A Few Musings from NAB 2013

17/04/13

My findings from a busy NAB Show 2013, recently held in Vegas.

I’m getting back into the swing of London life after a busy NAB Show in Vegas. Even though there weren’t really any big surprises this year, there were a few trends that really stood out for me that I think are indicative of where the broadcast industry is heading.

4K resolution revolution

The bright and shiny world of 4K definitely dominated NAB this year - twice the vertical and horizontal resolution of 1080 line HD, so particularly suited to very large displays. A number of manufacturers were showing off their latest wares, and there were a few technology showcases that caught my eye: an enormous 4K projector; H.265/HEVC encoding of 4K content; and high-resolution, small form factor cameras. A number of consumer panels are already available, and both DirecTV and Netflix have hinted at a rollout of 4K services in the next couple of years, but there is still some work to do before 4K is widely available. One of the likely challenges will be the cost of streaming. As an industry exec noted at one the conference sessions, CDN costs are currently up to $1 per user per hour (based on compression rates at around 20-25Mbps). For the time being, at least, 4K seems to be limited to a capture format for later down conversion for HD broadcast.

Cloud

There was a lot of buzz in service provider and content management circles around cloud services, with a large number of software companies talking about, showing and selling cloud services. Exactly what counts as a cloud service is very debatable, but a range of technology models were on display, from true public cloud implementations, private cloud, on-premises and everything in-between. What I found particularly interesting, though, is the evolution of the business model, with more and more companies offering much more flexible licensing terms around their products, which will, in turn, enable end users to make best use of the elastic nature of the public cloud. In particular, the transcode, content protection and non-linear delivery services seem to be the focus point for adoption.

IP distribution

Another trend that I noticed is a move to distributing broadcast quality video over IP circuits. It still feels like it’s a very immature market, with an array of standardised and proprietary methods for delivering content, but there were some interesting technology demos and products. Two of the more promising movements are an EBU/SMPTE/VSF joint task force on Networked Media and the IEEE’s Audio Video Bridging standard. Both of these are attempting to tackle the issues of timing, switching and synchronisation inherent in a variable latency distribution mechanism. Filling the gap between now and then, however, is a manufacturer driven world of proprietary systems that work within closed networks and typically use standard broadcast video routers with different interface cards.

An interesting show all round, with plenty of shiny new toys on offer. But will 4K really appeal to consumers enough for them to splash out on new devices and premium subscription services? Will IP distribution and cloud services drive forward the pace of change and drive down the cost of services? Let me know your thoughts in the comments box below!

Tim Davis, Senior Technologist