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CES 2014: Akamai and Qualcomm Demo 4K HEVC Streaming

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Almost lost in the sizeable Qualcomm booth in Central Hall of the 2014 International CES show is one of the more interesting demos of the year. Working together, Qualcomm, Elemental, and Akamai are showing a proof of concept of how 4K content can be encoded with HEVC to MPEG-DASH, and streamed to a big screen TV in the home.

The demo shows a vision of the near future using new and emergent technology for 4K streaming, says Kurt Michel, Akamai’s director of product marketing for media.

The video workflow goes like this: Elemental took 4K master files and encoded them at 4K MPEG-DASH using HEVC, outputting 30fps versions at 10-, 15-, and 20Mbps. Those renditions were uploaded to Akamai’s cloud-based storage network, where it’s streamed to the Qualcomm booth. The adaptive video is received by a tablet running Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 805 processor, which supports HEVC decoding in DASH. That image is then mirrored to a big-screen TV.

The Elemental and Akamai parts of the demo are production services available today. The exciting part is how the three players have been brought together to demonstrate HEVC and DASH 4K streaming. It might be a first.

“We haven’t jumped up and down and said ‘first ever, world’s first,’” Michel says. “I’m not quite sure it has been done, not in a public environment.”

While the demo uses a tablet, it shows how connected TVs, set-top boxes, and a variety of other devices can be built to support HEVC decoding and MPEG DASH playback. 4K is just one use case, Michel notes, as any similarly encoded video would get a 50 percent reduction in file size. HEVC is the real enabler for improving the quality of delivery, he says, and the story is best told using 4K video.

Streaming isn’t a barrier for 4K video, Michel adds, and Akamai would like to move the market to better compression technologies. By saving bandwidth, HEVC improves the experience. Since people refresh their mobile devices more often, he thinks the adoption rate will be better on mobile.

4K video is the hot story at CES this year. Several TV makers have announced sets that support ultra HD video, and YouTube and Netflix are ready to provide it. But those are large progressive video files that could rebuffer during playback, frustrating the viewer. It’s not the way for mass adoption, Michel suggests. With adaptive video and lower bitrate codecs, content producers can commit to creating streams for all devices and not have to worry about formats. At the end of the day, this is a demo about simplicity, Michel says.

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