Market Insight

SES demo first HEVC Ultra HD broadcast

April 19, 2013

Tom Morrod Tom Morrod Research Director | Consumer, Displays, Media, Security & Telecoms

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On April 19 2013, satellite operator SES demonstrated the first broadcast of Ultra High Definition (UHD) television using the High-Efficiency Video Codec (HEVC). The demonstration used an Astra Satellite at 19.2 degrees east, was encypted and packaged using Harmonic ProMedia Xpress, and decoded based on the BCM7445 device from Broadcom.

UHD is the proposed successor to HD, with UHD displays featuring 3840x2160 pixels. UHD-capable TVs have been on sale since Q4 2012, although current generation models upscale HD content. HEVC, also known as H.265, was ratified in January 2013 and is the successor to the MPEG-4 AVC (H.264) codec, which is currently utilised for most HD encoding. The launch from SES is the first demonstration of UHD broadcast using HEVC - in January 2013 Eutelsat launched the first dedicated UHD demonstration channel in Europe, based on DVB-S2 and the MPEG-4 AVC codec.

Broadcast using HEVC to compatible devices is essential to the development of the UHD ecosystem. Satellite operators such as Eutelsat and SES have been, and will be, the primary proponents of early UHD distribution. However, the current technology of DVB-S2 and MPEG-4 AVC required a bit rate of 40 Mbit/s when Eutelsat transmitted UHD on its demonstration channel. Compared to the capacity per transponder of an "average" satellite, this means that each transponder could perhaps serve one, or possibly two, UHD channels, as opposed to five or six HD channels. The SES broadcast in UHD, utilising DVB-S2 and HEVC, was transmitted at just 20 Mbit/s - which indicates an increase in encoding efficiency of HEVC over MPEG-4 of around 50 per cent. With a new DVB-based transmission standard, DVB-S2x, in development, the total capacity for each transponder will also increase, whilst further development of HEVC could see the bitrates necessary for UHD transmission further reduced, to the 10-15 Mbit/s range. This would mean bitrates for UHD transmission would be not too dissimilar from the 8-10 Mbit/s bitrates used for current HD channel broadcast.
Increasing the efficiency of UHD broadcast is an important piece of the wider technical systems that are in development. The technical conditions for larger scale UHD operator launches will most likely be in place by 2017. By this time, UHD TV set household penetration will have reached 2 per cent in Europe and 3 per cent in North America; set-top boxes (STBs) with UHD-capable silicon (which will be first produced in 2014, and more widely available from 2015) could be shipped in volume; and the camera replacement cycle will see studios migrating further to 4K-capable cameras, benefiting existing HD capture in the process. By 2020, the early pay-TV operator adopters of HD will have achieved 100 per cent HD STB penetration, at which point rationalisation of SD and HD channels becomes possible, freeing up further bandwidth. By 2023, the installed base of UHD-capable STBs and TVs will have reached mass market, with the benefits of HEVC compression for SD and HD buoying adoption.


Broadcom Eutelsat Harmonic SES
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