IBC 2014: After Years of 4K and Cloud TV Hype, Will We See Anything New in Amsterdam?

Erik Keith
Erik Keith

Summary Bullets:

  • After years of marketing buzz about 4K and cloud-enabled TV, OTT, multiscreen, and the future of the set-top box (STB), there are tangible signs of forward progress on all of these fronts.
  • Silicon, per usual, is the catalyst for actual mass market implementation of new, advanced technologies and services, including 4KTV and the virtualization of STB functionality.

Several weeks ago I was in a major U.S. electronics retailer to buy some memory, i.e., USB drives and an SD card. After the purchase was complete, I stopped by the TV section to take a quick look at the 4KTVs. Not even 30 seconds passed by when a sales clerk approached me, and said something to the effect that 4K is so much better than current HD technology, implying it does not make sense to buy anything else. Having been around the block a few times at various TV/video industry events over the past decade or so, there were of course a number of things I could have said to the salesman, but I simply replied, “There is no doubt that 4K is the next big thing in TV, but the fact that so little content is accessible is a fairly major hurdle.” And as any well-trained sales guy should do, he responded accordingly, citing the impending wave of 4K content, as well as the fact that 4K TVs also up-scale HD content. But the bottom line is that linear broadcast 4K is years away, unless one lives in Japan.

Looking ahead to this week’s annual IBC Show in Amsterdam, I wonder, “What will we see that is new?” We have seen 4KTV sets demonstrated at industry trade events for years now, typically showing looped content showcasing both nature and sports in all their 4K glory. We have also heard about cloud-based and -enabled TV and video services – and service elements such as EPGs – for almost as long. Likewise for the other TV/video market buzzwords, including over-the-top (OTT), multiscreen, High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC), and the impending virtualization of STBs, or at least, their functionality. And the ever-expanding reach of software defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) is also becoming part of the TV/video service delivery/service enablement conversation.

So, what’s the hold up? Well, as ever, the actual mass market implementation of 4K, and many of the above-mentioned technologies and services, will be driven by silicon, enabling dramatic enhancements in processing power for various networking elements (i.e., new CPU and graphics processing unit [GPU] components residing on data center servers) and endpoints such as STBs. To this end, we are seeing new chipsets, and system-on-chip (SoC) solutions now reaching general availability, from almost all of the usual (silicon) suspects such as Broadcom, Intel, Marvell, and systems vendors such as Ericsson, with its AVP 4000 video processing chip.

So, in a week’s time, in the post-IBC afterglow, while we may have had our fill of the current crop of TV/video buzzwords and marketing clichés, in the end, I am certain we will also see and hear about real progress in terms of new technologies and service enablers for 4K (e.g., again, SoC-based solutions), as well as actual mass market implementations of cloud- and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)-based pay-TV services. As usual, there are some rather substantial rumblings about major announcements; time will tell how truly major they are.

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