We are all headed to an IP driven multi-screen world. The irony is that this enables more and better services – and therefore the opportunity for providers to monetise subscribers in more and better ways – and yet these services are delivered by a process that is intrinsically ‘best efforts’.
Because of variable bandwidths in the delivery paths, and even more variable capabilities in the unmanaged devices at the destination, those efforts can, perforce, be pretty strenuous. But, however tough the road, the cargo had better arrive in apparently mint condition, otherwise the paying customer is going to try some other carrier. And everyone knows that if winning a subscriber is vital to growth, keeping one is fundamental to survival.
So, media industry technologists are committed One Directioners. That direction is compression; more bits (or the appearance of more bits) in less bandwidth. With this fundamental credo they have moved us from the basics of lossy digital compression with MPEG 1 through to – in about 20 years – H.265 or HEVC, representing another doubling of compression from MPEG 4.
Having developed the compression the technologists leave it to broadcasters and service providers what to do with it. The sexy thing to do is talk about 4K or Ultra HD; the ability to use the same bandwidth as now used for HD, but supply a picture of double the quality; higher frame rates, deeper bit rate and all. If you’ve seen it demoed – in the ‘full fat’ version, of course – it is impressive; much greater field of vision, truly immersive. It’s like 3D but with a better picture, no glasses, and less headaches.
UHD will come along and get a decent early adopter crowd – the TV makers will see to that. And then will come UUHD(?): NHK are already piloting 8K. But for most providers HEVC will simply be a way to offer current services more efficiently (SD and HD over mobile), and more of the same kind of services to their fixed line subs – up to twice as many.
Either way, it won’t lighten the load on the servers and codecs in their frantic and constant game of digital tag as content streams are adapted and formatted and checked off for delivery. The monitoring machinery planted at every point in the journey play an ever more important role in spotting breakdowns and log jams before the recipient notices, as a system that was never really designed to deliver media goes on churning out its miracles.
You will shortly be able to read a major survey of test and monitor technologies and trends in the digital edition of the November/December issue of Euromedia.
You can watch a fascinating roundtable discussion on HEVC and 4K now.