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Orange boosts quality at French Open with HEVC

France has consolidated its lead in HEVC deployment with Orange Labs using the codec for live broadcast of the French Open tennis tournament in Paris over the last two weeks.

This was part of the French 4EVER (Enhanced Video Experience ) consortium project to bring on HEVC, of which France Telecom subsidiary Orange Labs is a participating member. The consortium has been using the tennis tournament to demonstrate TV delivery using the new compression format to treach multiple screens over several transmission networks, including IPTV, RVB-T2 and over the Internet.

This was the first public demonstration of an end-to-end HEVC delivery chain, incorporating both encoding and decoding in real time, according to Orange. The 4EVER project, comprising nine industry and academic partners and supported by the French ministry of industry along with the European Regional Development Fund, has built on HEVC technological leadership established by several of the country’s vendors. For example, Thomson Video Networks has claimed that its ViBE VS7000 multi-screen video encoding/transcoding system (demonstrated at the NAB show this year) was the first product to support HEVC for both live and offline applications. Meanwhile, French transcoding vendor ATEME has announced what definitely was the industry's first open-source implementation of a software media player supporting HEVC, enabling service providers and broadcasters to proceed more rapidly with testing of the new HEVC codec in the field.

This coincided with the launch by Orange of a VOD service based on a Samsung connected TV supporting HEVC, with the objective of making HD content available to a larger proportion of its IPTV subscriber base. Orange is Europe’s largest IPTV operator with almost 6 million subscribers, of which over 5 million are in France, and has identified three use cases for HEVC.

First, video quality can be improved for a given bit rate and this is being exploited in the newly launched HD VOD service. The second benefit is to extend the reach of the service at a given quality level over the operator’s ADSL network, and Orange will deploy HEVC for this during the rest of the year. As a rule of thumb, HEVC is twice as efficient as H.264/MPEG4 and so can deliver a given quality at half the bit rate, or twice the resolution at the same bit rate. In the case of ADSL, it can roughly double the distance from the nearest DSLAM reachable at a given quality. For Orange this will mean being able to expand its footprint and compete with rival cable and satellite operators from its existing strong subscriber and content base. Then the third HEVC use case will come later for deployment of ultra HD.

Thomson envisages OTT being the biggest driver of HEVC in the short term, but closely followed by traditional IPTV and then cable TV services, with UHDTV waiting in the wings.