By Ken Morse, CTO, Connected Devices Business Unit, Cisco
One of the trending topics here at CES in Las Vegas this week, without question, is 4K video/ 4K television, and its consumer-facing brand, “UltraHD.”
Like HD did, 4K redefines TV and this is what CES is all about – compelling new technologies that ultimately draw dollars from consumer wallets. This year, examples of 4K video will be everywhere (including in our demo suites at The Wynn Hotel…)
But there’s another angle, outside of the visual wow that comes with 4K’s pixel doubling, faster frame rates, deeper blacks, and brighter whites. And it’s all about the shape our industry is going to take. 4K is a disruptor and when there is a disruption, there are winners and losers and speed counts.
For instance: Who remembers how DBS used high definition TV when it first emerged, in the late ‘90s? Remember? Dozens of channels for $99 per month. It was a maneuver both unanticipated and market disrupting. Now, Netflix is already talking 4K; Amazon said in mid-December that all of its original programming, going forward, will be shot in 4K. Are they going to use the same playbook?
As a dedicated technology partner to multichannel video providers, we keep a close eye on what we can do to help our customers position/reposition for a competitive marketplace — that includes 4K video. In our demo suites, we’ll be showing a full range of 4K capabilities, —from cloud-based 4K/HEVC encoders, to IP 4K set-tops and gateways, to 4K optimized guides and cloud-based distribution, in a Videoscape mix-and-match fashion.
Speaking of the High Efficiency Video Codec (HEVC), which will also stand out as a big tech factor at this year’s CES: It falls squarely in the “good news” department, because it halves again the bandwidth required to send compressed video over distribution networks. The standard (which also travels as “H.265”) was ratified in April, and it’s our belief that HEVC will take hold much more quickly than any of its predecessors (and particularly H.264). That’s because of “the Internet,” and especially IP-based consumer devices which will use it.
HEVC is great for the bandwidth-constrained (think mobile and DSL-based carriers), which gain instantly in reach and capacity. We estimate that DSL-based providers will be able to address another 30% or so of the homes in the markets they serve.
Likewise, a carrier offering three (switched) HD channels now will be able to do six with HEVC.
And for the not-as-bandwidth-constrained (think cable, satellite, and OTT), HEVC can also be used to apply more bits to the same content. Competitively, that means that picture quality will soon be an arrow in the video quiver.
If that’s the case, our 4K/HEVC roadmap offers a few options for service providers. One: Join the up-conversion/up-scaling camp. Our IP-based 4K devices innately support professional-grade 4K upscaling capabilities — so that the TV set’s “4K” light turns on. (Sounds like a small thing, but in the court of consumer perception, it’s big.) Two: Extend the reach of your services by using HEVC to drive them over lower bandwidth links. Or three, use it (HEVC) to apply more bits to existing HD video streams. That sharpens pictures on both linear and on-demand HD offerings.
That’s our take on the landscape of 4K/Ultra HD, and HEVC compression — two symbiotic technologies that will punctuate this year’s CES, and the competitive video marketplace to come.