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Myriad formats over IP

As we all prepare for the trip to Las Vegas, I'm betting that many of you will have the phrase “we live in interesting times” ringing in your ears. The media business is changing, and IP is at the heart of it. That could be intellectual property and how to monetize it, or it could be IP and its impact as a generic carrier of data, including program content.

The rate of change seems to be accelerating. We are faced with questions. Should a system rolled out a decade ago — and based on MPEG-2 — be replaced with H.264? Or should we wait for H.265, also known as the High Efficiency Video Codec (HEVC)? It's not only codecs that are advancing; modulation schemes are changing too, with DVB-T2 being just the latest.

One answer would be to run everything as software and just change the algorithm. That may work for some applications, but video processing does challenge commodity platforms. There are still many workstations in use that have problems processing H.264. And portable equipment must use hardware acceleration to save battery power, particularly so for camcorders.

The elephant in the room is UHDTV. Even if we all paused and caught up with HD coded as H.265, there are 4K and 8K, demanding even more processing power. And don't forget 3-D. This technology stretch doesn't seem to be going away.

I have just been looking at a transcoding project where an HD stream was transcoded, wrapped and multiplexed. Feeding the plethora of viewing devices that the CE guys keep churning out (every one different) requires some fair CPU horsepower, and it is expensive.

HTML 5 was supposed to provide an answer, but even that supports three video codecs with H.264, WebM and Ogg, and there is still the issue of any number of display resolutions.

In the past, engineers moaned that there were two field rates, 50 and 60, but at least they only had 525- or 625-line resolutions to deal with. However, if a broadcaster wants to be seen on all screens, then a cost-effective way must be found to deliver. Even if one codec were to dominate, which currently looks unlikely, there will always be the issue of different display resolutions. Another issue with display sizes is that for optimum readability, text should be scaled to suite different resolutions.

One way around this is for text and video to be rendered as layers in the player, much like a webpage. With the growth of OTT, could the television morph into a giant Web browser? Pages are already commonly formatted for the 10ft GUI, as user interfaces designed for use with TV remotes and read at a distance are dubbed.

MPEG-4 has many parts beyond audio and video that define ways to encode other forms of content. Most parts have not proved popular, but the way is open to exploit them to enhance the way content is rendered by the viewer's media player.

IP may provide a single solution for delivery, but the multitude of formats is set to stick around. With programs now produced with multiscreen delivery in mind, broadcast engineers are going to have to get used to this format chaos.

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