Author: Sean McCarthy, Ph.D., Fellow of the Technical Staff
At last year’s Cable Show, Ajay Luthra outlined the exciting progress of HEVC as one means of satisfying the growing demand for high-quality video over broadband, wireless and cable networks. As you may remember, HEVC is the next compression standard in line after AVC (MPEG-4 Part 10/H.264), promising to lower significantly the bit rate requirements needed to deliver video – while maintaining the quality experience users demand. In addition, Ajay promised more exciting developments for HEVC over the next year, and as visitors to this year’s NAB Show will see, HEVC is quickly gaining momentum as it nears commercial implementation.
At the NAB Show, Motorola is highlighting the progress and potential of HEVC with three exciting demonstrations. The first showcases real-time HEVC encoding of HD content. The second demonstrates real-time decoding of HD-resolution HEVC content on tablets. And the third previews the next-generation of real-time HEVC decoding targeted for set top boxes and other consumer devices.
What’s striking to me is that Motorola is demonstrating real-time HEVC encoding and decoding on platforms that look and feel like commercial and professional AVC products that have been years in the making. When AVC was first launched commercially, encoders where large power-hungry affairs that where yet to have the streamlined packaging, optimized video quality, and bandwidth efficiency that we enjoy today. Yet at NAB – mere months after the ink on the HEVC standard started to dry – Motorola is demonstrating real-time HEVC encoding of HD content in the same 1RU AVC encoding platform used in commercial TV deployments throughout the world today.
I think one of the key take-home messages about HEVC at NAB will be that HEVC has already crossed the “commercial enablement” threshold – Motorola will have demonstrated that HEVC is on a high-speed track towards the next-generation of ultra high efficiency encoders and video processors. Next up after enablement is the optimization phase in which we squeeze out every bit of performance we can while we begin to explore the natural market deployment strategy for HEVC.
Motorola’s demonstrations at NAB are intended to help video service providers begin planning for this technology evolution and thinking about what they can do with all that extra bandwidth. Whether it’s expanding HD channel lineups, offering new 3D services, or even supporting the coming Ultra-HD (UHD) standard, the accelerated pace of HEVC development means it’s not too early to formulate a plan for its coming arrival.
While some may believe that the best entry point for HEVC is in improving the bandwidth efficiency of cable networks, our experience tells us that this transition might take some time Instead, we believe that the first real-world application of HEVC might be delivery of HD video over wireless networks. This is due to the convergence of several interesting dynamics: the relatively low bandwidth of wireless networks, the increasing number of connected devices sharing this bandwidth, the rapid improvements in tablet and smartphone display resolution, and, last but certainly not least, HEVC can be decoded in software on the current generation of wireless tablets! Motorola’s demonstration at NAB of real time HEVC decoding on tablets in – conjunction with real-time encoding – highlights the intriguing possibility that the “second screen” might well become the first screen for HEVC services.
Wherever you think the best entry point for this new standard is, one thing is for certain: HEVC has come a long way very quickly. As an active participant in the development of this new standard, Motorola has seen HEVC cross the threshold from technology enablement to technology optimization, and this next phase of development is most exciting. From here, we begin marching towards the implementation of HEVC within our products and, more importantly, our customers’ networks. And if recent progress is any indication of future success, we should have even more to talk about with regard to HEVC in the coming year.
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