It's amazing what can happen in one year's time. At NAB2005, Verizon Communications CEO and chairman Ivan Seidenberg recruited broadcasters to be a part of the company's FiOS IPTV plans. A year later, Verizon went to Las Vegas with FiOS service rolled out to a number of communities in New Jersey, New York, Texas and elsewhere, with more on the way.
NAB2006 also saw the optimistic assessment of Phil Corman, director of worldwide partner development for Microsoft's TV division. He said that 2006 is the year IPTV becomes a reality. With AT&T's impending deployment of its IPTV service, Project Lightspeed, and similar near-term rollouts of IPTV service planned from British Telecom and Deutsche Telekom — all deploying Microsoft TV IPTV Edition — it's little wonder why Corman sees a bright future for IPTV.
In fact, the NAB was so enthused about the prospects for high interest in IPTV at this year's convention that it dedicated an entire conference track to the subject. But before the exuberance over IPTV turns irrational, several issues must be addressed, and NAB2006 provided familiar and some not-so-familiar vendors with a good forum for their solutions.
The wide world of IPTV
Broadcasters know Tektronix for its video test and measurement expertise, but what they may not know is there's more to the company than the folks based in Beaverton, OR. Tektronix also has a team in Richardson, TX, which comes from a network and IP background. With a foot in both the video and the IP world, Tektronix believes it's well positioned to play in the emerging IPTV space.
Giving credence to the claim, the company highlighted its new Spectra2|VQM monitor for diagnosis and analysis of streaming video transmitted via Internet Protocol and its new Cerify automated quality verification system for file-based audio and video. The Spectra2|VQM provides portable monitoring of QoS, as well as forward error correction analysis.
Part of the Tektronix Internet Protocol Diagnostics (IPD) product portfolio, it can measure multiple, concurrent SD and HD video streams transported over RTP and MPEG-2 transport stream protocols. With the Spectra2|VQM, IPTV operators can verify subscribers are receiving their requested service when they request it and at an acceptable quality.
Cerify reaches beyond just IPTV in its application, but for network operators, it can automatically test all aspects of stored compressed video and audio quality to assure it meets system specs, including desired format, resolution, bit rates, video and audio levels, and standards compliance. With Cerify, network operators can make sure video and audio files are encoded properly when measured against a variety of industry standards, including MPEG-2, MPEG-4, H.264, VC-1 and 3GPP.
At Snell & Wilcox, conforming to multiple standards on multiple distribution devices, including IPTV networks, took center stage during NAB2006 with the introduction of Helios. Helios combines Ph.C motion estimation used in Snell & Wilcox's standards converters and FormatFusion technologies to build a system that allows content producers to master once and distribute anywhere, including IPTV, video on demand, mobile video and video iPods.
Helios allows content producers to automate the conversion process while still maintaining control over video, audio and metadata for the desired output format in a single pass. Helios dynamically scales the processing required for the conversion via an intelligent job manager that allocates CPU cycles to the conversion process at hand. A distribution module lets users repurpose content automatically to the correct distribution platform. And an interoperability module allows users to move files between IT hardware.
At Harris, the focus was on a comprehensive IPTV solution that covers business and operations, infrastructure, test and measurement, monitoring and network management. By combining Harris' Leitch-brand video infrastructure products with content management software, the company is seeking to offer telcos a complete IPTV headend and media management solution as they roll out triple play services.
To make its IPTV offering, Harris is drawing on its workflow solutions for sales, traffic and scheduling, digital asset management and automated playout, as well as its Leitch line for signal processing, ad insertion, routing and switching. Add to the mix Videotek's line of test and measurement offerings, and the company has positioned itself to provide a complete IPTV solution.
At NAB2006, Harris announced that recently acquired Leitch has supplied systems to PCCW in Hong Kong for use in its IPTV video headend. Called “Now Broadband TV,” PCCW's service is one of the largest IPTV deployments in the world, serving more than 550,000 subscribers with broadband television. The service offers 100 video channels and more than a dozen music channels.
New silicon and greater video compression efficiency highlighted Thomson Grass Valley's IPTV focus at the show. The company unveiled its Grass Valley Advanced Compression Processor and announced that its first application will be in its ViBE HD MPEG-4 encoder.
Developed over the past three years by a team of Grass Valley and Thomson engineers, the new chip has demonstrated the ability to encode high-definition MPEG-4 in bandwidth as low as 4Mb/s while maintaining high image quality. Verification of the chip's design and performance was nearly complete as of NAB2006. The first ViBE MPEG-4 encoders using the chip are expected at the beginning of next year. Thomson anticipates a range of applications for the processor, including its use in Grass Valley encoders, signal processing equipment and transcoders for delivery of SD and HD signals over IPTV networks.
TANDBERG Television launched a complete IP-based system intended for contribution and distribution IP video headends and for large and small direct-to-home cable, satellite, terrestrial and telco platforms. The iSIS 8000 IP system offers MPEG-2, MPEG-4 AVC and SMPTE VC-1 video encoding and transcoding, IP multiplexing and new receiver and decoders. It is controlled and managed by the company's nCompass application.
The company also unveiled the MX8400 IP multiplexer for use in central headend applications and integrated its SkyStream MediaPlex and iPlex digital video processing platforms into the iSIS 8000 system. The MediaPlex and iPlex can encode MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 AVC SD, transrate MPEG-2 SD, transcode MPEG-2 to MPEG-4 AVC, as well as provide multiplexing, demultiplexing, routing and streaming.
Around the floor
A variety of interesting IPTV developments from some lesser-known names turned up at NAB2006 as well. NeuLion highlighted its IPTV STB and service offering. The Plainview, NY, company bridges the gap between content provider and home viewer by streaming DVD-quality video via the Internet to its STB. NeuLion establishes partnerships with content providers like KyLinTV, a niche provider of Asian movies and TV shows to Asian audiences in North America, and brings its STB, network management, VOD and billing services to the table. At NAB2006, the company announced it's working with the New York Islanders and the Catholic Church to offer similar niche IPTV channels via the Internet.
Another newcomer to NAB2006 was WhiteBlox, which, as the name implies, offers “unlabeled” blocks of tools to allow content providers to build their own private label broadband network, including interactivity and a video component. The WhiteBlox system is a mix of integrated software and hardware, as well as management tools and services. Major components include proprietary software tools to let users build their own network; packaged combinations of services specifically designed for five industry segments; custom-built enhancements for those with premium assets or special needs; and service elements to track, report, monitor and sell ads.
Finally, Widevine Technologies announced a global deal to with Siemens Communications to make Widevine a certified content protection vendor for broadband carriers delivering IPTV services to viewers via Siemens SURPASS Home Entertainment system. Under the agreement, Widevine will work with Siemens to provide a scalable and mature content protection system, which is necessary for operators to acquire premium broadcast and VOD content.
If NAB2005 served as a launching pad for the intertwining of telecommunications and television, NAB2006 demonstrated that both are throttling up and on their way to attaining a stable orbit in the IPTV space.
Phil Kurz authors several Broadcast Engineering e-newsletters, including “ENG Update,”“HD Update,”“IPTV Update,” “News Technology Update” and “RF Update.”