Based on ongoing conversations with digital video experts, here are several technology trends that may be surfacing at this year’s NAB Show, which opens this Friday in Las Vegas.
1080p. Keeping 1080 progressive scan (p) vs. interlaced (i) HDTV content away from consumers has not been so much original acquisition or end display points as it has been the in-between points, such as silicon in the set-top boxes. According to Harmonic Vice President Business Development and Marketing David Price, that is going to change to change this year.
"The set-top box is going to catch up pretty quick," Price said.
Why should anyone with an HDTV set care about the difference? "(1080p) is a much better way to show sports content," Price said. "It’s the ultimate for fast action."
When – if not "if" – consumers become more aware of the benefits of progressive scan, service providers will figure out what they need to do to delivery this golden standard of HDTV content. Price said that Harmonic is able to demonstrate 1080p on the headend side already.
"Everyone knew that 1080p would be the endgame," he said.
MPEG-4 tools and migration. Another silicon-related development has been the adoption of MPEG-4 advanced video encoding (AVC) tools. The challenge has been the processing requirement.
"It takes a tremendous amount of horsepower," said Jean Macher, director of marketing for Thomson’s Grass Valley video network systems unit.
Coming to that realization several years ago, Grass Valley shifted resources toward an application specific integrated circuit (ASIC) design that has become known as its Mustang family.
One of many enhanced AVC techniques is motion estimation. "Now you can look on bigger picture area, with more granularity," Maher said. At what point in the video production and transmission schedule will engineers avail themselves of such tools?
A lot depends on how the MPEG-2 to MPEG-4 (or vice versa) migration develops. The tools work well when encoding and re-encoding MPEG streams entirely, using baseband or serial digital interface (SDI). That is the approach that Grass Valley favors. But others prefer transcoding without uncompressed video.
"To me, it’s not decided yet," Macher said.
Second and third screens. The "three screens" mantra (TV set, PC, mobile device) is becoming a way of life at some content providers, if not yet their affiliate distributors.
One missing link for network providers such as MSOs has been hub-based media processing that can move from the first or second to third screens.
"In a set-top environment, you control," said Mario Rainville, Scopus AVP product marketing. "But in a mobile environment, it begs for real-time transcoding resolution change."
Rainville admits that the cable industry has been busy with other technologies, such as switched digital video. But what’s next? "The big picture is to find a way to have a scalable media processor in a switched unicast environment," he said.
"The Web model has been very appealing," he said. That point has been well taken by other vendors, as well.
"You’ll find at NAB some pretty unique demonstrations to serve the demand for video over Internet," said Harmonic’s Price.
– Jonathan Tombes