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Comcast Shows Off Rio in HDR... in Philly

Mari Silbey
8/12/2016
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The newest Comcast set-tops supporting High Dynamic Range and Ultra HD video, sadly, haven't made it to market yet. But that's not stopping Comcast from showcasing its Olympics coverage in both HDR and 4K. Or from breaking out a virtual reality demo featuring the sights in Rio. Or from showing off live Olympic event coverage on the ginormous lobby wall at Comcast HQ in Philly.

Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) hosted an Olympics screening party Thursday night to bolster its status as both a video technology leader and top-dog Philadelphia corporation. In front of hundreds of guests, the cable company trotted out a combination of pre-produced and live content. In addition to the video wall, which alternated between featuring wall-sized graphic effects and live video in smaller in-set displays, Comcast highlighted 4K HDR footage in a side demo with content adapted from an 8K feed out of NHK in Japan. (See AT&T & Dish Mix 4K Into Olympics Coverage.)

No other US operator has access to HDR footage from the Olympics. So while there's little opportunity for Comcast to share the super-vivid, high-res content with mainstream consumers (you need the Xfinity UHD app plus a Samsung or LG TV to view any Comcast 4K video), the company is still trying to make the most of its unique assets. According to Mark Francisco, engineer and fellow in Comcast Innovation Labs, Comcast has been showing off the HDR experience around to different programmers to get them excited about producing new UHD content.

The demo doesn't come cheap in bandwidth terms. In order to deliver the 4K-resolution HDR picture at 60 frames per second, Comcast is using a whopping 35Mbit/s bitrate. That's almost an entire QAM channel's worth of bandwidth. However, Francisco says that bitrate number will come down with next-generation encoders, probably to an amount under 20 Mbit/s.

Of note, Comcast is using the open HDR10 format to stream its Olympics video, rather than one of the premium formats offered by Dolby Laboratories Inc. (NYSE: DLB) or Technicolor (Euronext Paris: TCH; NYSE: TCH). But the cable company isn't ruling out the use of other HDR technologies in the future. (See Vubiquity, Technicolor Pioneer HDR Conversion and Technicolor 'Magic' Brings HDR 1 Step Closer.)


Want to know more about video and TV market trends? Check out our dedicated video services content channel here on Light Reading.


In a separate demo from the HDR video station, Comcast also showed how its content could be experienced in virtual reality, or at least in 360-degree surround view. The company used video from Rio taken before the Olympics to guide viewers on an immersive tour of the city, courtesy of an Oculus Rift headset. There aren't any 360-degree videos available publicly from Comcast today, but according to a product developer on site, that will probably change within months. In all likelihood, 360-degree videos will starting popping up in the "Labs" section of its X1 platform soon.

Comcast Senior Executive Vice President David Cohen also laid down his own marker for VR at yesterday's Philadelphia event. In a speech to the crowd, Cohen said he expects there will be a lot of VR content available when the Summer Olympics return in four years.

— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading

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KBode
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KBode,
User Rank: Light Sabre
8/24/2016 | 12:13:58 PM
Re: Comcast cable TV
So many of these companies are still struggling to support 1080p without horrid compression artifacts, so I wonder if it doesnt' take many more years before real 4K even becomes a serious option.
kq4ym
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kq4ym,
User Rank: Light Sabre
8/24/2016 | 11:27:20 AM
Re: Comcast cable TV
It would seem that somebody's trying to figure a way to get profit from the huge bandwidth they're promoting for our future entertainment, With a given "HDR picture at 60 frames per second, Comcast is using a whopping 35Mbit/s bitrate," it's going to be a technical if not financial challenge to get users to cough up for extra bandwitch and display devices. Even if encoding can get the bitrate down, it's still huge.
KBode
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KBode,
User Rank: Light Sabre
8/16/2016 | 5:32:24 PM
Re: Comcast cable TV
"HDR takes advantage of broadband in ways that only these huge cable providers can offer." In time, but it has been interesting to see Amazon and Netflix lead the charge on this front. I'm hoping that cable providers don't shoot themselves in the foot with a "4K" or "4K + HDR" surcharge at a time when more and more customers are defecting due to pricing. Though I guess bleeding edge folks care less about price...
Duh!
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Duh!,
User Rank: Blogger
8/15/2016 | 1:37:43 PM
Bit Rates
Observe the dynamic between video source bit rates and access network bandwidth demand. The typical justification for more bandwidth has been ever higher-quality video.  Yet 4k HD for current OTT video is around 15-20 Mbit/s, and Mark Francisco is saying that 20 Mb/s will hold when HDR and 60 FPS are introduced.  It appears that the video coding folks treat 20 Mb/s as a design constraint. That makes a lot of sense in the context of MPEG2 framing on 6 MHz channels. It will be interesting to see what happens with linear programing migrating to all-IP, and therefore able to take advantage of channel bonding and DOCSIS 3.1. 

In the meanwhile, a Gigabit can carry a lot more 4k HD HDR 60 FPS streams than are likely to appear in any household. We still have no line of sight to a "killer app" for Gigabit, other than Speed Test.  Ultimate quality video apparently isn't it.

 
danielcawrey
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danielcawrey,
User Rank: Light Sabre
8/14/2016 | 6:42:34 PM
Re: Comcast cable TV
Excited to see HDR come to the home. The potential for the technology to make sports more vivid is going to be really helpful for companies like Comcast since they are seeing declining cable revenue. HDR takes advantage of broadband in ways that only these huge cable providers can offer. 
abhijeet.shirgurkar
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abhijeet.shirgurkar,
User Rank: Light Beer
8/12/2016 | 12:12:02 PM
Comcast cable TV
Not sure if it means anything to the customer. They make the customer pay for cable TV in order to watch all live online olympic streams. Why would anybody pay cable TV charges so that they are able to access online content. Both of them must be independent of each other. 
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