HPA 2016: Broadcasters—HDR Yea, 4K Meh

INDIAN WELLS, CALIF.—High dynamic range or Ultra HD? That was the first question put to the annual broadcasters panel at the HPA Tech Retreat Wednesday. Matthew Goldman of Ericsson once again moderated.

Skip Pizzi of the National Association of Broadcasters said there was no NAB consensus viewpoint, but that “generally anecdotally,” there appeared to be more bang for the bit with HDR versus 4K.

“Especially with 4K upconversion at the set,” he said. “HDR has the most ‘wow’ factor for the consumer, and we figure high frame rate in sports.”

HDR increases visibility of motion artifacting and thus makes a case for HFR in fast-motion imagery such as sports.

Sinclair’s Mark Aitken noted that if a media facility has just “spent a boatload of money on a 3G plant, you’re not going to suddenly build a 12G plant for UHD. HDR does give a noticeable enhancement to consumers…. HDR 60P 1080p certainly is an enhancement that consumers recognize.”

Mario Vecchi of PBS said that without a real business case to increase the capacity of the PBS plant, including storage, “it’s going to be a real difficult decision to make.” HDR, he said, seems to be “a low-hanging fruit.”

Robert Siedel of CBS said the network was testing it

“One thing of interest to us is how television sets labeled HDR behave with a regular signal, and you see an ‘S-curve,’” he said. “They’re going to have to process our standard HD signals. So when you compare how they’re processing that signal versus how they will process a true HDR signal… we’re looking at how those sets are scaling HDR.”

Goldman asked about “video loudness,” where the brightness overwhelms. Siedel said the International Telecommunications Union is testing issues of eye fatigue. In Japan, they have instated regulations on photo-epilepsy, he said. The ITU has considered similar concerns on HDR and whether or not it creates eye fatigue.

Stan Moote asked Siedel if CBS has “control down to the TV now, because you must have 4K viewers who can see the motion artifacts.”

Siedel said CBS specifies minimum data rates with carriers, and a quality threshold, not only for over-the-air, but through the cable signal. They have not yet increased the data rate for 4K sets, “because we feel upconversion in the sets is pretty good,” he said.

ATSC 3.0
Mark Schubin jumped in with a question about how the industry plans to transition from ATSC 1.0 to 3.0.

Aitken characterized it as more of a migration; an enhancement of the digital standard, and in the context of the FCC’s own rulemaking, to continue the development and advancement of digital standards.”

Deploying it will be a matter of market dynamics, he said.

“We can hang onto 1.0 as long as we want in a channel-sharing situation. Say one station wants to convert to 3.0. They can sign a deal with another broadcaster in the market and they can piggyback channels. Now you’ve cleared a channel for the roll-out of 3.0. You basically have a six times multiplier in the video capacity of that channel using 3.0. There have been discussions about making that kind of migration across markets.”

Asked if a shared channel can carry two 720p signals, Aitken said he wrote himself a note.

“I wrote down ‘least crappy,’” he said. “It’s a valid question, but it’s a question of what’s being delivered to the consumer, and the least crappy thing that is being delivered to the consumer. We know about grooming and compressing in the cable plant and anomalies in displays. We believe broadcasters can deliver two shared HD signals that look just as good or better than what’s being delivered” over closed infrastructures. “It will require discussions between sharers.”

He then said 85 percent of Sinclair’s content is carried by MPVDs.

Gateway devices have been discussed for reception. The NAB is working on a 1.0-to-3.0 converter, much like the digital-to-analog converters made for the 2009 digital transition. Pizzi said the NAB is developing a prototype, but the price is now around $150.

“We’re hoping it will come down,” he said.

At one point during the morning, the majority of folks raised their hands and said 2K HDR would be something they would watch versus 4K. Fox’s Rich Friedel, recently elected board chairman of ATSC, was asked if broadcasters would do 2K HDR.

He said, ATSC 3.0 gives great flexibility. That certainly includes 1080p 60, SDR and HDR. It has to be a business decision made by each broadcaster.”

In terms of codecs, Friedel said HEVC is written into it now, and while the ATSC is anxious to get the standard out, Aitken said there is a need for more than one codec.

“There are enough questions about HEVC for anyone who envisions a streaming future to take a long, deep look at it,” Aitken said. “AVC is a perfectly valid choice. It could also be a bridging technology. Ultimately, there may be a wide variety, but many of these codecs are baked into the product they’ll be displayed on.”

There is a certain amount of tension between the business case and the technical case, he said.

John Luff asked if the future of local broadcasting is moving toward centralcasting. Aitken said that 3.0 would make it easier to virtualize the local facilities and create a de facto national reach.

“All it takes is a Sinclair, a Nexstar and a Gray to enter into an agreement to use a portion of the bitload for a national service,” for example, he said.

In terms of advanced audio, 3.0 has the juice for immersive sound, but the question is whether or not people will take advantage of it.

Pizzi said the standard leverages AC-4 from Dolby and MPEG-H.3 from MPEG Audio Alliance.

“What we’re doing to keep the deployment manageable, we’re asking for regions to pick one or the other. Both systems allow for personalization and immersive audio.”

Pizzi also noted that with immersive, a speaker array isn’t necessary. Soundbars can now decode immersive.

Asked how ATSC 3.0 dovetails into Internet delivery, Aitken said it 3.0 “was envisioned from the beginning to be a hybrid platform” that would deliver bits by broadcast and broadband, simultaneously.

Siedel, from a different perspective, spoke to CBS OTT delivery. He said CBS is available on Roku, Apple TV and smartphone. CBS has 135 CBS market affiliates up on CBS All Access, covering 85 percent of the U.S. population.

Asked if social media tools draw in a younger audience, Vecchia said PBS sees the area as an opportunity for growth.

We already integrate social media and interactivity with a number of our programs,” he said.

Friedel said social was very powerful for Fox.

“We can see if we monitor social media, when mentions of our programs come up, we can see a spike in ratings… up to 20 to 30 percent on shows with active social media conversations.”

Siedel said CBS also sees increased linear viewing when someone in an online community brings up binge-viewing a show.

The SDI-to-IP migration came up. Vecchia said that, “using an IP infrastructure is so generic. I think in terms of control and management, that’s migrating aggressively to IP technology. The actual transport of the signal will take heavier lifting.”

Siedel talked about the inherent security of an SDI plant and its resistance to viruses.

Friedel, also president of the Video Services Forum, which is actively working on IP transport, conceded this bias.

“At Fox, we’re trying to make use of this technology. Primetime will be the last place we use this, I agree with Bob. But sports now… NASCAR, is being run through IP routing. We have IP routing in the plant, not for on-air yet, but we’re making use of these IP systems for live content. We see it as a format-agnostic platform, to handle UHD capabilities internally.”

Also see…
Feb. 6, 2016
HPA 2016: ATSC 3.0 Update
Over-the-air TV is on its way to resembling a more robust version of the Internet with the realization of ATSC 3.0, the so-called “next-generation” transmission standard being developed by the Advanced Television Systems Committee