Ultra HD, the next big thing in television technology, may be on the fast-track to living rooms â€“ but before it can get there, it must first get past some potholes and detours along the way.
On the upside for early-adopter consumers, pricing and availability wonâ€™t be big deterrents. The Consumer Electronics Association has forecast shipments of more than one million Ultra HD sets by 2015, driven in large part by already plummeting prices and increased consumer demand.
But before Ultra HD can reach the mainstream market, some technology challenges will have to be addressed â€“ and thatâ€™s where Broadcom comes in.
At the International Broadcasting Convention in Amsterdam this week, Broadcom is putting the spotlight on its suite of IP, TV, cable and satellite systems-on-a-chip that will meet the technical challenges that broadcasters as they attempt deliver Ultra HD content. One of the biggest issues likely to be discussed at this show is how to most efficiently produce and deliver Ultra HD content over networks and hardware that support the latest standards and video compression techniques.
â€ś2013 is the year of education and infrastructure development to enable Ultra HD,â€ť said Joe Del Rio, Associate Product Line Director in the Broadband Communications Group at Broadcom. â€śItâ€™s really important to content creators and to the industry to create an economically viable path to those customers.â€ť
As it stands, every participant in the production and delivery of Ultra HD content will need to retool for a standard called HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding, or H.265) so that bandwidth-hogging content doesnâ€™t bog down broadcast networks.
Even though Ultra HD is four times the pixels of standard HD video, HEVC compression reduces the bit rate needs to transmit that content by almost half compared to todayâ€™s H.264 standard, making UHDTV a practical format to deliver over operator and OTT networks, Del Rio said.
As a bonus, the shift to HEVC also frees up broadcaster spectrum, which means more bandwidth to offer more standard HD channels and enhanced services to customers. Because of this,Â Ultra HD programming will become less expensive for operators to deploy over existing broadcast networks.
At this weekâ€™s IBC show, Broadcom is talking up advanced hardware and software for encoding and decoding HEVC-compressed Ultra HD content, including a portfolio of HEVC-enabled chipsets for the Ultra HD ecosystem. The portfolio includes:
- BCM7251 â€“ A SoC designed for use in multi-HD and Ultra HD IP set-top boxes.
- BCM7366 â€“ A SoC with a direct broadcast satellite Full Band Capture front-end receiver.
- BCM7439 and BCM7376 â€“ Two corresponding MoCA 2.0-enabled set-top box SoCs for cable and satellite video gateways.
- BCM7438 â€“ A HEVC MoCA 2.0 companion IP client SoC for use with MoCA 2.0 video gateways.
And while video service providers are eager to begin testing the technology and gearing up for high-profile television events â€” such as one European satellite operatorâ€™s goals for broadcasting an HEVC transmission of the 2014 World Cup â€” there are still a few more details to work through.
Standardizing Ultra HD
For example, the issue of how many frames per second (fps) will be needed to deliver Ultra HD content to consumers? Sports and other live broadcasters generally favor the smooth, stutter-free panning that comes with 60 frames per second (known by industry insiders as â€śp60â€ť). Others however argue that the p30, which is less expensive for operators to transmit, is plenty rich for pumping programming to the living room.
Device makers and consumers must also be vigilant about HDMI compatibility with Ultra HD signal. Once the video has been decompressed, it must then make its way, via a cord, to the various screens and boxes that need it. The HDMI 2.0 standard, which was finalized a few weeks ago, will be able to handle p60 video, not all versions of HDMI 1.0 can. Stay tuned for HDMI 2.0 updates â€” more details are slated to be announced at IFA Berlin early this month.
Falling Prices Drive Adoption
Itâ€™s only a matter of time before the industry â€” and the consumer market â€” is ready for both Ultra HD programming and Ultra HD screens. The first Ultra HD TV screens announced at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show featured 80-inch screens but also came with hefty price tags of around $24,000. Within six months, Sony was offering a 55-inch screen for just under $4,000 and other lesser-known brands were coming in even lower.
Just as with the shift to high-definition, there will be a period of transition as consumers consider upgrading their sets and broadcasters begin to offer programming for those sets. Eventually, as the technology continues to advance and the prices continue to drop, the shift to Ultra HD will occur at a faster rate.