MPEG DASH and HEVC Dominated the Discussions at IBC
The weather certainly cooperated in Amsterdam last week for the 2012 IBC convention, which grew in both the number of attendees and the significance for streaming media producers.
The show, held the first week in September, marked its twenty-year anniversary at the sprawling RAI convention center in Amsterdam Zuid (south) with an increase in visitor and exhibitors attending the show to almost 51,000 total. This number has continued to grow each year over the past decade, and even though the growth from last year was only 500 more attendees, the fact that IBC pulled this off in a stagnant global economy is testament to the ongoing interest in broadcast -- including streaming broadcasts.
Unlike NAB, which is over twice the size in terms of attendance, IBC has a high ratio of exhibitors to attendees -- a 1:2 ratio, with an average of one exhibitor for every two visitors. This means IBC visitors have the opportunity to stop and ask questions in more detail than they do at NAB. One often hears the word "civilized" when describing the pace of IBC.
So what was new and interesting for this year's attendees, the majority of which were from western Europe and the United States? From a streaming production standpoint, two areas drove the discussion: DASH and HEVC.
MPEG DASH, or Dynamic Streaming Over HTTP, was ratified in late 2011, so this is the first IBC where vendors could both openly commit to the standards-based delivery scheme and also showcase demonstrations of interoperability between once-competing products.
Real Networks, with its Helix Server technology, showcased DASH integration, delivering streams from a yet-to-be-released Helix update to an Ericsson player.
Adobe and Wowza, in their respective Adobe Media Server and Wowza Media Server software, also showcased DASH. As members of the DASH Promoters Group, both companies were involved in a series of three linear demonstrations of limited interoperability during the recent 2012 London Olympics.
Hosted by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) and VRT, a Belgian public broadcaster, a number of DASH Promoters Group participated: Encoding was provided by Elemental, Harmonic, and Media Excel, while streaming origins were provided by Wowza and CodeShop servers. On the encryption front, this feature was provided by Amsterdam-based CodeShop and Austin-based BuyDRM, with the latter providing integrated DRM via specialized Android and iOS applications. Adobe also provided Android, Mac, and Windows client players.
The testing was doing in a linear, limited interoperability fashion, based on the particular capabilities. For instance, Elemental's servers both encode and encapsulate the H.264 content in to DASH-compliant segments, meaning that a media server is not required. As such, even though Adobe provides the Adobe Media Server, its pairing with Elemental was from a DASH-equipped Flash player standpoint only, with content being served from a standard HTTP Apache server. While the live demonstration is now over, an example of DASH content playing in Flash can still be seen.
No visit to IBC would be complete without a look at next-generation acquisition and compression technologies. This year proved no exception, with NHK showing off yet another revision of its Super High Vision experimental camera chip and video screen playback, including recorded clips from the 2012 London Olympics that were incredibly lifelike and relatively smooth. We'll cover Super High Vision in a bit more detail in a subsequent article, as the 120-Mhz capture and playback will have a trickle-down effect for streaming.
The major discussion at IBC surrounding video encoding, though, was the merits of H.264 versus the impending standardization of H.265, or High Efficiency Video Coding. The argument raged, from the show floor to late-night dinners, regarding whether the move to H.265 was premature. The discussions mimicked a discussion a decade ago surrounding the merits of MPEG-2 versus MPEG-4, as MPEG-4's release soon after broadcasters had adopted MPEG-2 Transport Stream provided neither financial nor technical incentive to switch, given the fact that the MPEG-4 first-generation codec yielded only nominal quality improvements over MPEG-2. We'll keep an eye on this topic, as the H.265/HEVC standard is still in draft form.
That's a quick wrap-up of the pertinent details surrounding IBC. The next big show we'll cover is Streaming Media Europe, which takes place in London on October 15 and 16, 2012.
The talk at IBC was about MPEG DASH and HEVC, and that talk grew louder and angrier as the conference went on. Will standards lead to the end of the world as we know it?
While declining to provide a timeline, an Adobe representative says the company will integrate DASH from its players to its servers.
The HEVC/H.265 codec will deliver video at half the size of H.264, but it comes with strong processing demands for both producers and consumers.
Use of the adaptive streaming standard is mandated in Europe, just one of the reasons why it's seeing quick adoption by the industry.
Companies and Suppliers Mentioned