Video services

Photos: Comcast/NBCU Ultra-HD Demo

WASHINGTON -- At a recent invitation-only demo, Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and NBCUniversal LLC offered a peek at a possible future for TV: Super Hi-Vision (also referred to as Ultra-HD and 8K), a format that produces about 16 times the resolution of today's HDTV images.

Being pioneered by NHK, Japan's public broadcaster, 8K has gotten a couple of recent showings at the Comcast/NBCU headquarters here. The demo earlier this week (following a similar event here last week) used a sampling of Summer Olympics coverage from the BBC that was shot with Super Hi-Vision cameras. (See A Glimpse of Ultra-HD .)

And it was quite the undertaking just to get that content into the building and onto glass. They used Internet 2 to ship the video across the ocean and a dedicated Comcast fiber to take it the rest of the way. And Super Hi-Vision sure gobbles up the bandwidth. The special camera pours out video at 48Gbit/s. The compressed transport stream (using H.264 compression for this demo) that was eventually fed to the 85-inch NHK/Sharp prototype 8K display still weighed in at 360Mbit/s.

Click on the image below to start a slideshow of the demo and some of the brains and gear used to power it.

Executives and engineers running the event stressed that this was strictly a technology demonstration run with prototype equipment -- as you can see in some of the later photos in the slideshow.

A smattering of 8K prototype sets emerged at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, but the technology isn't expected to become a retail phenomenon for a while. NHK, which supplied most of the prototype equipment used for the demo, doesn't expect to roll out Super Hi-Vision services commercially until 2020. However, there's a recent report suggesting that the broadcaster could start those transmissions up to four years earlier than expected.

There's still no telling when U.S. cable operators will roll out 8K. At The Cable Show this year, much of the discussion was around 4K and hopes that the industry could offer some video in that format in roughly the same bandwidth that they use today for an MPEG-2 HD channel.

Engineers acknowledged that they'll need a lot of help getting there. For starters, they'll need High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC), also known as H.265, a more efficient compression technology standard that's in the works. And they'll likely have to take advantage of perceptual modeling techniques that can subtract bits away from areas of the TV screen that don't get much attention from the human eye.

In case you missed it, here's a brief video blog about the event:

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

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paolo.franzoi 12/5/2012 | 5:24:19 PM
re: Photos: Comcast/NBCU Ultra-HD Demo


:) but seriously....

They probably have to have new camera, encoding, decoding and transmission systems.  I guess this will break the current QAM model if they try to run it over cable as currently organized.



Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 5:24:19 PM
re: Photos: Comcast/NBCU Ultra-HD Demo

48Gbit/s? Wow.

So, when they say it's coming in 2020, is that because it takes that long to install those 22.2 speakers in your house?  :)

^Eagle^ 12/5/2012 | 5:24:18 PM
re: Photos: Comcast/NBCU Ultra-HD Demo


yes, this kind of video requires new cameras, new software to stitch together the images (no camera out there can capture this kind of image, so folks use several and stitch together the image), new codecs, new display technology, etc.

I noted that this presentation used h.264 as the codec.  For real world applications, I am fairly sure a new codec will be required.  (NOTE: we are major participants in the standards bodies for codecs and were one of the key inventors of h.264)

So many years away from any practical application.

But yeah, very cool to see it working in person.  I love going into our demo labs to see what they have been working on for video display.



Jeff Baumgartner 12/5/2012 | 5:24:17 PM
re: Photos: Comcast/NBCU Ultra-HD Demo

There's definitely a discussion going on with this and H.265 being a compression technology that could help operators squeeze this down a bit.  At The Cable Show , the talk about 4K and 8K also got into some of the use cases beyond homes with high end home theaters - like opening up new markets with commercial venues and at restaurants and bars that will want to get patrons in the door.  down the road, we'll have to see how many US programmers adopt it in the early going. ESPN was out in front with HD , so i'd have to guess that 8K is defintiely on their radar.   Might be an argument that perhaps there will be only a small 8K tier, and that some channels (the news nets, for example) won't want or need to make the leap.  JB

^Eagle^ 12/5/2012 | 5:24:16 PM
re: Photos: Comcast/NBCU Ultra-HD Demo


you should see what we have running in our labs.


Jeff Baumgartner 12/5/2012 | 5:24:15 PM
re: Photos: Comcast/NBCU Ultra-HD Demo

Sailboat, Sure, would be happy to take you up on it. Send me an email ([email protected]) with some details and perhaps we can pull something together. JB

paolo.franzoi 12/5/2012 | 5:24:15 PM
re: Photos: Comcast/NBCU Ultra-HD Demo


Just one comment on CODECs and compression.

Most of the methods to date work best in static like environments.  Talking heads for example.  They work the worst in sports - particularly NBA basketball.  I have spent time watching compressions and quality and from that standpoint you have to be very careful about (marketing) compression ratios (marketing).  Often they are quoted with talking heads...but as you point out that is NOT the same as with full motion sports (which I would guess would be the starting point).



^Eagle^ 12/5/2012 | 5:24:14 PM
re: Photos: Comcast/NBCU Ultra-HD Demo


you are exactly correct.  Coding / Decoding (codec) is often mashed up with compression.  both encoding and compression have their own challenges and limits.  

For 8k, or other advanced video or imaging ideas, folks need to be very careful with compression.  especially for sports, as you pointed out.

h.265 is not the solution for this.  h.265 ads an adaptive scalable bit to the video codec with the idea that it will give you the ability to stream video to all kinds of devices, even low fidelity ones like a smart phone..... and by using 265, be able to use less bandwidth for reasonable QOS. 

This is not really what is needed for 8k video.  Especially for sports or other high motion images.

we are actively working on all these subjects in our labs.


Jeff Baumgartner 12/5/2012 | 5:24:13 PM
re: Photos: Comcast/NBCU Ultra-HD Demo

If I'm Google, I'd start to think that 8K is a great thing to showcase in my 1-Gbit/s fiber "experiment" in the Kansas Citiies.  Witih Super Hi-Visiion still  in the prototype stage, here's a chance to  opportunity how these new , lofty speeds can be applied with an app/service that qualified for the longer-term future.

Cable, too... the new Intel D3 chips get them within a whisker of 1-gbit/s, so they could do some testing too and not look like they're behind on anything. but smart of these guys to at least show this off...demonstrates the kind of thing that's at least on the radar. JB

MMQoS 12/5/2012 | 5:24:13 PM
re: Photos: Comcast/NBCU Ultra-HD Demo

I'm amused reading this story about the Comcast/NBCU demo while watching the London Olympics broadcasts this week and last.  As Brookseven has noted, sports are the toughest content type for digital codecs and the Olympics is always a good test.  When I worked for Nortel labs we could measure the signal stream b/w and the 2008 China Olympics were running about 15.xxx Mb/s and I could still see pixelization around the diver's feet in the water events.  For the 2012 version I can still see this error type but it seems even worse than 2008.  For these types of sporting events I go to my out-of-the-air antenna where bandwidth is unlimited (we don't have FiOS TV here) and will watch in both prime time (rebroadcast) or the real time events in my afternoon (I'm in California).  Having worked on IPTV QoE for many years I have a good eye for errors and my overall impression of the video quality being provided from London is that it is not even as good this year as it was 4 years ago.  Has anyone taken a measurement of what is the actual video signal streaming b/w?

So to NBCU's 8K demo, today's terrestrial networks struggle to deliver a decent 1080 HD signal and in most cases the ATSC 19.3 Mb/s signal is being further compressed to accommodate the non-broadcast network limitations.  This year this also seems to include the feeds to the NBC over-the-air stations and this is too bad.  

So as someone else said, talking about and demoing 8K is just marketing (higher resolution Xfinity?) and until we get a lot more FTTH, pointless in my estimation.  Meanwhile though NBC, if you are throttling the video stream for your cable customers, don't do the same to your affiliated over-the-air broadcast partners.  



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