Title: CTO, EGT
Broadband background: Dr. Hartung is a 20-year veteran of Bell Labs, where he helped pioneer DSP devices and applications and investigated algorithms and architectures for video coding, data communications, voice over IP and other technologies. He has 14 granted and several pending patents.
In meetings with cable operators, what areas of concern do they mention most frequently?
The area of most concern is their ability to manage access bandwidth and video quality in the transition from SD broadcast services to HD on-demand services. The first step in this transition is the ongoing conversion of analog content to digital. Initially, this poses a problem because duplicate analog and digital services are being carried, requiring highly efficient encoding to provide high quality within bandwidth constraints. The next step, switched digital broadcast, provides relief; however, bandwidth utilization will again become a challenge as more on-demand and HD content is carried. At that time, it is anticipated that HD content will be converted to the more efficient H.264 encoding format.
How does encoding free up bandwidth and help expand digital rollouts?
First, high-quality, cost-effective MPEG2 encoding is enabling simultaneous digital and analog carriage of the analog tier as the first step to all-digital carriage. Second, flexible encoders provide highly efficient, closed-loop encoding in simulcast systems and cost-effective conversion to CBR encoding that is needed as switched broadcast is deployed. Finally, bandwidth will be stretched as HD VOD become more prevalent; these services will be accommodated through the use of H.264 encoding that provides 50 percent or higher bandwidth savings.
How can transcoding and encoding become more efficient as video is rolled out across multiple platforms and devices?
As the need to deliver video in multiple resolutions, encoding standards, and quality levels increases, network operators will require cost-effective means to receive, manage, and re-purpose this content. This will lead to encoding optimization that improves the ability of the encoded stream to be transcoded to the required format with high quality and low cost. One approach to this is the development of an encoded exchange format that includes metadata to assist in the transcoding process.
What products are you developing?
EGT’s Head End Micro (HEMi), our newest product line, provides all the functionality necessary to efficiently include analog services in an existing digital lineup, by essentially having a "headend in a box." The unit includes encoding, add/drop multiplexing, QAM and upconversion in a platform designed for uncontrolled environments. Additional features in the HEMi include video store and forward and overlay generation. This product addresses the requirement for cable operators to provide local analog services in digital networks.
What’s the biggest threat to the cable industry?
It’s a mixed bag. The satellite operators have been aggressive at rolling out HD services, but they lack an all-important two-way capability in their platform. The telcos are developing high bandwidth, two-way networks that will have interactive services, but the buildout costs are high, and there are scaling issues to be overcome. The over-the-top providers are focused mostly on high value, on-demand content like movies. Cable MSOs really have it all: high bandwidth connections to the home, interactive applications like VOD, and HDTV. They are well-positioned to compete with each of these platforms, now and well into the future.
How do the video processing requirements change for IPTV, and what have you learned thus far?
Here are a few quick points. DSL bandwidths require H.264 compression efficiency to deliver multiple video channels along with voice and data. Rate-capped VBR is used, as opposed to CBR or closed loop VBR, in order to gain bandwidth for opportunistic data transmission. Encoders must generate low-resolution proxies, along with the full-resolution video, to support program guide applications. High density and low power requirements make encoder/transcoder card in chassis configurations preferable over pizza box designs. And transcoding is critical because most content is delivered in MPEG2.
Do smaller operators have different video agendas or requirements from the large MSOs?
The smaller operators are also involved in digital conversion; however, they often obtain digital content through satellite providers rather than encode themselves. In order to meet their franchise requirements, however, they are still required to digitize and carry PEG (public access, educational and government) channels.
What service or product will have the biggest impact on cable subs over the next five years?
From a subscriber’s viewpoint, I think it will be the increasing amount of HD content. The sales of HDTV sets have dramatically increased recently and will result in a greater demand for video quality, both SD and HD, when viewed on these large sets.
What has been the defining moment for EGT so far?
EGT literally changed the encoding industry when we introduced our first product in September 2003: a very dense, high quality, feature-rich encoder at an affordable price point. We changed the industry again when we launched our headend micro product, HEMi. No one else has a product like it.