Welcome to NAB in Fabulous Las Vegas

Authors: Asma Jenhani, Sandrine Hamon, François Abbe with contributions from colleagues and friends.

What you need to know in 60 seconds

Good news: the media & entertainment technology market is booming,
with a record attendance at NAB (over 100,000 registered)! But can the market really sustain that growth? One euro saved on operations is one euro invested in key differentiators, such as programmes.
Look at HD: first TV channels in Europe in 2006, superseded by UHD today. Who can afford to start over every 10 years? Ultra HD (UHD), High Dynamic Range (HDR), Virtual Reality (VR), etc. are getting more real but how much business does it mean to investors?

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Asia was more represented than ever at NAB

And this meant more visitors and more exhibitors. Asia is driving forward not only 4K/UHD but also 8K/Super UHD (please remember that 4K and UHD are slightly different, so please forgive us for using this non-scientific shortcut). US ATSC 3.0 is real, with equipment up and running.

Market shrinking

This report is best enjoyed listening to Calvin Harris “Vegas”.

It is nine-year-old song and, like UHD equipment, techno music gets old very quickly. Drinks wise, a glass of chardonnay will remind us of this drunk student on the plane (we didn’t expect a A380 plane to have so much wine capacity!) Sit down and relax because this news is depressing: at NAB, the IABM announced a broadcast market decline (see figures below). Now, if you take the annual results from leading broadcasters, the overall budgets remain constant. It just means that media people will buy fewer videotape machines and more datatape machines, fewer video routers and more network switches, less expensive broadcast equipment and more expensive IT security systems, less technology and more services, less technology and more content… As we explained at the Production Technology Seminar (PTS) 2016 at the EBU, our industry just spends its money differently. “When I save €1m on technology, it means more to buy programmes,” whispered a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) during the show.

IABM Devoncroft report

Source: Media Technology Business Summit – NAB 2016 – Download

 

1) PRODUCTION

Let’s start with the big boys: “Media & Entertainment still is a fast-moving market with 4K and 8K,” 
explained HP’s Jeff Wood, VP and GM, Global Head of Workstations and Thin Clients. “Disruptive innovation” is part of the game, says HP inc. Z Turbo Drive is the PCI Express bus technology used inside HP machines. HP is launching the Z1 G3 integrated workstation, which directly compares with Z240/440/640/840 workstations and competes with Apple iMac. Even the keyboard feels like an Apple keyboard: “All the keys feel just like home,” said Wood during the Avid Connect event.

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We now shoot and then play images differently. The Lytro lightfield camera makes it possible to adjust focus after the shoot. Playing back footage is also moving from the control room into the studio. Vizrt has long shown touch-screens to play graphics and animations. Italian manufacturer BLT showed a tablet allowing a journalist to replay content, as done by RAI Sport in its Formula 1 Grand Prix coverage.

Virtual Reality is the new buzzword. Just say “VR”. And it’s not new, but it’s probably more real than ever. There have been many attempts but, this time around, it looks more feasible. At PTS 2016, BSkyB explained how it is using it for news. NAB had a dedicated section in the North Hall. Nokia showed its Ozo solution made of eight lenses. “VR featured on a good number of stands at NAB, but in many cases this was just to show that the products from these companies are capable of handling 360 video. The two areas of specialisation that have been particularly interesting are camera and stitching, both of which have seen advances in just the past few months, with companies such as Nokia and VideoStitch demonstrating very impressive live implementations of 360 video at NAB. Futuresource expects VR/360 video to generate $3.4Bn annually worldwide by 2020 and this NAB has confirmed that the technology is moving quickly enough to allow this,” explained Adam Cox from Futuresource. From VR to virtual studios, weather programmes are still a front-runner, with an impressive set-up. The Weather Company now belongs to IBM.

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Panasonic and Sony used to enforce how TV production worked

They invented videotape formats then file formats. They were used to shoot, edit and play TV programmes. Today, DPP (UK) and NABA (US/Canada) are defining the replacement formats. Some questions remain: are global actors really involved? By global, we mean outside London and the US. Was Germany, Europe’s leading market, at the table? Were there sufficient inputs from users, Chief Financial Officers (who ultimately make investment decisions for commercial media groups), etc.? Until you get your master format right, you can always use Cube-Tec MXF Legalizer to modify the technical aspects of your file.

With native support from actors such as Avid, and Panasonic, AVC long-GOP looks real.
It is healthy to have an alternative to Sony’s XAVC format (even if Panasonic long-GOP is limited to HD today). And it is fundamental for many people to rely on long-GOP to make the UHD workflow economically feasible.

Avid Connect is a conference about Avid and its users

It is a cliché to say we want to be open. […] It is about a platform with API. Platform first! API first!” said Rashid Desai, VP and CTO at Avid. Avid made references to other platforms such as iOS, AWS, Google and SAP infrastructures. “How do we modernise our technology from the past 25 years into Media Central?” Adobe and Apple on an Avid slide is a refreshing change. The emphasis really is on MediaCentral Platform.

Avid launched its connectivity toolkit and made it free for users

Once a user writes an interface, for example, there will be a process to register its code. “So what’s the life expectancy of this new generation of API“, asked one of the US network. Hopefully forever! Note that the RDF could be used to harmonise and map metadata. One thing remains: Avid now needs to deliver.

Re. workflows, story-centric news workflows are now possible with Avid Mediacentral UX and Vizrt Viz Story.
Limecraft says it has improved content logging operations thanks to a speech-to-text module (this cool feature was dropped by Adobe many years ago).

On the audio front, object audio is key to an immersive experience.
And there are several new developments: Avid announced its object-based mixing and Sennheiser showed its 3D VR audio microphone, first announced at CES.

Where should you share your Vegas party pics?

One answer is Twitter, the other answer is the Avid Connect 2016 App. Similar to SMPTE events, Avid provides a companion app. You have the agenda, pics from the Saturday night party (sadly, we were on the plane). The only downside is the app’s access to your smartphone contact list. Mind you, if Avid marketing or the editor Double Dutch want my hairdresser’s phone number, we don’t mind (when you know François Abbe, you know the hairdresser is long gone from the list!). And next year, we may try the “Filmmakers Drinking Bourbon” @fdbpodcast party. Since we’re connected on Twitter, another drinking club has connected to us!

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2) TECHNOLOGY

Environment-friendliness gets more presence at NAB

Look at videowalls: LCD used to produce a lot of heat. With LED technology, it remains cold. Coleder say maintenance is easier as you just replace parts that need replacing from the front. If a pixel fails, other areas are unaffected.

HDR was this NAB’s highlight

After black and white, then colour, here is 3rd generation TV: High Dynamic Range (HDR) and Wide Colour Gamut (WCG) is about more colours and more contrast. It got real with the first consumer screens at CES in January 2015. Today, we theoretically have an end-to-end chain. SMPTE offered several unique film projections in Vegas. Director Ang Lee exhibited his newest film,”Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk”, in native stereoscopic 3D and 4K at 120 frames per second (240 fps in total). Two Christie Mirage cutting-edge projectors and proprietary servers were used. A curiosity: on the RED booth, there was an HDR “photobox”.

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Here is a good article for understanding the basics about HDR:

http://www.lightillusion.com/uhdtv.html. One claim is questionable: has anyone compared the two leading techniques PQ and HLG for real? The Ultra HD Forum published its guidelines and a summary is publicly accessible via this link: http://ultrahdforum.org/resources/phasea-guidelines-description/.

We actually came back from the show with more worries:
– HLG actually competes with several PQ formats: PQ in 10 bits, PQ in 12 bits (you
cannot transport using a traditional HD-SDI link), PQ pushed by specific vendors (e.g. Technicolor). A summary of actual differences would be appreciated, if not a shout-out. We hope this is planned for the EBU seminar on HDR (you can register at this link ). Sony showed a comparison of its camera output in S3Log format with PQ, HLG and SDR (used in everyday HD images)
– Is a new colourspace fundamental? Until now, we claimed Rec.2020 offered the ultimate colour palette, but some claim a non-linear colourspace is required to provide a constant chrominance. It will add yet more confusion to the market. Is it really worth it?

During “The Future of Cinema Conference”, SMPTE showed “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” in HDR and Atmos

Viewers gave very positive feedback. One said: “I saw the classic version a month ago, but the HDR experience was amazing: I haven’t seen the same movie at all!” HDR PQ (branded Dolby Vision in this case) provides yet another level of immersive experience. It probably proves 2K HDR is more appealing than 4K SDR. Some will argue the market will ultimately decide.

Because HDR keeps evolving, Canon is offering monitor firmware upgrades

On the stand, a monitor showed HLG and a projector showed PQ. Canon also demonstrated remote colour grading: the footage is on the cloud, the colourist at home and the filmmaker on the set.

After upconvertion, here comes “upnitting” (SDR to HDR).
Thank you Andy Quested (BBC) for the “Upnitting” term and thank you to the ITU working group members who made HDR happen (see their report https://www.itu.int/dms_pub/itu-r/opb/rep/R-REP-BT.2390-2016-PDF-E.pdf). One leading vendor claims: “The roundtrip SDR to HDR to SDR must be transparent. There must be one and only one workflow, this is the only way to make the business case work.” Harmonic implemented B-Com’s technology to provide HDR from an SDR source. Technicolor and Vubiquity also announced an upnitting service.

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We saw 8K HDR pictures for the first time

Japan NHK is the main supporter but is joined by more vendors, including Canon with a prototype 8K camera.  And if you want to record 8K, you need four records running 4K/UHD. On the other hand, Korean broadcasters are concentrating on UHD (4K) with a launch in 2017 using the new ATSC 3.0. LG showed the first integrated terrestrial DTV receiver chip in a consumer TV. And if you want to feed HDMI 2.0 signals into your existing 12G SDI video installation, k2E has an interesting set of converter boxes.

3) DISTRIBUTION

And what if we suddenly started to distribute HDR? 
One of the top pieces of work from ATSC in 2015: how much weight is required to distribute each type of content using HEVC. If we look at the 4Ever project study report (see the highlights here: http://www.mesclado.com/4k-uhd-screen4all-forum/?lang=en), then 50Hz and 100Hz require the same bitrates.

Hevc compression performance

Thank you to ATSC for the authorization to publish this diagram. “Merci” Thierry Fautier (Harmonic) for bringing this diagram to our attention.

As always, large sporting events represent a big business driver

South Korea is launching its UHD services in time for the 2018 Olympics.

Reducing the Internet delivery bill keeps people busy.
Streamroot graphically showed savings thanks to how they rely on peer-to-peer technology to reduce traffic provided by the CDN. And the Cloud is omnipresent: for the first time, we saw an IBM Bluemix-based process thanks to a Vantrix transcoder.

HTML5 everywhere! No need for plug-ins anymore!

A combination of MPEG-DASH as a future streaming format for the majority of the platforms. HLS will not disappear for the sake of iOS and legacy devices. Starting with Microsoft giving up on updating Silverlight for Chrome’s new API, the trend of the plug-ins is not up-to-date anymore. Firefox, Chrome, Facebook, etc. are banning Flash content and migrating to HMTL5-based players. Obviously, HMTL5 is starting to provide universal coverage the way Flash did a few years ago. This is a hint for MAM people to see where the market is going: globalization of HTML5 and “dependence-free” web applications.

And here is the big move to a service model

Many traditional actors have a cloud-based service offering. TV stations in the cloud seem to get more real. Ericsson showed a virtualized playout solution. Imagine Communications also provide a solution.

“IMF (Interoperable Master Format) is changing the economics of production

Products exist today and they are interoperable,” announced SMPTE UK Governor Bruce Devlin. IMF is now supported by close to 20 vendors. Rohde & Schwarz demonstrated 4K HDR mastering capabilities. Tedial explained how IMF is used internally by its MAM system. IRT previewed its MXF Analyser with IMF checks. The EBU has started work on IMF for broadcast, which is of great interest in Europe. Marquise Technologies has announced ACES support for colour management. Telestream has added a GPU accelerated JPEG-2000 codec to its Vantage transcoder. Moreover, Telestream Cloud supports ProRes and links to Google Cloud Platform, Amazon Web Services and Rackspace.

How to add value to content

IMF can be used, relying on the marker mechanism to indicate where interactivity should be used. T-Commerce is another example: Net Insight showed how pop-up windows can appear on the main TV screen depending on the second-screen content.

 

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Zenith (part of LG) demonstrated a smart TV aerial. The Network Wireless Antenna bridges between the off-air ATSC 3.0 DTV signal and devices. It is a home appliance that acts as a hub and media centre.

 

4) INFRASTRUCTURE

SMPTE publishes ASPEN : Open Format for IP transition

ASPEN is an open framework that enables independent flows for video, audio, and metadata in an IP-based broadcast and media facility. ASPEN expands on the MPEG-2 Transport Stream (IEC 13818-1 or ITU-T Rec. H.222.0) standard to include uncompressed UHD/3G/HD/SD video over TS. The ASPEN framework also utilizes open standards for transporting audio (SMPTE ST 302) and metadata (SMPTE ST 2038). SMPTE 2022-2 is used to encapsulate the transport streams into IP.

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Note that religion invited itself to NAB!

 

5) TO CONCLUDE...

Security and HR were absent from NAB

And at the same time two more major European broadcasters got hacked in late 2015. No black screen, no real injury but a big scare. “Burn out” is also a threat to media groups, probably more serious than ever. Bizarrely enough, there was no mention of this at the conference, no visibility on the show floor. Training was present at the show but more is needed. And remember when archiving content, “if you only have one copy, it doesn’t exist!”

And the top 3 excuses to miss NAB:

1. “I am too busy so can’t make it to Vegas.” Lucky you!
2. “My passport is out of date.
3. “They overbooked my flight, so I couldn’t make it.” (This almost happened to us!)

And Mesclado’s “say”: technology is boring, content is king, humans are key.

 

Thank you to our friends and colleagues worldwide who contributed to this report. A special “merci” to Christophe Duran for his fantastic pictures.
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