Evolution, not revolution, awaits broadcast industry

Peter Siebert, executive director, DVB Project, casts his eye over the direction the broadcast industry is heading in 2018

For DVB, the highlight of the past 18 months was the standardisation of resolutions beyond HD — combined with new advanced features such as HDR, HFR, a wider colour space and new audio coding schemes.

These new technologies have the potential to deliver audio-visual content at a new quality level to the end-user, and the achievable performance will be close to the limits of the human eye. Consequently, it is unlikely that we will see further advancements in the near future; at least, as long as flat panel displays are predominant.

So what does this mean for new services and technologies in 2018? Even when the necessary standards are in place, it will be sometime before all these new features will be available to the end-user.

The consumer electronics industry already supplies a wide range of products supporting some of the advanced features. However, when it comes to HDR, there is a plethora of solutions and implementations available today. For the end-user, the variety of choices, with the many labels and logos, can often lead to confusion. Even worse, the majority of TVs on offer today are only “HDR Compatible”, meaning that an HDR signal can be received and processed but the resulting image will basically be only SDR quality. With this being the case, there is a great risk that misleading the consumer will endanger the introduction of advanced features.

From a content production standpoint, it is necessary for broadcasters to invest in new technologies and to learn how to use them. The wider contrast range and colour space may be tempting for content producers to over-emphasise the visual effects currently achievable. Nevertheless, production technologies and experience will evolve and audiences will enjoy brighter and more colourful pictures.

Historically, the broadcast industry does not assimilate new technologies overnight, due to the necessary investment in production and studio equipment. Also, there has to be sufficient receiver take-up by consumers to warrant the introduction of new services.

In this respect, video-on-demand (VoD) operators such as Netflix are in a more comfortable position. As their services are delivered in a one-to-one unicast mode, the headend is aware of the receiver capabilities and can provide an adequate signal. This gives broadband delivery an advantage over broadcast and we can expect that content beyond HD resolution, combined with HDR and a wider colour space, will be offered by the Netflixes of this world.

What else can the wider broadcast industry expect in innovation in 2018? Despite many potential new technologies being discussed, slow progress can be expected. Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are being demonstrated and discussed at nearly every trade show and conference. Nevertheless, it will most likely be a long time before VR and AR make it into broadcast, if ever! Also, 5G for the time being, is more marketing hype than reality. 5G promises a lot of nice features such as Gbps data rates and millisecond delay. However, it ignores that these promises require a very expensive network at a time where mobile broadband operators are confronted with stagnant or even falling revenues.

In conclusion, when it comes to innovation in broadcast, 2018 will be a year of slow evolution and no revolution. In the APAC region, the number of countries deploying HD may increase and there could be some progress in the roll-out of digital terrestrial television (DTT) networks. This may sound conservative, but as mentioned above, broadcast is not an industry where new technologies are introduced overnight.



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