NAB Preview: HEVC Is the Next Big Thing

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Ultra-HD 4K broadcasting may be all the rage at NAB, but the implementation of the HEVC codec that makes it all possible is happening first for streaming video over-the-top. At NAB, virtually every video processing developer is highlighting adoption of HEVC/H.265 into their products; here we'll take a look at a few of the most notable who were willing to talk about their NAB plans in advance.

“4K delivery to desktop and tablets will be the first area where HEVC takes hold,” reports John Pallett, Telestream product marketing director. “These devices will support software decoders which are easily and affordably distributed, and there are several devices approaching full 4K resolution. This combination will enable 4K content to be enjoyed in the near future.”

At the show Telestream is showing HEVC encoding within its Vantage Transcode Multiscreen encoder, which is designed, it says, specifically for these types of OTT workflows.

“While 4K will be the first big push for HEVC, we also believe that HEVC will be adopted over the next few years to achieve lower transmission costs for SD and HD, particularly for IPTV and mobile,” added Pallet. “This will generally require new hardware, and availability of native HEVC decoding in consumer products (including cell phones, where software decoding would lower battery life). As a result, we believe that the timeframe for this adoption will be longer-term than that of HEVC for OTT 4K delivery.”

Elemental Technologies argues that HEVC take-up will be cost-efficient and swift thanks to software upgrades. It's own software-based HEVC support will be commercially available in Q2 this year on the company's Elemental Live and Elemental Server platforms, with HEVC reference streams available from the company as of today.

Vice-president of marketing Keith Wymbs says, “Easing the transition to H.265 within legacy MPEG-2 and H.264 infrastructures, our software-upgradeable solutions can incorporate new compression approaches much more quickly than existing fixed hardware encoding and decoding platforms, such as ASICs and DSPs [digital signal processors].”

Several of RGB Networks products are being scaled up to be HEVC-capable in the near term, reports Nabil Kanaan, Sr. director, product marketing. This includes including RGB's software-based TransAct Transcoder product line, the new chassis-based VMG Gen 2, and its multi-node workflow management system, TransAct Director.

Envivio also expects initial HEVC software deployments to begin in Q2 for customers of its Muse encoder. It is demonstrating HEVC streams in HD encoded in Muse and decoded by Broadcom's BCM7445.

CEO Julien Signès, explained that its software-based approach “simplifies deployment for customers, as they can migrate to HEVC via a simple license upgrade. In addition, working closely with Broadcom on interoperability ensures that operators can confidently deploy reliable and high quality HEVC services in the near future.”

Envivio is also showcasing HEVC video streamed to a tablet in MPEG-DASH format.

Elsewhere on the show floor, AmberFin  has HEVC firmly on its roadmap. According to CTO Bruce Devlin: “HEVC is going to be very important for OTT and cord-cutting type operations. History, however, tells us that a mature, tested standard takes a while to roll-out. The extra complexity required in both the encoder and the decoder will make the economics of mass deployment a timing issue. If HEVC performs a better roll-out rate than H.264, then we could be seeing mass-adoption of the standard in around 2016. Until that point we will still be in the roll-out phase.”

The potential of HEVC to double the compression efficiency of H.264 will have a significant effect on OTT streaming for both operators and consumers, claims Mike Nann, marketing director, Digital Rapids which is showcasing HEVC transcoding capabilities as part of its NAB demos.

“I say 'potential' because in early implementations, the efficiency gains are likely to be a bit lower for 'live' encoding than for offline file-based encoding, with the gap closing as HEVC implementations mature,” adds Nann.

HEVC/H.265-capable consumer devices are proliferating, with estimates from the Multimedia Research Group that one billion such software-enabled units shipped last year. The Cisco Visual Networking Index forecasts that by 2016 1.2 million minutes of video content will cross the internet every second. HEVC offers bandwidth efficiency gains between 30 to 50 percent compared to MPEG-4/H.264.

Says Nann: “HEVC will also enable content to be delivered at the 'same' quality as H.264 at significantly lower bitrates - lowering delivery costs for both operators and consumers and for content providers and operators preparing content assets for on-demand viewing, lowering storage costs. Similarly, these lower bitrates may enable the concurrent streaming of more discrete content into the home.”

For Vizrt’s Peder Drege, EVP Mobile and Online Video, HEVC “is a game-changing technology upgrade” from current AVC workflows.

“For customers paying CDNs or other services to distribute their content to end users it will allow for a more cost-efficient distribution as bitrate can be kept lower, and in this way reduce the CDN bill,” he said.

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