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HD OTT and 4K VOD provide early markets for HEVC, says Harmonic

Harmonic's Tom Lattie

Harmonic’s Tom Lattie

HD OTT to multiple screens is likely to be the key initial application for the new HEVC compression standard, but 4K video-on-demand also presents a possible route to exploit the new technology, according to Tom Lattie, vice-president, product marketing, Harmonic. 

Speaking to DTVE at the NAB Show, Lattie said that HD OTT would likely be one of the key initial applications for the emerging compression technology, enabling service providers to improve the viewing experience on services significantly.

Lattie said that HEVC could enable the delivery of full-resolution HD OTT services at under 3Mbps. Moreover, many of these services could be delivered via hybrid devices such as the latest version of the Apple TV box to TV screens, he said. “Mobile OTT services are actually going to TVs,” he said. “HEVC could enable these suppliers to move past the pay TV operators direct to TVs.”

Lattie said that HEVC could achieve far faster uptake than had been the case with MPEG-4 AVC, because there are already many devices deployed that could decode HEVC in software.

While HD OTT is the most likely initial application, Lattie said he believed that 4K VOD is another potential early use of the technology. He said that VOD is “the only reasonable application for 4K” in the immediate term. The current version of the HDMI specification is not capable of supporting 4K in HEVC, meaning that the delivery of live events such as sports is currently problematic. “Things need to change before you can get live sports,” said Lattie.

Regarding broadcast applications, Lattie said that there “will probably not be set-tops available for some time”, and that it was likely that content providers and operators would target non-traditional devices initially.

Unlike with the deployment of H264, it is now the case that mobile devices including tablets and smartphones, rather than set-top boxes, have ARM cores that provide the ability to decode HEVC. “Software-based decoding is now possible and every device can potentially be an HEVC decoder,” said Lattie.

HEVC could also be delivered to smart TVs for playback, eliminating the intermediary of the service provider-supplied set-top box, he added.