Cable Tech

Startup Plugs 4K Firepower for Cable

With the momentum behind ultra HD (UHD) 4K video building faster than some anticipated, a mobile video equipment startup is plugging itself as the video transcoding savior for cable operators and other pay TV providers.

Quickfire Networks, a one-year-old firm with 20 employees based in the San Diego area, is pitching its T-Video transcoding platform as the only one capable of handling "the sooner-than-expected tsunami of incoming 4K video streams in real-time." The company is now promoting two video servers to cable operators, including a new, far more powerful server, known as the V3200, that it plans to unveil at the IBC conference in Amsterdam later this week.

Amidst all the industry hype surrounding the potential and promise of 4K video, QuickFire executives argue that few cable technologists have yet focused on the vastly higher processing power that will be needed to bring high-quality UHD video to the home. Nor, they say, have many engineers focused on the other greater server requirements of UHD video.

Specifically, QuickFire officials contend that it will take up to 20 conventional video servers to deliver just a single UHD stream to viewers today. Likewise, they contend that it will take 80 times more processing power to deliver UHD-quality video.

"4K is not just four times more pixels," says Craig Lee, VP of marketing for QuickFire, noting that each UHD frame rate is also about 10 times more complex than the frame rate for standard HD video. "From 1080 to 4K is a big jump," he says. "The compute density is an order of magnitude above. It's a huge quantum leap forward."

In fact, QuickFire officials claim that the processing demands for 4K video will be so much greater than today that even the usual Moore's Law advances in computational firepower won't be big enough to keep up with the increase in juice needed. "We don't think people realize how much more computationally complex it will be," Lee says. "Moore's Law is no longer sufficient."

Further, QuickFire executives believe that 4K video will become a marketplace reality sooner than once expected. While many industry officials have predicted that UHD won't be rolled out substantially in the market until at least 2015, QuickFire officials say they expect to see early implementations of 4K next year as consumer electronics manufacturers, broadcasters, content providers, and pay TV operators all scramble to upgrade their equipment and programming for UHD viewing.

QuickFire, which promoted its earlier generation V1100 server at the Cable Show and National Associations of Broadcasters (NAB) show last spring, plans to focus on the new V3200 server at IBC. Officials say the new two-rack-unit server with "a super-dense GPU" can now support one 4K stream with H.265 encoding, or High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC), and will scale higher later on.

The competition in the server market includes such computing heavyweights as IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), Dell Technologies (Nasdaq: DELL), and HP Inc. (NYSE: HPQ). But QuickFire executives insist that their new transcoder is 10 times to 20 times denser than any other server on the market. "It's really a 4K product," Lee says.

QuickFire officials estimate that the global market for commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) video hardware market is worth $200 million to $500 million today and growing at a 50 percent clip. They're aiming to lead the market and capture a 20 percent to 40 percent share.

"We're just crazy enough to decide we want to be in the hardware business," Lee says.

— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading

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craig.y.lee 5/1/2014 | 9:00:35 PM
Re: 4K deployment in calendar 2014 Not trying to pile on, but here's another data point:  http://hometheaterreview.com/house-of-cards-now-streaming-in-4k/

Netflix is going to be aggressive with 4K (duh).

craig.y.lee 4/11/2014 | 4:08:42 PM
4K deployment in calendar 2014 Sorry to report from a non-Light Reading source, but 4K is now a service offering from Umax in South Korea.


Alan rightly pushed us to predict when we thought that 4K would be a service offering, and we were bullish that it would be in 2014.  But I think that this will surprise everyone happening in Q2.  

We are excited to see 4K coming into the home.  I only wish that we could have it in time for the 2014 Stanley Cup so Carol could watch my Detroit Red Wings hoist the cup again.

Carol Wilson 9/11/2013 | 5:12:27 PM
Re: How close do we need to get? Ah, so my hockey games look even better? Well, alright then. 
mike.coward 9/11/2013 | 4:49:21 PM
Re: Comparison to 3D TV? Hi Ray,
  4k feels like it's coming at the right time and offers consumers a benefit they care about (versus 3D which most people thought was a gimmick).

  The content distribution space is getting more competitive, and this should push 4k along.  It's no longer a duopoly between cable and satellite: you now have Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, and even Aereo.  In this landscape, everyone is looking for competitive differentiators, and we're seeing that 4k will be a battleground: everyone wants to be first to offer 4k and secure those customers who care, and no one wants to be last.  (Netflix says they will offer 4K within a year or two: http://www.lightreading.com/document.asp?doc_id=701755)

  This isn't to minimize the technical challenges of 4k: Encoding 4k60 content in H.265 requires 120-180X the amount of compute power to encode as 720p30 with H.264.

Mike Coward

(QuickFire Networks)
mike.coward 9/11/2013 | 4:32:20 PM
Re: How close do we need to get? Hi Carol,
  I think that 3D never got away from the stigma of the glasses - doesn't fit into the multitasking way that people watch TV, play with their phone, and surf on a laptop.  

  I was skeptical of the need for 4K as well, but the content I've seen on 4K does look fantastic - it's distinctly sharper than standard HD.  

  The other thing that comes along with 4K (and H.265 encoding) is support for 60 frames per second.  4k60 content looks amazing - smooth and very rich.  For sports and movies, I expect this will become the target that everyone is shooting for.

Mike Coward
(QuickFire Networks)
albreznick 9/11/2013 | 4:03:00 PM
Re: 4K Here... Yeah, I actually think 4K will be different than 3D too. I always thought 3D was just a fad and it seemed clear that the whole glasses thing was never going to work. I was just surprised that so many serious people took it seriously. I think 4K will, or at least could, be different because it's more of an evolutionary development in videom quality, like HD, and not mainly gimmicky, like 3D. But we shall see. I'm curious to hear what others think.     
Jeffdenenholz 9/11/2013 | 3:30:15 PM
4K Here... 4K isnt the 3D fad. Case in point; Sony moving forward with plans for a 4K video store and has launched a Video Unlimited 4K service. Plans to offer more than 100 4K films and shows by end of year, including complete Breaking Bad in 4K
Carol Wilson 9/11/2013 | 1:14:10 PM
How close do we need to get? Not to be too explicit here, but  on a large-screen HD set, I see everyone plenty clearly right now. What would be the advantage of more pixels? Other than more work for make-up artists. 
TeleWRTRLiz 9/11/2013 | 12:25:52 PM
Re: What's hot at at IBC? Just talked to our Cable Guy Craig Bachmann here at TM Forum to get his perspective and he says he agrees with Dan's comments that hype of 4d may be similar to hype of 3d TV - which is not going so fast. He said it's not clear that there is a real demand for 4D.  This is a different environment than when Blue-ray/HD, etc. was wowing everyone. Consumers are adapting to OTT streaming, multi-screen, and mobile modes of viewing. However, if the eco-system gets behind it...
[email protected] 9/11/2013 | 8:46:33 AM
Comparison to 3D TV? How does the hype/momentum of 4K compare with the hype/momentum around 3D TV?

asks a cynic...
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