Skip to main content

Virtually Harmonic

LAS VEGAS—Harmonic is embracing the media industry’s migration toward IP-centric infrastructures by liberating its software. This year’sNAB Show marks the launch of the San Jose, Calif., company’s new VOS line of virtualized technology offerings.

“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 Show presser.

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“function collapse,” 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 channel-in-a-box.

“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,” he said.

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 for Harmonic’s 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 technology.

“Until they’re convinced of its agility,” he said.