Harmonic is embracing the media industry’s migration toward
IP-centric infrastructures by liberating its software. This year’s
NAB Show marks the launch of the San Jose,
Calif., company’s new VOS line of virtualized
“It’s more agile from both a deployment and a development point of view,” said
Harmonic President and CEO Patrick Harshman at the company’s Saturday pre-NAB
The first VOS offering, debuting at this year’s NAB, is Electra XVM
, which combines ProMedia encoding with ChannelPort
graphics, branding and playout capability in a single software package.
Harshman said the initiative was a new direction for Harmonic, a public company
with around 1,100 employees, market cap of around $696 million and 2013 net
income of $37 million on revenues of $462 million.
“We’re turning an important page as a company,” he said. “This is going beyond
another new product based in our existing technology.”
Electra XVM comprises Harmonic technology for compressing SD, HD, Ultra HD,
with MPEG-2, MPEG-4/AVC or HEVC over constant, variable or adaptive bitrate
streams, with rich graphics and branding as well as playout.
VOS—which does not but seems to stand for “virtual operating system”—represents
the evolutionary manifestation of
,” a phrase that rose
memehood in the last couple of years. It refers to the trend of packing more functionality
in a single piece of technology, a la
“Why do it?” Harmonic’s Krish Padmanabhan, senior vice president of video
products, asked rhetorically. “To make the broadcast chain simple enough so you
can distribute more content, and figure out how to make money from Texas high
school football in the Australian market.”
Virtualization also is a cheaper and faster route to the TV anywhere ideal
driving facilities to adopt multiplatform distribution technology. Padmanabhan
provided an illustration by way of a client with 1,000 mezzanine source inputs,
each with one HD and six ABR outputs and a redundancy of 15:1. Traditional
hardware-based encoding would take 534 RUs with a port count of 3,204 versus 34
RUs with 340 ports for Electra XVM. The power comparison was 1.64 megawatt
hours per year for traditional encoding versus 1.17 for Electra. Cooling was
748,000 BTUs per hour versus 464.
“Five-year savings would be $1 million
The VOS line is Linux-based and will run on off-the-shelf hardware
from the likes of Cisco, HP, Dell and IBM,
housed in the client’s facility. This answers the cloud conundrum for facility
managers reluctant to trust off-site servers with their content. The larger
media operations also have master service agreements with those companies,
cutting the hardware cost for both the client, and, in the long run, for
vendors like Harmonic. Media facility operators who have no cloud qualms
eventually will have access to OpenStack
and virtual machine versions of VOS offerings, now in trial, Harshman said.
The pricing structure
virtual products will be tractable, Padmanabhan said.
“Unlike boxes… boxes cost a lot of money,” he said. “We’re able to have far
more flexible pricing models around software that are term-based or time-based.”
Padmanabhan played an animation of
Electra’s rich graphics and branding capability, which is what the architects
of Fox Sports 1 had in mind when
they created the new network, launched last August.
“We wanted an immersive experience with a rich graphical environment,”
said Smith, who has long advocated virtualization. He spoke about how the
network needed an extra master control room, but only during 17 days out of a
full year for football coverage. Fox Sports 1 is using a ChannelPort as a
virtualized control room, he said.
Virtualization also gives the Fox engineers the ability to move functions
further down the distribution chain for greater localization, particularly with
advertising. Fox Sports 1 has not yet been, but will be, regionalized, he said.
“Traditional technology models won’t scale adequately to support the changes
necessary in today’s media environment,” he said.
The concept of virtualizing the TV content infrastructure has been around for a
while, but the ability to get there is complicated. Most legacy facilities use
serial digital interface, or SDI, to connect the various ingest, storage,
editing and playout hardware islands. Consequently, vendors and facilities
managers either must map an IP-transition strategy that embraces a hybrid approach.
Harshman said Harmonic is working on an SDI blade that can plug into VOS.
Meanwhile, Harshman said he expected continued demand for Harmonic’s hardware
for the foreseeable future, with VOS deployed by media facility managers for
new channels, disaster recovery and secondary channels as a way of proofing the
“Until they’re convinced of its agility,” he said.