NAB Takeaways – Zooming in on 4K

The camera lenses at NABShow this year were squarely focused on everything 4K. I’ll bet that even a Las Vegas bookmaker would not have stuck his neck out with more then even odds on that prediction. Yes 4K continued to fuel the conversations after CES and this annual get-together of the world’s broadcasting ecosystem at the Las Vegas Convention Center was no exception -with new products being announced for capture and display and for almost everywhere in between. I was with the Advantech team over in the South Upper Hall where we had a clear line of sight to the Tex-Mex queues and were just a stones throw away from Starbucks where life began every morning. Come Monday @ 9AM we were all tee’d up to meet with visitors and share the cool new designs and demos we had set up for NABshow including 4K and HEVC. (See our NABshow preview blog here.)

blackmagic-studio-camera4K viewing needs 4K content and on the camera scene 4K announcements from the leading manufacturers were very forthcoming.As a rather keen amateur and “would-be film-producer-in-another-life” myself, I was particularly drawn in by Blackmagic’s unveiling of what they call ‘the world’s smallest broadcast camera with the world’s largest viewfinder’. The Blackmagic Studio Camera is certainly one of the most advanced entry-level broadcast cameras for live production because it includes features specifically targeted at the requirements of live production, such as a large viewfinder, talkback, tally and optical fiber.The camera, with an incredible 10-inch viewfinder comes with a built-in battery for up to 4 hours of use on long live productions and brings out video over SDI or optical fiber making it very unique. The price is quite unique too, with the 4K version slated at just $2,995 with availability in June.

 

07284138-photo-sony-alpha-7s-a7sSony unveiled the Alpha 7S, the first full-frame camera fast enough to be able to output 4K video at QFHD (3840×2160) to an optional external 3rd party 4K recorder such as the new Atomos Shogun. We have some neat new standalone PCIe cards (see below) with SDI and HDMI inputs plus various outputs, and so hooking up to cameras like the two mentioned here are sure to get some creative engineering juices flowing. The Alpha 7S can’t record locally in UHD but can record full HD (1920×1080) at frame rates of up to 60p directly to a compatible memory card. The new model puts extraordinary sensitivity, low noise and spectacular 4K video quality into the hands of professional photographers.

This is all good news to boost 4K content sources especially for YouTube and it will certainly help to bolster content which can entertain the entire planet through the likes of Amazon Prime and Netflix, both of whom have given their commitment to filming and streaming their original programming in 4K. (There’s nothing like looping “The House of Cards” Season 2 on my future 4K TV especially now that Sony just revealed they have a 4K TV for every budget.

At the viewing end of the scene, 4K UHDTV screens were everywhere at NAB. The effects of their continued price erosion may be fueling the bullish numbers forecasted for both 4K TV and 4K PC monitor pick-up. In fact interest in 4K×2K TVs is transitioning from early adopters to more mainstream consumers according to the latest NPD DisplaySearch Quarterly Global TV Shipment and Forecast Report (December 23, 2013) Rapidly falling prices, particularly in China, will fuel adoption. “As the manufacturers of 4K×2K TV LCD panels and sets expect strong growth in 2014, the supply chain focus on growing demand is rising dramatically,” noted Paul Gagnon, director for global TV research at NPD DisplaySearch. He stated that panel makers are planning for nearly 27 million 4K×2K TV panels to be produced next year (2014) although brands have somewhat more modest expectations for the end market.

All this indicates that other 4K engines elsewhere in the infrastructure need to start revving up in 2014 as we’ll need efficient accelerators to satisfactorily encode, decode and transcode within the delivery network at broadcast quality. And so we arrive at the High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) standard for more optimized delivery and 4K/Ultra High Definition content for higher quality video. Actually I don’t remember seeing a booth which didn’t have the letters HEVC in large print displayed in a prominent position. We did too as you can see from the accompanying NAB shots.

With 4K and HEVC support already available on Advantech’s current generation of PCIe media processing engines based on TI DSPs (highly flexible and programmable), we launched two next generation PCIe adaptors able to go beyond pure PCIe offload. At NAB, David Lin, senior director of DSP solutions at Advantech clearly pointed out that our second generation of media processing engines was built with flexibility and scalability in mind.

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DSP-8683 Media Processing Engine

He explained how the the first of the new adapters, the DSP-8683 combines TI’s 66AK2H12 and C6678 multicore processors, along with a Xilinx Kintex-7 XC7K70T FPGA device to provide the highest computing performance and configurability available in a half-length PCIe form factor, making it ideal for media processing of all kinds. The 16 built-in TI C66x DSP cores and four ARM Cortex-A15 cores offer unrivalled capabilities for data and control plane processing while the reprogrammable Xilinx Kintex-7 FPGA device adds ultimate flexibility to the design by facilitating the inclusion of customized hardware functions. In fact we had numerous visitors at NAB who were familiar with how to program the Kintex-7 and we could see their creative juices flowing as they discovered that they could program the device on the DSP-8683 with their own secret sauce.

Even more exciting about this new generation of product is it provides SDI-3G input/output and HDMI input connectors which facilitate connectivity to external devices for video acquisition and processing and will fit very nicely around devices at the ingest point. The icing on the cake is the onboard Gigabit Ethernet and USB3 interfaces (think 4G dongle here) which can be used for data streaming between the DSP-8683 and remote systems.

That’s not all though! A unique standalone mode of operation enables the DSP-8683 to be operated as an autonomous embedded system without the involvement of an additional host processor card or motherboard, this allows for much more cost effective deployment. Just add a box and a power supply, and run Linux on the ARM processor with the TI codecs then you’re in geek development heaven on the road to changing the future of video processing. In fact at NAB we demonstrated how these new video processing cards can be integrated into standalone video carrier platforms providing ideal vehicles for both development and solution adoption.

For higher-end gear, scalability and expansion is a must so we designed an innovative board-to-board interconnect with the ability to synchronize multiple DSP-8683 cards over dedicated high-speed serial interfaces.

Atul Verma, business manager, video infrastructure, TI commented in one of our NAB PR’s on how Advantech continues to keep its product line fresh with the latest technology, especially on these second generation cards incorporating TI’s KeyStone II processors. He said that “customers are clamoring for programmable platforms that can scale with product evolution and are available in standard form factors at optimal cost. TI is excited to be part of these turnkey hardware platforms developed by Advantech that enable our customers to get to market even faster.”

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DSP-8684 Media Processing Engine

We’re excited too and believe that all these unprecedented features make the DSP-8683 ideal for new video standards (such as HEVC/H.265) in video acquisition, encoding, decoding and transcoding for broadcast applications among others.

Last but not least (as I overrun the blogging space that our editor usually allows), we introduced the big brother to the DSP-8683 at NABShow, not surprisingly baptized the “DSP-8684”. It supports all the features of the DSP-8683 but employs more DSPs to effectively double the video processing capabilities when higher resolutions and channel densities are required. Like the DSP-8683, FPGA programmability enables unrivalled expansion capabilities to support proprietary design requirements for customers who need unique functions in addition to existing features.

For more info please follow the inline blog hyperlinks, send in your comment below or drop our team a line at dsp@advantech.com.

Paul Stevens – Telecom Sector Marketing Director

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