Hobbit HFRPeter Jackson’s brave use of High Frame Rate (HFR) in “The Hobbit” has sparked intense debate over the past two months. The most prevalent questions have been:

“Does HFR look ‘better’ than traditional 24 fps, or does it just look ‘different’?”

“Will audiences eventually get used to HFR and then prefer it over traditional 24 fps, as with many other advances in motion imagery?”

Clearly HFR looks different. Anyone who saw “The Hobbit” in HFR can agree with that. And I think it’s fair to say that Jackson and his team succeeded in their goal to produce a more lifelike visual experience. But many viewers and critics found this new hyper-real experience off-putting, reducing the so-called “suspension of disbelief” that is considered essential to storytelling. Critics widely panned Jackson’s use of HFR, comparing the look of HFR to television and video games, deriding it as “non-cinematic,” “plasticine,” and “fake.”

If HFR didn’t work well for a cinematic adventure film like “The Hobbit,” there must be a scientific explanation. Or, as it turns out, maybe there isn’t. Yet…

At today’s Hollywood Post Alliance (HPA) Tech Retreat, Charles Poynton presented a fairly comprehensive overview of the challenges with motion imagery. His conclusion is that we don’t know enough about how motion is perceived by humans to explain with scientific certainty why HFR looks different. Poynton provided a thoughtful and detailed overview of how image capture and display technologies interact with the human perceptual system. Without going into detail about pulse width modulation or bit splitting (!) here are some of Poynton’s main points from today’s session:

  • We are still trying to fully understand how motion is decoded in the brain. Some scientists believe the brain processes chunks of input (20 to 50 milliseconds each) while others believe perception is more like a continuous stream.
  • Despite advances in our learning about human perception, along with advances in algorithms that use these learnings to automatically assess visual quality, the only way to conclusively assess visual quality remains subjective testing by humans.
  • The way that humans track motion, by moving their eyes several times per second, presents a challenge for motion imaging systems.
  • Different display technologies (LCD, Plasma, DLP, CRT) emit light in different ways over time, creating an additional factor that must be carefully optimized.
  • Along with wide gamma and other advances in motion image technology, HFR needs further study and refinement before it can be successfully adopted.

As a fitting postscript to Poynton’s presentation, Mark Schubin suggested that not only do we not yet know why HFR looks so different from traditional 24 fps, we also don’t know where this will all land. Many other advances in cinema technology were initially rejected by viewers, but eventually became standard fare.

In my opinion, HFR will eventually be incorporated as an additional, valuable tool for storytellers.  Higher frame rates are not inherently superior to 24 fps for all content genres, but they may meaningfully enhance the audience experience when used for scenes that require fast motion or hyper-reality. It may turn out that some television genres like news, live entertainment and sports may be better suited to high frame rates, because the goal of these productions is to approximate live attendance of the event. Dramatic programs with high production values, such as The Hobbit, may ultimately benefit from the suspension of disbelief induced by the cinematic look of 24 fps, incorporating HFR more sparingly as a visual effect.

So maybe HFR is not the problem – maybe we are. Notwithstanding the creativity and skill of Peter Jackson and his team, perhaps we don’t know how to do HFR well yet. Maybe we don’t yet know when to use HFR and when not to. But at least Peter Jackson has forced the discussion by boldly pushing into this new frontier, for which we can all be grateful.

avid_logo_bos12On Monday, Avid announced that Gary Greenfield has resigned from his position as CEO and Chairman of the Board. Louis Hernandez, who was appointed to Avid’s Board of Directors by Greenfield in 2008, has been named as Avid’s new President and CEO. George Billings, who has been a member of Avid’s board since 2004, is now Chairman. Greenfield will continue to serve as a member of Avid’s board.

These changes in Avid’s leadership follow several years of declining results. Here are some of the numbers:

  • When Greenfield took the helm on December 19, 2007, Avid’s stock price was $25.40. At close on Monday, it was $7.87, a decline of 69%.
  • Avid’s revenue for 2007 was $989.6 million. Although Avid has not announced official results for the fourth quarter of 2012 as of yet, some analysts are predicting roughly $614 million in total revenue for 2012. If this estimate is accurate, Avid’s top line will have declined by more than 33% during the last five years. (Note that these numbers are not fully adjusted for acquisitions and divestments.)
  • Avid’s cash position has declined from $224.5 million at the end of 2007, to roughly $71 million, according to Avid’s most recent results announcement (Q3 2012), a decline of more than 68%.

It’s important to note that other large vendors such as Grass Valley and Harris Broadcast have also struggled during this interval. And despite poor financial performance, Avid achieved several important accomplishments over the last five years:

  • Significantly reduced price points for many products, achieving better alignment to the market.
  • Decoupled hardware and software for Pro Tools and Media Composer, enabling customer choice.
  • Implemented “voice of the customer” programs, to increase customer influence.
  • Expanded product categories through strategic acquisitions, including Euphonix (audio consoles and control surfaces) and Blue Order (media asset management).
  • Refreshed several key product lines, while improving overall product quality and customer support.
  • Unified multiple brands under a single Avid brand.
  • Streamlined costs by transitioning to shared services and increasing offshore contract engineering.
  • Narrowed market focus on professional customers by divesting its consumer product lines, while expanding Avid’s professional services capabilities.

Although these accomplishments are significant, they did not result in sustained growth or profitability. To rebound, Avid will need to take bold steps. The good news is that the media industry’s value chain continues to evolve, creating new opportunities for technology vendors. Here are ten of the top macro trends, as I see them, in no particular order:

  1. Transition to HD and Digital. Although largely complete in North America, the transition to digital distribution and HD television is still in full swing globally, creating upgrade opportunities for technology vendors.
  2. Beyond HD. Film studios and broadcasters continue to advance beyond HD for high-end content production. As content creators adopt higher spatial resolution (e.g. 4K), higher frame rates (e.g. 48 fps and 60 fps), stereoscopic, and high dynamic range, as well as other advances in imaging, they will need to upgrade their equipment and expand their storage infrastructure.
  3. Growth in the MI Market. As the global economy has rebounded, so has demand for musical instruments, as well as music creation tools and audio recording products.
  4. More Broadcast Channels. Broadcasters continue to add new channels, especially outside of North America, driving increased demand for content creation and distribution technologies.
  5. New Distribution Outlets and Multi-Screen. Broadcasters and media companies are monetizing content across more distribution outlets, including on demand, web, mobile, and social media, fueling the market for content transformation and distribution technologies. Additionally, new viewing paradigms are emerging including interactive, multi-screen consumption, creating new opportunities for targeted advertising.
  6. Corporate Video. The use of video in corporate environments continues to explode, creating opportunities for vendors of simple content creation tools, collaboration infrastructure, centralized storage and content management systems, as well as transformation and distribution services.
  7. Expanded Audio Deliverables. More content production means more audio production. Broader international distribution is driving more language versioning than ever before. New audio accessibility and loudness regulations, as well as new surround formats like Dolby Atmos, require more audio processing. All of these trends are fueling increased demand for audio production and processing tools.
  8. Transition to File-Based Workflows. As the entire media value chain continues its transition to file-based workflows, demand will increase for media asset management, media storage, and workflow orchestration solutions.
  9. Operational Integration and Automation. Media companies are looking for ways to increase their productivity without increasing operating expenses. To this end, they are adapting concepts and technologies from the IT industry to achieve new levels of process automation and operational integration, expanding the market for professional services and integration technologies.
  10. Cloud. As media companies streamline their operations, cloud-based infrastructure will become increasingly appealing – providing elastic capacity and cost, while enabling new workflows for distributed teams. This trend will unfold over the next several years, creating opportunities for media-savvy cloud-based service providers.

These opportunities are not new, and they are not accessible only to Avid. But none of these opportunities is out of reach for Avid either. The question is whether Avid will participate meaningfully in these opportunities, or continue to retrench in its existing core business.

Earlier this week, one of my former colleagues at Avid told me that many Avid employees do not see this week’s announcement as a regime change, but rather a modest change in roles for the existing management team. No board members have come or gone, an existing board member chosen by Greenfield is now CEO, and Greenfield himself is still in the picture as a board member. It’s hard to argue that this week’s announcement represents a radical departure from the status quo.

Still, one could argue that Hernandez is well positioned to effect change. Although Hernandez has been on Avid’s board for several years, most Avid employees and customers are not familiar with him. This affords Hernandez the opportunity to approach his appointment as a newcomer would. Yet his tenure on Avid’s board has exposed Hernandez to Avid’s business, customers and markets. The question is whether Hernandez will take this opportunity to effect change, or continue the course set by his predecessor.

Predictably, Monday’s announcement has sparked increased interest in Hernandez’s track record. According to publicly available documents, Hernandez was previously Chairman of the Board and CEO of Open Solutions, Inc., a technology company that was acquired in January 2013 by Fiserv, Inc. for $55 million. As part of the acquisition, Fiserv also assumed approximately $960 million of debt. Open Solutions had been taken private roughly six years earlier by the Carlyle Group and Providence Equity Partners for $1.3 billion. In the six years since Open Solutions was taken private, the company’s debt more than doubled from roughly $448 million to $960 million. Because Open Solutions has had a history of losses, Fiserv will realize tax breaks to the tune of $165 million, lowering the total cost of the acquisition to around $865 million.

This means that the market value of Open Solutions has declined by roughly 33% over the last six years, from $1.3 billion to $865 million. According to articles and posts on public websites like Glass Door, Open Solutions has also implemented layoffs and has reduced employee benefits in order to manage costs, affecting employee morale. While the decline of Open Solutions has not been as precipitous as Avid’s, these similarities are worth noting.

In Avid’s Press Release Monday, Hernandez described his appointment as “…an exciting opportunity to lead Avid at this very important juncture…” adding that “[Avid] is well positioned for growth and global expansion in this fast-moving marketplace.” It certainly is an exciting time of change for the media industry, and a potential inflection point for Avid. Along with many other fans of this great company who continue to root for an Avid turnaround, here’s hoping that Hernandez is ready and able to chart a new course forward for Avid.

The HEVC/H.265 standard is now officially finalized, paving the way for broader commercialization in products in the near future. Back in September of 2012, I published a post introducing HEVC/H.265, a new video codec that offers approximately twice the efficiency of H.264. A draft specification for HEVC was released in July 2012 by the JCT-VC, a joint collaborative group co-sponsored by MPEG and the ITU. And last Friday, the ITU announced that HEVC had received first stage “consent” approval. Simultaneously, MPEG announced that HVEC had achieved Final Draft Internal Standard (FDIS) status. What does this mean?

HEVC is now fully baked and we will soon be seeing wider industry adoption!

It is important to note that the current HEVC specification only describes profiles for single-view 8-bit and 10-bit video with 4:2:0 subsampling. Extensions are in progress for 4:2:2 and 4:4:4 color sampling as well as multi-view (3D). Until these extensions are ratified next year, H.265 will not achieve full functional parity with H.264.

Because HEVC is more complex computationally, adoption will depend on continued increases in processing power and battery power. Although some current mobile devices may be able to decode HEVC in the future simply by updating their software, HEVC will put a huge strain on processors and battery life. For many applications, hardware implementations will be optimal, and many hardware vendors have announced chips that will support H.265. For example, at CES 2013 Broadcom showed the BCM7445, an HEVC decoder chip that will be incorporated into next generation home gateway devices in mid-2014.

Broadcom BCM7445 at CES 2013

But as with any codec transition, consumer adoption will depend on support across the value chain:

  • Consumer viewing devices will require updated software or hardware to decode HEVC
  • Content owners and distributors will need to create and offer HEVC-encoded content for distribution
  • Content distribution networks, such as cable operators, will need to update their delivery infrastructure to support HEVC

Unfortunately, these barriers to adoption are significant. That’s why most of us are still watching MPEG-2 on TV, even though H.264 was ratified several years ago. Still, finalizing the specification is an important first step towards adoption. And HEVC offers many benefits to broadcasters and content owners. As with 4K and Ultra High-Definition Television (UHDTV), HEVC is an important building-block in the next wave of high resolution imaging.

TV’s will be available this year, but adoption will be slow.

Not surprisingly, Ultra High Definition Television (UHDTV for short) was the big buzz at CES last week. All of the major TV manufacturers were demonstrating UHDTV sets running at 4K resolution, with Sharp showing an updated prototype 85” TV running at 8K resolution. But even as the TV sets themselves are approaching availability, the picture is becoming increasingly clear (pun intended) that uptake will be slow.

  • Although UHDTV sets will be available as soon as March of this year, initial pricing will be prohibitively high (>$10,000). According to CEA analysts, UHDTV units will account for only 5% of TV’s sold in 2016.
  • No 4K or 8K content is available currently to view on UHDTV sets and likely won’t be available in quantity for years to come.
  • There is currently no distribution method for UHDTV content. Data rates for UHDTV can be at least four to sixteen times higher than for 1080p HD.
  • Broadcasters are generally unconvinced that a viable business model will emerge for UHDTV.
  • Most industry analysts and TV vendors now acknowledge that UHDTV has little (if any) value for displays smaller than 50 inches. For my thoughts on the relative value of higher spatial resolution, please read my earlier post on this topic.

In short, UHDTV is a really impressive technology that is desperately in search of a market opportunity. It’s hard to dispute that UHDTV represents a future we can all get excited about, but (like HD before it) the market for UHDTV will likely take several years to develop. Read on if you want more of the gory details. If you’re a UHDTV novice, feel free to check out the primer on UHDTV I posted last September.

Samsung S9000 85-inch 4K UHDTV at CES 2013
(photo courtesy of pocket-lint.com)

UHDTV’s Will Be Available Soon

Virtually all of the major TV vendors demonstrated UHDTV sets at CES last week. Note that none of the sets is currently available, but some will begin shipping as soon as March 2013. Early units will include 94-inch displays from Sony and LG that will be priced at $20,000-$25,000. Smaller models will cost less – the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) estimates that the average wholesale cost of 4K televisions will drop to $7,000 by late 2013, then to $2,800 in 2014. Even with this steep decline in price, only 1.4 million unit sales are projected for the U.S. in 2016, equivalent to roughly 5% of the market.

“It’s a very, very limited opportunity,” said Steve Koenig, director of industry analysis at the CEA. “The price points here are in the five digits (in U.S. dollars) and very few manufacturers, at least at this stage, have products ready.”

Content is (Lac)King

No UHDTV content is available to consumers currently. But the technology is available to create 4K content. Increasingly, feature films are shot with 4K cameras and are mastered at 4K for theatrical distribution. 4K consumer camcorders are already on the market. Classic films archived on 35mm film could be retransferred at 4K for distribution. And gaming engines could fairly easily render images in 4K or 8K. So the technology is available, but until a compelling market opportunity exists, content owners may not jump on board.

Upscaling and Other Sources

Early UHDTV sets from vendors like Samsung, Sony and Toshiba, will support upscaling of HD content to 4K. For example, Sony recently announced plans for a “Mastered in 4K” Blu-ray library that will offer content mastered in 4K that is downscaled to 1080p HD for Blu-ray release.

“When upscaled via the Sony 4K Ultra HD TVs, these discs serve as an ideal way for consumers to experience near-4K picture quality,” according to Sony.

While this may seem like a sketchy marketing ploy (because the discs are no different from today’s Blu-ray titles) I have to admit that standard def DVD’s look much better when upscaled to HD, so there is a possibility that Blu-ray discs will look even better when upscaled to UHDTV. Still, upscaling of 1080p content is at best a stopgap until UHDTV-native content becomes available.

One source of UHDTV-native content could be your computer. Graphics cards have long since surpassed the 1920×1080 resolution of HD. Home movies and photo montages will look great on a huge UHDTV. I can also imagine UHDTV’s becoming commercially viable as high-end displays for retail and corporate applications. But for television viewing, the lack of native UHDTV content will definitely be a barrier to adoption.

Bandwidth and Distribution

At 4K, UHDTV content has more than four times as many pixels as HD. At 8K, that multiplier jumps to >16x. Carrying that much data will require significant advances in compression technology as well as increases in network bandwidth. Ironically, at a time when sales of physical media are plummeting, these challenges may make physical media the most practical method for distributing UHDTV for the next few years. Recently, the Blu-Ray Disk Association has formed a task force to study the viability of extending the Blu-ray format to support 4k.

As for television, some broadcasters seem interested in exploring UHDTV. Recently, satellite operator Eutelsat Communications launched a demonstration 4K channel in Europe. And an experimental Ultra HD channel is also being planned in Korea. NHK in Japan hopes to begin experimental 8K broadcasts in 2020. But these technology experiments are primarily focused on exploring the technical viability of UHDTV broadcast.

Business Model

Market viability is perhaps the biggest question surrounding UHDTV broadcast. As with the 3D hype two years ago, some industry analysts expect sports programming to drive consumer interest in UHDTV.

The Hollywood Reporter recently stated that “BSkyB in the UK, Sky Deutschland in Germany, Japan’s Sky Perfect Jsat, and Brazil’s TV Globo have all started to explore the potential of 4K, which would include coverage of events such as sports…with an eye toward offering the 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Olympics (both of which will be held in Brazil) in [UHDTV].”

But other broadcasters have gone on record as much more jaundiced about the market opportunity. During the Broadband Unlimited conference at CES last Monday, Sheau Ng, VP of research and development for NBC Universal says there’s no business model for UHD TV yet.

“Therein lies the rub,” Ng said. “It’s not the technology, it’s the business model. Where is the money? Unlike the previous revolution of HD, we have the device manufacturers selling the device when people are still scratching their head and saying ‘What do I do?’ That’s something we’re wrestling with every day. For us to say ‘We’re going to do this,’ we need somebody to say ‘here’s the business model, here’s the number of devices in the market, here’s how we’re going to make money.’”

And Bryan Burns, VP of strategic business planning and development at ESPN, hinted that some broadcasters will wait for 8k.

“By the time we get [to 4K] we will be on to 8K or whatever. I don’t want to make the capital investment [in 4K]. There might be a gradual evolution…but I don’t see us heading to 4K production or an ESPN 4K channel.”

In Summary…

With the proliferation of high resolution cameras and displays, the question surrounding UHDTV is no longer “how,” so much as “why” and “when.” From my perspective, until there is critical mass of UHDTV sets installed in homes, content owners won’t spend the extra dollars to make UHDTV content available. Until the content is available, broadcasters won’t create UHDTV channels. And until a lot of compelling content is both available and affordable, consumers won’t pay extra for UHDTV sets or service.

If this circular “chicken and egg” dynamic sounds to you a lot like the uphill battle faced by HD technology fifteen years ago, or 3D TV two years ago, I think you’ve gotten my point: UHDTV is definitely coming, but not quickly.

What the world needs now is… a new video codec? Back in 2004, when most of us video geeks were trying to figure out how to make H.264 work in the real world, plans were already afoot to develop its replacement. In case you didn’t notice, a draft specification for H.265 — also known as HEVC, which stands for High Efficiency Video Coding — was released in July by the JCT-VC, a joint collaborative group co-sponsored by MPEG and the ITU. The main benefits of HEVC are as follows:

  1. Greater Efficiency. H.265 should require only half the data rate of H.264 to deliver equivalent perceived quality.
  2. Increased Spatial Resolution. Supported image sizes span from as small as QVGA (320×240) all the way up to 8K (7680×8320) for UHDTV.
  3. Improved noise level, color gamut, and dynamic range as compared to H.264.
  4. Improved methods for parallel processing.

In subjective testing, HEVC has delivered equivalent perceived image quality at half the data rate, when compared to H.264 (High Profile). This means that HEVC could enable web and mobile devices to consume one half their current network bandwidth when streaming video. Or this increase in efficiency could be used to significantly improve image quality at the same data rate. Either way, H.265 will be a boon to web and mobile delivery.

Comparison: H.265 and H.264
(Source: Qualcomm at 2012 Mobile World Congress)

How does HEVC accomplish this drastic increase in efficiency? Although based on H.264, HEVC offers many small tweaks that add up, including the following:

  • HEVC replaces macroblocks with a more efficient (but also complex) hierarchical system for partitioning frames.
  • HEVC provides larger block sizes for higher coding efficiency.
  • HEVC supports tiling, allows multiple encoder instances to work on the same frame simultaneously.
  • HEVC supports wavefront parallel processing, so multiple threads can process different slices of frames more efficiently.
  • HEVC is progressive-scan only, simplifying decoder implementations.
  • HEVC includes entropy coding algorithmic enhancements that enable hardware decoders to run more efficiently.
  • HEVC includes higher precision filtering for improved motion compensation.

HEVC is expected to be fully ratified and published by early 2013. And, although chip vendors may not finalize hardware implementations until the standard is fully baked, software implementations will likely see commercialization in 2013. At IBC earlier this month, several vendors publicly demonstrated HEVC prototypes and announced HEVC support in future products:

What’s the catch? Licensing is still an unknown at this point. MPEG-LA has recently issued a call for patents that read on HEVC, so there is a possibility that H.265 will require a licensing fee. While MPEG-LA has not charged a license for H.264 when used to distribute video for free on the web, other uses of H.264 have incurred licensing costs. In any case, it seems likely that most H.265 implementations will require licensing fees.

There’s never a good time to introduce a new video codec, but it’s easy to argue that HEVC comes at just the right time. Video distribution now consumes the vast majority of all network traffic. Video-capable smart phones and tablets are ubiquitous. Unlimited mobile data plans are a thing of the past. Here’s hoping that licensing hurdles do not prevent the adoption of a new technology whose time has come!

For several years, I have enjoyed watching NHK’s technology demonstrations of their outlandish Super Hi-Vision format. With an 8K image (sixteen times the resolution of 1080P HD!) running at 120 frames per second, it’s like IMAX on steroids. And with 22.2 channels of surround sound, the theatrical experience is truly immersive.

NHK Demonstrates the Latest Super Hi-Vision Camera at IBC 2012
(click to enlarge)

But, like many people, I confess that I’ve been treating Super Hi-Vision like a science experiment – something cool and futuristic, but impractical and over-the-top (no pun intended). Imagine my surprise to see that last month Super Hi-Vision has spawned a bona fide ITU standard (Ultra-High Definition, ITU-R BT.2020). What’s more, at the IBC convention in Amsterdam last weekend, the NHK was showcasing a Super High-Vision camera that is actually a lot smaller than a washing machine! Some broadcasters and vendors were even speaking up in support of UHDTV as the “next big thing,” although not without lively debate from the doubters. I found myself wondering if maybe UHDTV might be on the brink of becoming more than just a science experiment.

I also wondered what UHDTV actually is, what variants it supports, and whether it is equivalent to Super Hi-Vision. This post provides a quick summary of UHDTV, what it is and what it isn’t. In a future post I’ll opine about who (if anybody) really needs UHDTV, but first it would help just to understand it.

UHDTV is a specification for a new motion image format derived from Super Hi-Vision, originally developed by NHK’s Science & Technology Research Lab. UHDTV specifies two image sizes: UHDTV1 has 4K resolution, while UHDTV2 has 8K resolution, that can run at a variety of frame rates. Super Hi-Vision is not exactly equivalent to UHDTV2, although it incorporates one variant of UHDTV2 as its image format. Here is a chart I put together to illustrate the areas of equivalence (marked in green) and variance between UHDTV and Super Hi-Vision:

UHDTV SHV Comparison Chart

Basically, Super Hi-Vision is equivalent to one of the variants of UHDTV (4320p running at 120 fps) plus 22.2 channels of audio. From my reading, ITU-R Rec. 2020 doesn’t specify anything about audio. Sadly, it appears that the ITU has decided that UHDTV should specify 18 permutations of image size and frame rate. That number increases when you consider color sampling and coding options. It seems to me the ITU should have taken this opportunity to simplify things, rather than repeating the unfortunate approach taken by the ATSC twenty years ago that resulted in fifteen HD variants.

To illustrate the spatial resolution of UHDTV, I have created a colorful graphic (see below) that accurately depicts the relative sizes of SD, HD and UHDTV images. By comparison, whereas an individual frame of 1080p HD content contains roughly 2.1 megapixels, a single frame of UHDTV1 contains roughly 8.3 megapixels, and UHDTV2 contains 33.2 megapixels. How’s that for spatial resolution?

Broadcast Standards: Size Comparison
(click to enlarge)

I have always found it interesting that motion imagery can get away with much lower spatial resolution than still imagery. Although scientists have described two phenomena that explain the human perception of motion (the phi phenomenon and beta movement) recent studies indicate that human interpretation of motion video is more complex than had been previously thought. It turns out the brain is not a camera capturing a fixed number of frames per second. The brain has much more work to do to interpret motion video than a still image, and therefore doesn’t have the cycles to ascertain spatial resolution in each passing frame.

This explains why a Bluray disc looks great on my TV when 24 frames per second are flying by. But an individual 1080p frame, at only 2 megapixels, can look blocky. And at only 24 frames per second, fast motion looks jerky. Clearly UHDTV does not have either of these limitations, given its massive spatial resolution and a temporal resolution that ranges up to 120 frames per second.

Not surprisingly, all this resolution comes at a cost. In case you’re wondering, at 120 frames per second, a UHDTV2 sensor is spitting out roughly 4 billion pixels per second at data rates that can exceed 40 Gbit/s. That’s a lot of data! Imagine having to gang together fourteen 3 Gbps dual link SDI signals to carry one uncompressed stream of UHDTV2! This explains why HVEC encoding is seen as necessary to efficiently store UHDTV streams, even though UHDTV is compression agnostic.

So, that’s the quick story on UHDTV. Wikipedia has a good article on UHDTV that I recommend you read, especially if you’re interested in the history of the format. In a future post, I’ll opine on the more difficult questions: is UHDTV practical? And who really needs UHDTV? Stay tuned…

The weather in Amsterdam was beautiful for IBC this year, giving the local Amsterdammers (or “Mokummers” as they say here – no, I didn’t make that up!) another great excuse to vacate the city this past weekend. As if being invaded by 50,000+ broadcast geeks wasn’t reason enough…

If you weren’t lucky enough to enjoy September in Amsterdam, or in case you were spending too much time enjoying the weather and not stalking the halls of the RAI, I offer this summary of the major vendor announcements at the show, organized roughly by product category.

This year, the IBC exhibition was characterized by many smaller announcements, so my apologies in advance for the gigantic post!

Asset Management

  • Avid highlighted Interplay Central version 1.3 with enhanced web and mobile versions. New features include a video sequence creation pane, frame-accurate shot lists, iPad script editing and remote search, as well as ISIS 2000 support and DNxHD 85/100 codec support
  • Axle demonstrated their new “radically simple” project and media management software solution. Axle runs on a Mac mini computer, providing a simple browser interface that lets you view, annotate and log all the assets on your shared storage server, from any location.

    Axle Media Management
  • Dalet showcased Galaxy, the latest version of their enterprise MAM platform, that includes a BPMN 2.0-compliant workflow engine, as well as a multitrack video editor, customizable data model, advanced tools for searching and indexing, and support for AS-02 and FIMS standards.
  • Grass Valley announced end-to-end 1080 50/60p support as well as new Stratus tools: Stratus for News and Stratus for Playout which are expected to ship by the end of 2012.
  • NETIA showcased new version of its production CMS solution. New features include the ability for users to personalize the user interface and modify the metadata template. NETIA CMS now interfaces with speech-to-text transcription systems for enhanced search.
  • Orad demonstrated the latest version of iFind MAM, Orad’s graphics asset management solution. New features include audio indexing as well as enhanced search capabilities.
  • Primestream announced version 3.5 for Fork, their production suite.
  • ProConsultant Informatique (PCI) showed a new SocialSeine module for Louise, their business management software. SocialSeine helps broadcasters optimize their content and brands for Social TV, providing realtime engagement data on social sites, along with analytics.
  • Quantel introduced Station sQ, an HD news production system based on Enterprise SQ, but geared towards smaller configurations.


  • AETA Audio highlighted 4MinX, their integrated multitrack digital recorder and mixer for studio and field applications.
  • Avid launched the Pro Tools|HD Native Thunderbolt interface, enabling flexible connectivity between a laptop or iMac and any HD I/O series interface.
  • Cobalt Digital demonstrated LMNTS, a loudness processing tool for EBU R128 and CALM compliance that operates directly on streams. Cobalt also demonstrated SpotCheck, an audio loudness measurement and logging system.
  • Cube-Tec highlighted their MXF Loudness Assimilator, enabling file-based correction for EBU R128 compliance.
  • Dolby continued to showcase their next-generation Dolby Atmos surround format.

    Avid Pro Tools HD|Native Thunderbolt
  • DiGiCo exhibited at IBC for the first time, showcasing its SD range of broadcast audio consoles.
  • Junger Audio showcasted M*AP, a new monitor controller and loudness measurement device in one unit.
  • Minnetonka demonstrated AudioTools Server 2.0 with updated loudness control and QC for file-based audio workflows, as well as Dolby Dialogue Intelligence integration. Minnetonka’s SurCode plug-ins have also been updated, enabling surround sound workflows with Adobe Premiere Pro, Apple Final Cut, Avid Pro Tools, and Avid Media Composer.
  • Miranda debuted it’s advanced loudness control solution, ALC, which includes monitoring, logging and correction in real time during playout.
  • NUGEN Audio announced a suite of upmix and downmix plug-ins, developed in collaboration with DSpecialists.
  • RTW showcased the TM3 TouchMonitor, a 4.3 inch touch-sensitive loudness compliance audio meter.
  • SSL announced a new version 5 upgrade for the C100 broadcast console, which includes a dual operator mode for complex productions.
  • SSL showcased their new ScreenSound ADR tool, a suite of integrated software apps for dialog spotting, session preparation, session management and audio recording.
  • Studer announced an update to their VISTA FX module that enables 24 channels of Lexicon effects per 2U unit, the equivalent of two PCM96 devices tightly integrated into the console controls.
  • Sony launched Sound Forge Pro Mac 1.0, the first time Sound Forge has been available on the Mac.

Automation and Newsroom

  • ANNOVA Systems announced Vision, a new software tool designed to manage collaborative planning workflow in the newsroom.
  • Harris announced Versio, a new 1U channel in a box automation system, incorporating Nexio, Icon graphics and ADC automation.
  • Oasys demonstrated new functionality for their automated playout software, including enhanced file management, IP streaming, subtitling and instant configuration changes.
  • Octopus demonstrated version 6 of their newsroom computer system, including enhancements to the user interface, multilingual user interface, native support for Windows, Mac and Linux, as well as many other features.
  • Pebble Beach Systems showcased Marina, their all-new 64-bit automaton system running the Dynamic Channel Brander for the first time.
  • Pixel Power introduced Gallium, a new integrated scheduling, asset management and automation system.

Cameras & Rigs

  • Arri launched a range of kits for Blackmagic Design’s new Cinema Camera.
  • Black Magic Design previewed a manual version of its Cinema Camera with a passive MFT mount. The Cinema Camera, announced back at NAB 2012, recently started shipping to customers.
  • Canon highlighted their upcoming EOS C500 4K digital camera, which will ship next month. The C500 4K can output a variety of image formats including 4k 10-bit uncompressed RAW data, quad HD, 2K, and1080p. The camera can operate from one to 60 fps for 2K and 4K.

    Canon EOS C500 4K
  • Grass Valley launched the new LDX series of cameras, which support 1080p50/60, available now at prices from $60,000 to $100,000 for a complete camera solution.
  • FOR-A showcased FT-ONE, a 4K super slow motion camera that records up to 1,000 fps.
  • Ikegami showcased their new range of Unicam HD dockable cameras for studio and EFP use.
  • I-Movix demonstrated their X10 extreme slow motion camera that runs at 300 fps (1080) or 600 fps (720p), currently undergoing trials with broadcasters.
  • JVC showcased the new GY-HM600 and GY-HM650 camcorders, a GY-HMQ10 handheld 2K/4K camcorder, along with a new 17” RGB LED monitor and a technology preview of a new 32” 4K monitor.
  • Panasonic announced new studio cameras, as well as the innovative AJ-HPX600 portable camera, scheduled for release at the end of September 2012, the first AVC-ULTRA codec.
  • Sony announced the PMW-150, a new midrange XDCAM 422 camera that is expected to ship in mid-October.

Cloud Services and Online Video Platforms (OVP)

  • Aspera announced fasp 3, its next generation core transport platform. Aspera also showcased their On-Demand software system for line-speed ingest and distribution of media files to and from cloud-based object storage (like AWS S3). Aspera also demonstrated Shares, designed for customers who need to ingest or share large files in multiple locations.
  • Avid launched Interplay Sphere, enabling remote users to remotely edit content from Interplay Production and ISIS libraries, as well as upload local content from the field.
  • Adobe previewed Adobe Anywhere, a new server-based system for collaboration. Adobe Anywhere will enable WAN collaboration for Premiere Pro, After Effects and Prelude, sharing data on a central server. Adobe Anywhere is anticipated for availability during the first half of 2013.

    Adobe Anywhere
  • Brightcove attended IBC for the first time, showcasing their App Cloud Dual-Screen Solution for Apple TV.
  • Chyron announced that their Axis cloud-based graphics creation system is now available in Europe with additional language support.
  • Front Porch Digital is highlighting two new cloud services for their LYNX cloud platform. LYNXdr is a hosted disaster recovery service. LYNXlocal provides a local cache of LYNX cloud data.
  • Kaltura announced new products, including SDKs and reference applications for Google TV, Xbox, iOS and Android.
  • Kit Digital released a new version of their VoD Store solution, that allows content owners and service providers to establish fully-managed and monetized VOD capabilities.
  • Media-Alliance previewed their next-generation, cloud-based Borneo product suite.
  • Ooyala announced the release of new offerings for video streaming, personalization, discovery and monetization.
  • Quantel introduced new features for QTube, including media upload from iOS.
  • Reelway announced ReelSpirit, an add-on service for its ReelCloud MAM service. ReelSpirit allows users to create profiles, form groups, follow assets, EDLs and projects.
  • Signiant released Media Shuttle, their new file delivery solution, providing the convenience of public cloud-based file sharing without the typical file size limits or security risks.

Creative Tools and Technology

  • AJA launched Covid Ultra, a new high resolution OEM I/O card that supports processing and scaling for multiformat 4K, 2K, HD and SD workflows up to 60 fps. AJA also announced that their T-TAP compact thunderbolt/SDI interface is now shipping.
  • Autodesk announced extensions for Maya 2013 and 3DS Max 2013 3D, enabling artists to create more sophisticated physical simulations.
  • Autodesk Flame 2013

    Autodesk debuted the Flame 20th Anniversary Edition, also known as Flame Premium 2013 including enhanced interactivity, editorial timeline integration, 3D tracking improvements, color grading presets, an upgraded GPU pipeline and several other features. Autodesk also demonstrated their upcoming Smoke 2013 release.

  • Avid announced the availability of Media Composer version 6.5, including AS-02 support via AMA, as well as Interplay Sphere integration, advanced relink, advanced audio keyframing and 64-voice audio support.
  • Black Magic Design announced that their DeckLink HD Extreme 3D card now supports full resolution dual stream 3D.
  • Dolby demonstrated their Dolby 3D end-to-end system, which ensures a high quality, “comfortable” viewing experience on any 3D viewing device. Dolby 3D also includes 2D to 3D conversion in real time.
  • The Foundry announced Nuke version 7 that includes GPU accelerated processing nodes, enhanced 2D tracking and keying for rotoscopy, Alembic and Open EXR 2 file format support and several other features.
  • The Foundry announced Mari 3D version 1.5, their digital paint tool for VFX artists and game developers.
  • Grass Valley announced Edius Pro version 6.5 with stereoscopic editing and output, Flash export, proxy integration with K2 Summit 3G servers, integration with GV’s Stratus workflow engine, 10-bit color correction, Native RD support, loudness metering and several other features.
  • Matrox announced MX02 Dock, a thunderbolt device that provides connectivity with HDMI displays, USB peripherals and other devices.
  • NVIDIA demonstrated new advances in interactive on-air graphics, stereo 3D production, interactive simulation for film production and GPU accelerated video editing, all based on Quadro professional graphics processors.
  • Quantel introduced Pablo Rio, a software-only version of Pablo color grading and finishing system that runs on standard PC hardware with NVidia Maximus cards. Pablo Rio supports the Neo panel and the new Neo Nano compact panel. Quantel also integrated Imagineer Systems’ mocha Planar Tracker into Pablo as part of Pablo version 5.2, which includes a stereo3D multilayer timeline and aperture correction.
  • Quantel introduced the SynthIA Interaxial Synthesis tool, which enables the user to alter the interaxial distance between the two camera positions of a  S3D clip durin post.
  • SGO announced Mistika version 7, including several new features like high frame rate support and resolution support beyond 8K for UHDTV.
  • Rohde & Schwarz showcased Clipster DI, with a new high-performance render pipeline, IMF support and CPL version 5 support.
  • Sony previewed the upcoming Vegas Pro 12, with improved 3D workflow, scene-based color matching, and expanded editing mode.

Encode, Transcode and QC

  • AmberFin showcased their latest iCR products for ingest, transcode and playback, emphasizing their Unified Quality Control (UQC) capabilities that reduce cost, while increasing quality and efficiency.
  • Digital Rapids highlighted the momentum of their Kayak dynamic workflow platform, announcing the addition of more than 20 new partner companies to the Kayak ecosystem.
  • Digital Rapids Kayak

    Digital Rapids announced support for MPEG-DASH format (Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP) in upcoming versions of Kayak, Transcode Manager and StreamZ encoder.

  • Evertz showcased The new Evertz 7880 series encoder/decoder for JPEG2000 SD and HD compression at variable compression rates on ASI or IP.
  • Eyeheight debuted its CC-3D hardware-based 1U stereoscopic color corrector and legalizer.
  • Harmonic showcased their new ProMedia Xpress transcoder, as well as demonstrations of MPEG-DASH streaming and HEVC compression.
  • Matrox announced that their entire line of MX02 capture devices support Telestream Wirecast, including VS4, a new HD-SDI capture card that supports up to four independent HD-SDI inputs in a single card.
  • Matrox introduced Matrox Monarch, an upcoming video streaming and recording appliance that will generate an RTP-, UDP-, or RTSP-compliant H.264 stream from any full resolution HDMI input while simultaneously recording high-quality MP4 or MOV files to any connected storage. Matrox expects Monarch to be available in Q1 2013.
  • Thomson introduced ViBE CP6000, a modular codec for contribution and distribution. The ViBE CP6000 enables an unprecedented eight HD channels per 1RU chassis.
  • Wohler announced the newest version of the RadiantGrid platform, acquired earlier this year. The TrueGrid media transformation and parallel processing engine manages file creation, standards conversion, QC and distribution.
  • Wowza unveiled version 3 of its Media Server software, designed to make internet streaming cost-effective for broadcasters.


  • Chyron announced Shout, a software app that brings social media commentary into broadcast graphics systems. Engage enables broadcasters to add interactivity, such as votes, polls and tweet battles into live news and sports programing.
  • Chyron also announced ChryonIP, a real time HD/SD CG that adds two channels of Chyron Graphics to NewTek TriCaster.
  • Orad highlighted TD Control, its device for managing broadcasting from multiple live video boxes. Orad also unveiled Morpho 3.0, with many advanced CG features
  • Vizrt highlighted several products focused on social media integration. Viz Virtual Studio provides integration with Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Vizrt also introduced Vizrt Skype interface and deeper integration with EVS production servers and updates to the LiberoVision 3D sports analysis platform.

Ingest and Playout Servers, Channel-in-a-Box

  • AJA announced new storage and dock accessories for Ki Pro and Ki Pro Rack.
  • EVS announced that XT3/XS production servers can encode to three formats simultaneously: I-Frame only for live replay, Long GOP (XDDCAM 50 Mbps) for media sharing, and proxy.
  • EVS announced enhancements to their OpenCubeingest products, introducing support for the JPEG2000 codec, as well as AS-02 and IMF mastering formats.

    Ross BlackStorm
  • Harmonic showcased enhancements to Spectrum ChannelPort for integrated channel branding, as well as MediaStore 5000, a new compact (2U) shared storage solution for Spectrum servers.
  • Qube demonstrated XP-1, their high frame rate and high bit rate server, capable of delivering 48 fps and high frame rate stereo content for cinemas.
  • Rohde & Schwarz showcased their Venice media production hub, which incorporates video server features, including ingest, playout, transcoding, transwrapping and transfer.
  • Ross Video announced software version 1.1 for their new BlackStorm production playout server.
  • Toshiba presented the ON-AIR MAX FLASH server that streams directly from SSD’s without CPU buffering or offloads. Toshiba is using a combination of SLC (for high capacity) and MLC storage chips.

Live Production

  • Autocue demonstrated their new Production Suite, a “studio in a box” solution aimed at reducing the cost of live studio production by incorporating a broad range of production functionality — switcher, graphics, routing, keying, switching, clip playback and recording – all in a single software solution.
  • Evertz demonstrated updated versions of VUE, including integrated widgets for their Mediator MAM platform.
  • EVS announced an open workflow collaboration with Adobe, including integration of Adobe Premiere Pro CS6 with EVS XT/XS servers using OP-1A MXF files or QuickTime movies, for quick turnaround workflows.
  • NewTek Tricaster 8000

    EVS highlighted C-Cast, a second screen app designed for Canal Plus subscribers. C-Cast instantly processes and transfers live multicam media from EVS XT/SX production servers direct to iPad and Samsung Galaxy tablets.

  • NewTek announced extensions to the Tricaster product line. The entry level TriCaster 40 is a compact, entry-level live production system for $4995.
  • NewTek also introduced their top-of-the-line TriCaster 8000, shipping later this year, with 8 fully re-entrant M/E rows, eight cameras and 14 configural outputs.
  • Roland debuted its new V-800HD multiformat live switcher, with eight 3 Gbps video inputs and 4:4:4/10-bit internal processing.
  • Sony introduced three new mid-priced video switchers, the MVS-3000, MVS-6520 and MVS-6530. Prices begin in the $40,000 range for the MVS-3000.

Storage and Archive

  • Avid highlighted the upcoming Interplay MAM Active Archive solution, as well as the ISIS 2000 Nearline server.

    Avid ISIS 2000
  • Cache-A announced a new, more durable version of their Prime-Cache5 desktop archive appliance, as well as software version 3.1, delivering 64-bit native support, Linux support, high-speed LTFS dubbing and LTFS tape spanning.
  • Facilis Technology announced version 5.6 of TerraBlock, with support for 3TB drives.
  • Harris Nexio Farad online storage now has RAID-601 data protection.
  • Object Matrix announced MatrixStore Quattro, a new storage system designed for OB trucks, as well as enhancements to MatrixStore Server and MatrixStore Hardware.
  • Promise announced Pegasus J2, a small Thunderbolt RAID array that delivers 750 MB/s of bandwidth. The Pegasus J2 starts at roughly $2,249 for a 12 TB configuration.
  • Rohde & Schwarz demonstrated SpycerBox Ultra, now with extended capacity to 96 TB.


Whew! One caveat before I sign off: I’m sure I missed some really important announcements. You never know, maybe I left some out intentionally to see if you are paying attention! So if you want to add any announcements, please comment and I’ll incorporate your suggestions.

Product Managers everywhere – you owe me a beer!

Hall 14 and Connected TV out front at IBC

For the past two days, I have been immersed in the chaotic energy of the IBC Exhibition. Along with roughly 50,000 of my closest friends I have roamed the 14 halls of Amsterdam’s RAI convention center, taking in hundreds of booths from more than 1300 exhibitors, to see what’s new and exciting in the world of broadcast technology. After two busy days, I am now attempting to digest all the pamphlets and notes I have collected. Incidentally, I’ve also been digesting a couple of Heinekens, which leaves me wondering why beer tastes so much better in Europe. Maybe it’s the atmosphere. Or maybe European brewers conspire to ship their worst batches overseas. But I digress…

Now that I’ve stepped back from all the hustle and bustle of the convention to take a “mental squint” at the first two days, it is clear to me that the Broadcast industry is beginning to adapt to their rapidly evolving landscape. For a few years now, broadcasters have faced a complex transition to an unclear future. But at IBC 2012 I see evidence that they understand the disruptive forces in play, as well as the emerging opportunities. My best attempt to summarize the mindset of broadcasters at IBC 2012 is as follows:

Broadcasters are seeking new ways to manage and monetize their content, reaching new audiences on new platforms, while evolving their existing business models in a time of intense change.

Given this outlook, it should be no surprise that Connected TV is the most prominent theme at the IBC show this year. Connected TV presents a potential migratory path for the Broadcast industry, integrating internet paradigms with traditional broadcast business models. Connected TV envisions a future where consumers can enjoy high-quality interactive viewing experiences – watching any content, whenever they want to, on any internet-connected device. For broadcasters, Connected TV promises a technology platform that will enable them to expand their viewership, retain existing advertising and subscription revenues, while spawning incremental revenue streams from new services.

Connected TV could be the win/win scenario broadcasters have been looking for. The concept is compelling enough that the IBC created an entirely new Connected World Hall right in front of the RAI center (roughly 80,000 square feet!) as a showcase. But based on the conversations I’ve had with my counterparts walking the show floor, this transition is going to take time, as broadcasters continue to wrestle with the challenges of the here and now:

  • Conversion from SD to HD. This transition is still in full swing in many geographies.
  • Integration of IT infrastructure with traditional broadcast technology.
  • Evolution from physical media assets to file-based workflow.
  • Expansion of internet and mobile content delivery.
  • Operational challenges stemming from increased complexity and budgetary pressures, including macroeconomic factors (especially in Southern Europe).

These challenges are not new – some of these evolutionary shifts are well into their second decade. But at IBC 2012, the Broadcast industry is starting to coalesce a compelling vision for the future. Yes, broadcasters are beginning to evolve! The key question remains, can they evolve quickly enough?


Thanks for reading this inaugural post for WireMosaic. As long as Amsterdam doesn’t suddenly run out of beer during the next 72 hours, I will continue to share my perspective on IBC, the state of the broadcast industry, and the latest news in media technology. Cheers!