-chip DLP engine and its native resolution is 1920×1200 pixels (WUXGA).

 

Around the corner, Canon showed its REALiS WUX5000 5000-lumens LCoS projector. This is the brightest Canon projector yet and offers WUXGA (1920×1200) resolution. No 4K version is in the immediate future, but just around the corner, Canon showed a prototype 4K 30-inch LCD monitor using IPS technology. It certainly had lots of image detail, but needed some help with black levels. Given the company’s strong commitment to full-frame CMOS video sensors and 4K cameras, neither product was surprising.

Believe it or not, he's actually 'popping' a virtual balloon. (Seriously!)

 

It wasn’t a shipping product, but the National Institute of Communications and Technology (NICT) in Japan showed a prototype 200-inch autostereo rear-projection display. This demonstration used 200 individual JVC D-ILA projection engines, each with full 2K resolution, to light up 200 different 2K resolution views in narrow vertical bands. A special Fresnel lens integrated the views and the barrier crossings weren’t as apparent as I would have expected.

 

Next door was a demonstration by NICT of a ‘virtual’ balloon to show the possibilities of haptic (touchscreen) technology. Using a special stylus, you tapped an image of a balloon to enlarge it, and then stroked the balloon to make it squeak and feel the rubbery texture through the stylus. You could even pop the balloon and smell a perfume contained inside. Way cool!

 

ATTO was one of many companies supporting the Thunderbolt interface with SAS/SATA RAID drives, not to mention Fibre Channel and 10 Gigabit Ethernet connections. Their Desklink products are compact and provide plenty of storage capacity. The company’s ThunderStream interface can even supported embedded storage.

 

Adtec rolled out a few new MPEG encoders. The EN-91P is a 1080p AVC (H.264 MPEG4) encoder that can be used for 3D and has an optical fiber input, while the EN-20 is a dual-input MPEG2 encoder with Dolby AC3 encode, DD5.1 passthrough, ASI output, and an up-converted QAM output for RF-modulated transmission systems.

3D Glasses? We don't need no stinkin' 3D glasses!

 

Dolby showed an autostereo 3D LCD monitor that uses lenticular parallax barrier and was developed jointly with Philips. This monitor was used to show clips from Hugo and the 3D effect was clearly visible, although not as intense for off-axis viewers and not as punchy as active shutter or even passive shutter 3D. No word on pricing or delivery.

 

JVC’s 4K camcorder ($5,500) may be one of the best deals out there. The GY-HMQ10 uses a ½-inch CMOS sensor with 8.3 million pixels (3840×2160) at 24, 50, or 60 frames per second. It comes with a 10x zoom lens and optical image stabilization.  Believe it or not, the GY-HMQ10 comes with four HDMI output terminals, which can also be used to drive four discrete monitors at 1920x1080p resolution.

 

Last but not least, goHDR demonstrated high dynamic range video on a SIM2 HDR47E LCD monitor, similarly equipped for HDR signals. (The technology is owned and licensed by Dolby Labs.) goHDR is a spin-off of the University of Warwick in England and has produced a few HDR short films using a camera manufactured by SpheronVR, a competitor to ARRI who is also shipping HDR cameras.

Panasonic's PT-DZ21K projector is so bright, you can light a match just by holding it in front of the lens. (I'm KIDDING!)

 

High dynamic range video, also demonstrated by Dolby with its PRM4200 42-inch reference monitor, is quite something to see after watching garden-variety BT.709 video on a steady basis. The range of tonal values from deep black to pure white approaches what we see in everyday life, particularly in deep shadows where detail usually vanishes on a video screen.

 

It’s not practical yet to broadcast HDR – the data rates would require enormous bandwidth – but you may soon see it in movie theaters, along with high frame rate (48 Hz and up) content. Eventually, there will be a way to get it into the home, assuming HDR technology gains any traction in a world that seems otherwise obsessed with watching video on laptops, iPads, and even phones.

 

Hmmm….a high dynamic range iPad. Now, there’s a concept! Listening, Apple?