Why You Should Be Future-Proofing Your Video Streaming Workflows
The one thing that you can always count on with technology is that there will be better options soon. Sometimes sooner than we think.
Video is moving at a rapid pace, and the ability to send higher quality video over fiber and high bandwidth IP represents a new and exciting paradigm for content providers.
As technology progresses, both those in the broadcast and the enterprise video markets will have to adapt to new advancements. The question is whether the response to new technologies will take place before, or after it becomes the new standard.
The broadcast world is racing towards solutions for 4K UHD TV, and, while the enterprise market seems content with 1080p as a standard for the time being, this is not going to be the case forever. As employees get accustomed to higher quality video at home, they will expect the same in their workplace.
Let’s take a look at how the market is evolving, how demand for 4K content is changing, and how you can future proof your workflow to meet the new standard as it becomes more and more ubiquitous.
Consumer adoption of 4K in the TV market
Whenever a new technology becomes available, there are early adopters who are willing to pay the price right out of the gate. However, most will wait until the technology becomes more widely available and prices become more reasonable.
For example, the 65-inch Sony X930E dropped dramatically in price right before the Super Bowl in January 2018, going from $2,999 to $1,999. And as prices continue to drop, 4K UHD is becoming the affordable go-to option for those who are new to the market, or are upgrading their previous sets.
In 2017, 4K units made up about a third of worldwide television sales. In the Asia-Pacific region, that number was just slightly higher at 37%. ABI Research expects that global 4K TV adoption will total more than $102 million in sales in 2018, which should represent approximately 44% of all the flat TVs sold worldwide.
In a press release from ABI Research, Khin Sandi Lynn, and industry analyst, states that 4K is becoming the new standard when it comes to television sales. “Just like HD before it, hardware technology reached the market far before any content did, pleasing an impetus on content creators and providers to catch up, while also allowing for a time of transition.”
He goes on to note that satellite and cable providers have been trailing behind the major streaming services in terms of providing content that is consumable in the 4K UHD format, but that is starting to shift. “As 4K becomes the norm, questions around HDR and its many forms will become the focus,” says Lynn.
When we look at the growth potential of 4K TV sales over the next few years, ABI is predicting that up to 194 million 4K units could be shipped in the year 2022, representing a compound annual growth rate of 17.3%. Suffice it to say, 4K is not just the future, but is, for many consumers, already the present—and they want content.
So why is the industry slow to adopt? Let’s take a look at some of the challenges facing content providers.
The challenge of 4k in broadcast
When it comes to the adoption of 4K in the television broadcast world, it starts to get a bit complicated. For example, when we talk about the delivery of 4K, we have to be aware of, not just increased bandwidth demands, but also codec standards that will make delivery possible.
Services are beginning to adopt HEVC instead of H.264 more widely as the standard codec for UHD delivery, which allows them to deliver higher-quality content, but at reduced bandwidth. So let’s take a look at bandwidth requirements.
The Ultra HD Forum is a group that “is bringing together market leaders from every part of the industry, broadcasters, service providers, consumer electronics, and technology vendors, to collaborate on solving the real-world hurdles, and accelerating Ultra HD deployment.”
From their site, we see what that bandwidth reality is of 4K UHDTV. The jump from a simple 10-bit depth broadcast to 4K UHDTV is an almost 300% increase in bandwidth requirements. Obviously, this is going to require a bit of finagling on the part of broadcasters.
In the group’s Guidelines for UHD Phase B Implementation, we see the end-to-end workflow from camera to consumer, with encoding and decoding as a major aspect of the experience.
The group is driving towards meeting the increased bandwidth demands with Content Aware Encoding (CAE), which is a means of improving coding efficiency. Their website states that CAE does the following:
- “Intelligently exploits properties of the content to reduce bitrate
- Simple” content, such as scenes with little motion, static images, etc. is encoded using fewer bits
- “Complex” content, such as high-motion scenes, waterfalls, etc. is encoded using the necessary bits for quality reproduction
- Since “simple” content is prevalent, the use of CAE techniques can result in significant bandwidth savings”
And while the industry races to come to an agreement on how content can best be served to the consumer, some are already delivering content to those who have the ability to consume it.
The adoption of 4K in broadcast
In an effort to continuously transform how content is consumed, some streaming services are beginning to offer 4K content—but in a limited capacity. Netflix and Amazon Prime, for example, both boast some UHD content.
Some pay TV services are beginning to offer 4K content, like Russian Pay TV operator Tricolor TV or BT Sport in the UK. And in the US, Verizon and Frontier Communications are currently testing 4K delivery. We all know that any service provider will meet the demand of the majority, so as the TV sets become ubiquitous, content providers are beginning to meet that demand.
Obviously, the 4K model begins at the camera, and we’re seeing a lot more content being shot in the new format.
The biggest adopter of broadcast 4K UHD is sports. Recently, the 2018 World Cup was made available to some in 4K HDR.
But production costs are making the prospect of this format as the standard delivery system a challenge—and in some cases the streams are experiencing up to a minute in latency, which, to quote an article in The Verge, “presents problems in live sports when your neighbours are celebrating a goal loudly before you, or in the internet age when you’re looking at Twitter and seeing the goal before it appears on screen.”
There is also a discussion to be had about the different HDR formats available, and how content providers are navigating that challenge, but for the meantime, we’re seeing a race towards providing the content that is being demanded by the market. Broadcasters are starting to step up, and preparing for the widespread adoption of 4K TV technology that is headed their way.
Challenges of future proofing for 4K adoption in the enterprise
Richard Daugherty is a Digital Media Solutions Engineer at AVI-SPL, a business that provides AV solutions to companies both large and small. In his many years in the business, he has seen how the enterprise adapts to new technologies.
Speaking to me from AVI-SPL’s office in Chicago, Richard laid out the future of video in the enterprise.
“It’s obvious where we are going visually in the digital media space. Costs for 4K displays and 4K cameras are dropping, making videos easier to display and produce.”
And he’s absolutely right. We looked earlier at how prices are dropping for 4K TV sets, and the same is true of the cameras.
One of the most significant reasons for early adoption being a hurdle is delivering content via an enterprise network. We’ve explored the means by which large broadcasters are handling the demands of 4K over their own networks.
Richard says that “with network bandwidth being a sensitive subject for many people in IT, it’s in all of our best interests to ensure your network can handle 4K video.”
And while it might be a while before those capabilities are a reality at the enterprise level for everyone, when it does become the de facto standard, you’re going to still want to make sure that your content is ready for it.
So, here are two ways that you can start future proofing your enterprise video facilities right now.
Future proof your gear AND your content
The first is to start shooting your corporate content in 4k. The cameras are available, the price is coming down all the time, even as the quality of the components in those cameras get better. You can store that video in 4K for archival and future production use and in 1080p as to not overload your IP network in the meantime.
On its website DigitalTransformation, Frost & Sullivan makes the argument that it’s actually becoming more difficult to buy screens with less than UHD capability, especially if you’re purchasing from an AV supplier who will want to help ensure that you’re future proofing every aspect of your workflow. They go on to point out that while the technology may not be utilized immediately, having it in place ensures that you’re ready for the future.
The second is to make sure that you have encoders and transcoders that can transmit content in 4K, but will also allow you to send 1080p streams either live or on-demand until such a time as the bandwidth becomes available to distribute that video over the network.
If you’ve ever watched a clip on YouTube that was filmed in the 90s, you are aware of how low that quality of video was. By future proofing your content, you make sure that it won’t look like a clip from America’s Funniest Home Videos in 1992.
There’s a lot going on in the ever-evolving world of video, and businesses don’t have to be left behind.