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Embracing the 4K future with next-generation encoding technologies by Ludovic Pertuisel W hat’s keeping today’s media and broadcast operators up at night? To find out, just walk the floor of any 2013 broadcast industry trade show. Only a few short years ago we were obsessed with the digital transition and migrating to HD operations, followed by adoption of 3-D technologies. And now, today’s big challenge (or opportunity, if you’re an optimist) is the pressure to deliver content on the complete spectrum of user devices and platforms, and extend the infrastructure to support upcoming ultra HD (UHD) formats. The challenge boils down to this: how to deliver OTT and multi-platform services in the most cost-effective and bandwidth-efficient manner possible, without compromising the consistently high HD picture quality – both today and into the future – that discriminating viewers demand. In order to take the consumer TV and multi-platform viewing experience to the next level, operators must tackle the bandwidth question – and bandwidth savings is all about compression. As the worthy successor to today’s state-of-the-art codec, H.264/MPEG-4 Advanced Video Coding (AVC), the emerging High Efficiency Video Compression (HEVC) standard offers great promise for next- generation 4K distribution networks to support UHD. Still in development, HEVC has already been demonstrated 72 | TV-BAY MAGAZINE: ISSUE 83 NOVEMBER 2013 to offer a bit-rate reduction of up to 50 percent over H.264. For true visionaries, the new standard is paving the way to 8K UHD in resolutions up to 8192x4320. The bandwidth conundrum In the meantime, consumer demand is driving OTT video delivery to an ever-growing array of user devices ranging from gaming consoles, mobiles and tablets to PCs and smart TVs. Concepts like TV Everywhere, Connected TV, and second-screen TV viewing that seemed so novel just a few years ago are now defining broadcasters’ content distribution strategies. The opportunities have never been greater for operators to latch onto these new paradigms to grow new audiences such as younger viewers and reduce churn in their pay TV services, and to increase revenue streams through more targeted advertising. For these services to be successful, however, they must operate as an extension of conventional broadcast television by offering the same quality levels and viewing experience that consumers are accustomed to on their home TVs – including HD resolution, multiple languages and subtitles, and a consistent graphical user interface. Another OTT challenge for traditional broadcasters is the fragmentation in the adaptive bitrate (ABR) streaming technologies that drive the multi- platform world. In order to reach the widest audience, an OTT service must be delivered to ALL available platforms – and that means programming for the full range of ABR technologies including HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) or Smooth Streaming to address mobile phones and tablets (including Apple iOS, Android, and Windows devices), as well as PC, Mac, and Linux browsers. The good news here is that a standardization effort is well underway in the form of the emerging Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP (DASH) standard, also known as MPEG-DASH, which will enable high-quality streaming of content over the Internet via conventional HTTP Web servers. As more and more device manufacturers embrace the MPEG-DASH standard, OTT delivery will be greatly simplified – but in the meantime, operators must reserve enough bandwidth to accommodate each ABR variation.