& cplSiteName &

HDTV Pushes Telcos Toward MPEG-4

Light Reading
News Analysis
Light Reading

Driven mainly by a need to cost-effectively deliver high-definition (HD) television, many telco TV providers are now preparing to use the more cost-efficient MPEG-4 video compression standard.

Tut Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: TUTS) and Harmonic Inc. (Nasdaq: HLIT) each claim the first working deployments of the advanced codec, but if industry sources are correct they will soon be in good company (see Tut Deploys MPEG-4 Headend and VNL Doubles Speeds).

The MPEG-2 compression standard is widely used and works very well for standard definition (SD) television. But many, if not most, telco TV players find themselves playing in markets where they must win over cable and satellite subscribers who have come to expect at least two high-definition channels. So they too must deliver the HD channels, which of course require much higher bit rates.

For those carriers that don’t yet have fiber-to-the-premises access, advanced compression standards like MPEG-4 are seen as the only business case-friendly way of delivering HD, vendor sources say.

Tut Systems says it has deployed the first MPEG-4 headend in North America at Farmers Telephone Cooperative, a 60,000-subscriber operator in South Carolina. Farmers’ IPTV service is not available commercially yet, Tut officials say, but the telco is already streaming a “limited number of channels” in MPEG-4 to "a limited number of people.”

“They are surprised at the results; and the quality and bit rates that they’re seeing [are] pretty impressive,” says Tut’s VP of marketing Craig Bender.

But Bender says the work doesn’t end even when Farmers’ commercial deployment begins. “It’s going to take a few years to use and tune all the tools in MPEG-4 to get the best bit rate and all the improved quality that you can get with it.”

MPEG-4 video streams require about half the bit rate of MPEG-2 streams yet deliver comparable picture quality. To deliver two HD channels via MPEG-2 requires a bit rate of 16 to 18 Mbit/s, while the same two channels would use only 6 to 8 Mbit/s using MPEG-4 compression.

Harmonic also claims to have the first encoder streaming MPEG-4 in the real world. The company’s director of telco solutions Thierry Fautier says Video Networks Ltd. (VNL) began streaming Turner’s Toonami channel (featuring the hit shows Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z, and Dragon Ball GT) in MPEG-4 to subscribers in suburban London April 18.

“We... are creating a world first with the first ever broadcast channel to switch to MPEG-4/AVC encoding,” says the operator’s CEO Roger Lynch in a statement released by VNL.

Harmonic’s Fautier says VNL is working toward the complete conversion of its 80-plus channels to MPEG-4 by the end of this month.

Harmonic is a Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) partner, so its encoders support Microsoft TV’s preferred codec, Windows Media 9 (see Microsoft, Harmonic Team for IPTV). But so far, encoder vendors report a clear preference among North American telcos for the MPEG-4 codec. In fact Alcatel America (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA) CTO Kenny Frank told Light Reading that Microsoft TV customer SBC Communications Inc. (NYSE: SBC) doesn't plan to use Windows Media 9 in its IPTV network, preferring MPEG-4 instead (see Alcatel & Microsoft Going Steady). European operators, sources say, are split evenly between MPEG-4 and Windows Media 9 (see Europe Tunes In to IPTV).

And there are other encoder vendors just a step or two behind Tut and Harmonic in deploying MPEG-4 encoders.

“We’re shipping them as we speak,” says SkyStream Networks Inc. CEO Jim Olson. The encoders, Olson believes, will begin streaming MPEG-4 in the networks of several Tier 2 carriers beginning next quarter (see SkyStream Wins IPTV Deals and Progressive Picks SkyStream for IPTV). Olsen says virtually every telco that is doing video is now actively looking at adopting the MPEG-4 codec.

Tandberg Television says it is now shipping MPEG-4 encoders to one European telco, which Tandberg says wants to remain anonymous. Tandberg marketing director Lisa Hobbs isn’t sure if the carrier is actually deploying the MPEG-4 encoders yet (see Tandberg Talks Up IPTV).

Many in the industry expected the move to MPEG-4 to happen much sooner than it actually is (see Conexant, Tandberg Demo MPEG-4). But that movement has been slowed considerably because the set-top boxes needed to decode the MPEG-4 HD are largely unavailable.

The problem is the chipsets that go in the set-top boxes. Sources say set-top box manufacturers are only now beginning to take shipment on the chipsets needed for their new MPEG-4, HD-ready set-top boxes (see Broadcom Demos HDTV Over ADSL2+).

Harmonic’s Fautier says his company has deployed MPEG-4 encoders at several of its carrier customers, but the absence of the souped-up set-top boxes is preventing conversion to the advanced codec.

Light Reading has heard varying explanations for the delayed chipsets. Fautier believes chipmakers like STMicroelectronics NV (NYSE: STM), Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM), and Conexant Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CNXT) have needed more time than expected to “work the bugs out” of the chips.

Entone Technologies Inc. co-founder Mark Evensen believes the delays have been caused by the chipmakers taking a pragmatic approach to telco TV in general. He explains that the chipmakers have so far been unwilling to alter production schedules to accommodate the set-top box makers because of a reticence about the sustainability of the demand.

Whatever the real cause, the slow delivery of the chipsets is having its consequences. Sources say it’s another reason IPTV deployment targets at places like SBC and Swisscom AG (NYSE: SCM) are being pushed back (see SBC, Microsoft Defend Lightspeed and Swisscom IPTV Stall Sends Shivers).

— Mark Sullivan, Reporter, Light Reading

(4)  | 
Comment  | 
Print  | 
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View        ADD A COMMENT
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:09:24 AM
re: HDTV Pushes Telcos Toward MPEG-4
Can I assume that MPEG4 requires 4 times the chipset capacity for MPEG2?

User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:09:24 AM
re: HDTV Pushes Telcos Toward MPEG-4
The amount of motion in the material being encoded is always a problem.

MPEG-2, which is pretty long in the tooth now, can really only address this with higher encoded data rates, which is not a good solution.

MPEG-4 and other new codecs handle motion better, i.e. better resolution at a given bitrate or equal resolution at a lower bitrate, in the way the encoding algorithm is designed. The algorithms are inherently more complicated than MPEG-2 but are really a non-issue when it comes to silicon area.

MPEG-4 (or equivalent) decoders now run at HD resolutions quite easily in S/W on today's PCs. Encoding realtim in S/W is not possible for HD (or probably even SD) but the silicon is pretty straightforward.
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:09:24 AM
re: HDTV Pushes Telcos Toward MPEG-4
"HarmonicGÇÖs Fautier says his company has deployed MPEG-4 encoders at several of its carrier customers, but the absence of the souped-up set-top boxes is preventing conversion to the advanced codec."

Can I assume that MPEG4 requires 4 times the chipset capacity for MPEG2?

I know from testing with MPEG2 that the Bandwidth Required changes significantly based on content (sports vs news). Anyone know if this is true for MPEG4?

User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 3:09:15 AM
re: HDTV Pushes Telcos Toward MPEG-4
As with MPEG2, all the grunt work in MPEG4 happens at encoding time, decoding is relatively light GÇô although post processing (such as de-blocking) can bump things up a bit.

However, as MPEG4 is still a motion based codec your sports vs. news observation is still correct, itGÇÖs just that the overall numbers are much lower because MPEG4 is much more efficient.

SD at 2Mbs is a very real option GÇô even for high motion footage.
Light Reading’s Upskill U is a FREE, interactive, online educational resource that delivers must-have education on themes that relate to the overall business transformation taking place in the communications industry.
Wednesday, October 26, 1:00PM EDT
Security: Tackling DDoS
Gary Sockrider, Principal Security Technologist, Arbor Networks
Friday, October 28, 1:00PM EDT
Security: The Plusses and Minuses of Open Source Software
Nick Feamster, Acting Director, Center for Information Technology Policy, Princeton University
Wednesday, November 16, 1:00PM EST
SDN 101
John Isch, Practice Director, Network & Voice, Orange Business Services
Friday, November 18, 1:00PM EST
SDN & Open Source
Christopher W. Rice, Senior Vice President of AT&T Labs, Domain 2.0 Architecture and Design
in association with:
From The Founder
Light Reading today starts a new voyage as part of a larger Enterprise.
Flash Poll
Live Streaming Video
Charting the CSP's Future
Six different communications service providers join to debate their visions of the future CSP, following a landmark presentation from AT&T on its massive virtualization efforts and a look back on where the telecom industry has been and where it's going from two industry veterans.
LRTV Custom TV
Next-Generation Technology Beyond DOCSIS 3.1

10|20|16   |     |   (0) comments

At SCTE 2016, Huawei's Liu Jianhua speaks with Alan Breznick for an exclusive interview.
LRTV Custom TV
Hybrid Video Solutions to Change TV, Change Future

10|20|16   |     |   (0) comments

At SCTE 2016, Huawei's Ian Locke speaks with Alan Breznick for an exclusive interview.
LRTV Custom TV
Huawei Future-Oriented Giga Coax Network

10|20|16   |     |   (0) comments

At SCTE 2016, Huawei's Allen Wang speaks with Alan Breznick for an exclusive interview.
LRTV Custom TV
Huawei at SCTE 2016

10|20|16   |     |   (0) comments

Join Alan Breznick of Light Reading and take a sneak peek at the Huawei booth at SCTE 2016.
LRTV Custom TV
Assuring Network Quality in a Rapidly Changing Environment

10|20|16   |     |   (0) comments

As the rate of change and complexity increases in agile networks, the importance of introducing DevOps methodologies for integrating active test and assurance solutions throughout the full service lifecycle becomes critical to ensure that customers are experiencing the service quality they demand. The industry landscape is changing, and software-based test and ...
Telecom Innovators Video Showcase
A10 Networks on Service Providers' Industry Needs

10|20|16   |     |   (0) comments

Light Reading's Steve Saunders hears how A10 enables service providers to accelerate, secure and optimize their application delivery to drive down costs, enhance service availability, and better respond to customer requirements, so they can improve customer satisfaction, monetize their network, and grow revenues.
LRTV Custom TV
New NFV Use Cases for Cable TV

10|19|16   |     |   (0) comments

A large number of NFV use cases are focused on the enterprise domain, looking at virtualization of customer-premises equipment (CPE). To date, there has been little focus on the use cases and business case for virtualization of the video content delivery networks required to deliver unicast and streaming video to consumers. Amdocs commissioned Analysys Mason to ...
Women in Comms Introduction Videos
Meet the Future Workforce: New Faces, Expectations & Motivations

10|19|16   |   5:33   |   (1) comment

Millennials and their younger peers, Gen Z, expect more out of their network and more out of their work. Intel's Lynn Comp shares how the industry can prepare for this new generation of workers.
LRTV Custom TV
ZTE Global Services User Congress 2016 Highlights

10|19|16   |     |   (0) comments

ZTE held its 2nd Global Service User Conference in Dusseldorf on October 13-14. Representatives from network operators, leading industry analysts and ZTE senior expertsattended the event, exploring the best practice in managed services and the vision to transform network operations into the operations center of the future (OpCF) in the software-defined networking ...
LRTV Custom TV
Cliff Grossner on Cloud & Network Synergy From Carrier Service

10|18|16   |     |   (0) comments

Local carriers offer the collaborated cloud and network service that benefits from their understanding of the regulations operating in different vertical markets.
In this interview, Cliff Grossner from IHS Technology talks about how this advanced service can support business agility and flexibility.
LRTV Custom TV
VeEX: Live from SCTE Cable-Tec Expo 2016

10|17|16   |     |   (0) comments

Cyrille Morelle, VeEX's President and CEO, talks with Light Reading's Alan Breznick live from the SCTE Cable-Tec Expo 2016. They discuss DOCSIS 3.1 technology, deployments and early lessons learned. New products on display include the CX350s-D3.1, CX380s-D3.1, CX310, AT2500-3G, FX150 OTDR and MTT WiFI Air Expert.
LRTV Custom TV
Smith Micro's Carrier-Grade WiFi Component

10|17|16   |     |   (0) comments

Join Carol Wilson of Light Reading as she interviews the CTO of Smith Micro, Dave Sperling.
Upcoming Live Events
November 3, 2016, The Montcalm Marble Arch, London
November 30, 2016, The Westin Times Square, New York City
December 1, 2016, The Westin Times Square, New York, NY
December 6-8, 2016, The Westin Excelsior, Rome
May 16-17, 2017, Austin Convention Center, Austin, TX
All Upcoming Live Events
Hot Topics
Attacks Have Major Internet Sites on the Ropes
Brian Santo, Senior editor, Test & Measurement / Components, Light Reading, 10/21/2016
Trump: Dump AT&T/TW & Comcast/NBC
Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading, 10/24/2016
T-Mobile: AT&T & TW Means Ma Bell Not Focused on Mobile
Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, 10/24/2016
Layer3 TV Comes to Town, Hints at Future
Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, 10/21/2016
Verizon Wants More Data on Yahoo Breach
Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading, 10/20/2016
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed
BETWEEN THE CEOs - Executive Interviews
Join us for an in-depth interview between Steve Saunders of Light Reading and Alexis Black Bjorlin of Intel as they discuss the release of the company's Silicon Photonics platform, its performance, long-term prospects, customer expectations and much more.
There's no question that, come 2020, 5G technology will turn the world's conception of what mobile networking is on its head. Within the world of 5G development, Dr. ...
Animals with Phones
'Oh, Were You Looking for This?' Click Here
'I was just playing some games...'
Live Digital Audio

A vital part of increasing the number of women in comms is transforming the ways companies can support and empower women. While progressive company policies that support both men and women in achieving work-life balance are a step in the right direction, creating a company culture that supports those policies can at times be more challenging.

During this show, we'll talk to Lynn Comp, Senior Director of Industry and Sales Enabling (ISE) in the Network Platforms Group at Intel, about why those challenges exist and how companies can overcome them. She'll provide insight into how Intel has worked to create a culture that supports work-life balance, and provide steps and guidance for other companies wishing to do the same. We will also leave plenty of time to get your questions answered live on the air.