In the second part of InBroadcast’s look at OTT, we explore the latest technologies in HEVC encoding and the potential of blockchain in media.
Nobody likes to see a low-quality stream, but thanks to years of development in the live streaming ecosystem and advancements in internet connection speeds, we’re at a point where live video quality is acceptable for the average viewer.
Where a few years ago live video was mostly spotty and low quality 480p, now it’s common to see 720p Facebook videos and 1080p YouTube videos in live formats. Pushing 3-5 Mbps is now possible on smartphone 4G/LTE networks, with WiFi and Ethernet bitrates able to achieve even higher.
Furthermore, not only do content producers have more bandwidth to stream the video, but viewers have more bandwidth and CPU to decode them on their devices. Every new generation of handsets like iPhone X & Pixel 2, as well as new generations of cellular networks like 4G/LTE, are pushing the boundaries on what video consumers can access. What this means for live stream producers is that delivering a HD stream is pretty easy now, and getting viewers who can watch it is even easier.
According to the Global Web Index, viewing of live streams has risen 8% since 2016 on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, totalling 28% of social media users who’ve seen live video before. In addition, we’ve seen countless organizations of all sizes opting for Facebook Live over traditional broadcasting avenues such as CNN, NASA, HBO, The Verge and much more. This is because they know live stream viewers will watch longer, comment and share videos, resulting in huge viewer turnouts.
With encoders like the Teradek VidiU Pro or Cube 705, all you have to do is connect a video camera to it via HDMI, connect an Internet source (Ethernet, WiFi, 4G USB modem) and choose a destination to start streaming. Once it’s up on the Internet, social media will do the rest.
With shipments of 4K HDR TV sets are expected to exceed 30 million by 2020, according to IHS Markit, more and more operators are turning to HEVC (H.265) compression to deliver UHD efficiently. HEVC also supports 8K ultra-high-definition video and resolutions up to 8192 x 4320 pixels.
The ViBE CP9000 contribution encoder from Harmonic addresses the call for preserving video quality at the front of the broadcast chain with the ability to process uncompressed UHD signals at eight times the bitrate of current HD sources, up to 160 Mbps. The platform encodes content in a single slice in real time via HEVC. Up to two UHD or eight HD video channels, and 16 audio channels, can be encoded on the 1-RU chassis.
Harmonic targets the ViBE CP9000 at DSNG vehicles, teleports and flyaway packages. It is also compatible with the Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG) and SMPTE ST 2084 (PQ) HDR formats, ready for the next phases of UHD content delivery.
Enterprise video and streaming technology provider Haivision offers the Makito X HEVC video encoder. The system, which is designed for low latency video backhaul and transmission applications, expands the Makito X H.264 capabilities with dual-channel HEVC encoding and increases the quality of IP video streaming.
The Makito X HEVC has all the core features of the Makito X, including dual 3G-SDI inputs, support for up to 1080p60 HD video, multi bit rate streaming, KLV metadata support and networking capabilities like traffic shaping and optimized bandwidth performance. The new encoder also comes with Haivision’s Secure Reliable Transport (SRT) technology for video delivery over public internet and firewall traversal. The unit is compatible with HEVC broadcast decoders, set-top boxes, soft players, Haivision HEVC/H.264 transcoders, and the Haivision Media Gateway.
Available as a firmware upgrade for any Makito X encoder, Network Adaptive Encoding dynamically adjusts the video bitrate when available bandwidth fluctuates. Leveraging Haivision’s SRT low latency streaming protocol, changes in the network capacity are detected and relayed to the encoding engine. If the bandwidth drops below levels that can support the preset output bandwidth, the bitrate is reduced to levels that will assure the best video is transmitted. If the SRT protocol detects that bandwidth capacity is restored, the encoding engine will increase the video bitrate to maximize video quality.
Peter Maag, chief marketing officer of Haivision explains, “With Network Adaptive Encoding, if your bandwidth chokes, your stream keeps going. It helps you plan for the best because we have already prepared for the worst.”
It’s worth noting that over 70 companies have announced support for SRT since Haivision made it open source. Members who view SRT as an alternative to RTMP, include Kaltura, Harmonic, Limelight and Brightcove along with Microsoft Studios.
“The adoption of SRT and the excitement in the industry about the technology and the alliance has been overwhelming,” says Sylvio Jelovcich, vp of Global Alliances at Haivision. “As they say, there is power in numbers. The SRT Alliance has grown more than 80 percent since IBC 2017 and we are well on our way to making SRT a standard.”
Beamr Imaging’s Beamr 5 HEVC software encoder is claimed to achieve real-time 4K 10-bit HDR support that is compatible with Dolby Vision, HDR10 and HLG. The software has been demonstrated running on the high density 2U SYMKLOUD MS2910 platform.
“Beamr’s ground breaking HEVC encoder running on SYMKLOUD is an ideal enabler for video services looking to move their channels over the top to meet the consumer demand for video anytime, anywhere,” says Beamr vp, Marketing, Mark Donnigan. “Industry leaders looking for cost effective HEVC solutions will find the Beamr 5 + Kontron MS2910 combination extremely appealing and an enabler to new distribution business models and system architectures such as just in time encoding.”
VITEC’s MGW Ace Encoder firmware v2.0 is the next generation of the company’s hardware-based HEVC encoder. Powered by the new HEVC GEN2 codec, the MGW Ace Encoder provides video quality of up to 4:2:2 10-bits HEVC encoding and is claimed to surpass the second-best competitor by 20 percent to meet the quality requirements of demanding broadcast applications.
“VITEC is thrilled to deliver the highest HEVC video quality on the market with its compact, portable, and easy-to-use second-generation MGW Ace Encoder firmware. This release is a major milestone to VITEC’s support of the HEVC standard, and this is only the beginning,” says Richard Bernard, product manager at VITEC. “Any MGW Ace Encoder on the market can be updated, showing our customer base VITEC’s dedication to building high-quality, future-proof, field-upgradable hardware.”
According to LiveU, data traffic for live video over IP has doubled over the last two years, with around 1.5 million live broadcasting hours delivered by LiveU alone in 2017. The average live stream per customer is 2.7 hours per day. With the advances in HD video quality, HD 720/1080 video traffic now accounts for almost 80% of all traffic delivered this year and there has been an increase of over 120% in live HD sessions compared to 2016. The worldwide average uplink speed for video acquisition has reached 4.5Mbps, with developed areas experiencing approximately 9Mbps on average.
LiveU’s HEVC Pro Card is a powerful addition to the LU600 portable transmission unit althought the company is adopting the HEVC standard across its entire product portfolio from its smallest uplink units to hybrid truck solutions.
Samuel Wasserman, LiveU’s CEO, said, “What stands out in these findings is the transition away from traditional transmission methods to cellular bonding. This trend is gaining even greater traction with our LU600 4K HEVC solution offering broadcasters and other content creators unmatched quality and reliability. We believe growth in 2018 will come from this transition, broadcast cloud services and HEVC. Bringing higher quality with even greater reliability to the market, HEVC enhances our technology’s use across multiple genres. We’re already seeing its use increase beyond news, with our global customers looking to deploy the LU600 HEVC solution for live sports and other vertical segments.”
However, industry concern about the high licensing costs of HEVC/H.265 had led to interests in alternative compression schemes. Chief among these are the Alliance for Open Media’s AOMedia Video 1 (AV1) codec and the Joint Exploration Model (JEM), developed by the ISO and ITU.
JEM promises a 25% improvement in coding efficiency to HEVC and AV1 offers a potential licence-free alternative that could match HEVC in quality.
The EBU has commissioned an evaluation of the rivals with results to be presented shortly.
The AV1 standard is built on top of Google’s VP9 codec while AOMedia is supported by Google, Amazon, Cisco, Intel, Facebook, Netflix and Apple.
Blockchain’s media potential
Until recently, blockchains were associated with cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, and were primarily of interest in the fin-tech market. However, a new breed of ‘programmable’ blockchain platforms, notably Ethereum, has broadened the applicability of the technology. Some of the new features introduced by second-generation blockchains include ‘smart contracts’ – agreements formalised in code – and private, or permissioned, blockchains.
Using cryptographic techniques, blockchains allow the creation of distributed ledger technology ledgers, or DLT. In computer science terms, the ledger is an ordered linked-list that is cryptographically linked to previous entries on the ledger. Consequently, the ledger is secure in that it is extremely difficult to change or remove a transaction that has been added to the blockchain. Moreover, the older the transaction, the more difficult it is to change the transaction.
CableLabs, the research and development consortium, believes blockchain solutions are widely applicable to the cable industry in these categories:
- Digital currency and payment systems
- Transaction processing and records management
- Augmenting security practices
“Blockchains may be transformative in developing new customer experiences, reducing cost of media distribution, and securing burgeoning device ecosystems,” argues Steve Goeringer, Principal Security Architect, CableLabs. “The technology is still emerging but it’s not too early to start considering how it may strategically benefit cable operators.”
Comcast’s Advanced Advertising Group, for example, plans to launch a Blockchain Insights Platform this year. The project seeks to increase the efficiency of premium video advertising and enable secure exchanges of non-personal audience data for addressable ads.
According to Analysys Mason, several areas of operators’ activities could be improved through the implementation of blockchain-based solutions. These range from internal processes such as billing, eSIM provisioning and authenticating subscriber access during roaming.
Public Wi-Fi authentication and payments could be made more cost-effective through autonomous blockchain-based transactions between devices and access points, the analyst points out. Micropayment-based business models for digital assets, including music and mobile games, could result.
An “increased willingness to pay” is an attainable goal, reckons Deloitte. “Especially younger digital natives are more willing to pay a few cents for a music track they favour than to be charged a flat monthly subscription.”
In a report on the topic, Deloitte suggests, “Copyright tracking becomes more accurate, as does allocation to media copyright holders and the subsequent distribution of royalty payments. Copyright infringements and piracy would be nearly impossible.”
Deloitte describes a new market of “paid content without boundaries. The current regional limitations of paid content subscriptions and complexities of Digital Rights Management (DRM) are overbearing, and result in many lost customers that may want content but don’t have access to it.” This problem can be decreased through Blockchain technology, according to the firm.
“Blockchain has the potential to make DRM systems obsolete or at least to reduce the complexity of these systems, because every transaction/ consumption is tracked in the blockchain and directly linked to a user,” it states.