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NAB Perspectives: Harmonic’s Alexander Dishes on 4K Playout and OTT

April 15th, 2015 Posted in Headlines By Brandon Costa

While 4K acquisition tools tend to grab the headlines at the show, encoding, compression, and playout are essential pieces of the puzzle and are seeing tremendous innovation. Among the highlights for Harmonic this week was the official launch of the Spectrum X, the company’s first playout server offering SDI and IP I/O with up/down/crossconversion in one chassis.

Harmonic's Peter Alexander in the company's booth in the South Lower Hall

Harmonic’s Peter Alexander in the company’s booth in the South Lower Hall

Harmonic SVP/CMO Peter Alexander sat down with SVG to peel back the layers on the latest in Ultra HD encoding and playout and how sports has an exciting over-the-top (OTT) future.

As related to sports production, what are some big things that you guys are showcasing here?
The biggest individual thing we are showcasing here is a UHD workflow: ingest, playout, compression, delivery. We’ve announced the Spectrum X platform, which allows UHD playout at 2160p at 60 fps. That is the origin of the whole channel, you might say, from a sports perspective.

What we are showing for the first time at NAB is the Electra X3, which is our UHD live encoder. It’s a full-frame encoder; it’s not dividing the picture into four. So it’s really efficient in terms of real estate, power, cooling. And the picture quality is amazing, we believe the best in the industry.

We’re showing what would be viable for sports in the 15- to 20-mps channel range.

What are some sports trends that you are noticing at the show?
We are hearing about channels going over-the-top. Most over-the-top today everyone talks about is Netflix and Hulu. That’s all file; it’s not live channels. Now we’ve seen HBO offering over-the-top. I think we’ll see increasingly more sports channels direct over-the-top in two sites: for the major channels, in conjunction with the pay-TV operator partners, more of that direct linear over-the-top; [for] sports, more specialized sports channels. In the same way that we have launched two of our own channels, we’re trying to show how easy it is to start an OTT channel if you’ve got content. We operate two channels with only one fulltime person, and he does all of the editing as well. You don’t need a week’s worth of shows to change every hour; we’re looping a lot of content.

And the buzz around 4K?
Of course, on the UHD side, there are a lot of questions around when it will be real. Which big sports events are going to be in UHD? I was just with a Tier 1 pay-TV operator who asked for our conjecture on whether the next Super Bowl will be in UHD. The short answer is, for things like the Olympics, there will be some parts of it, for sure, that will be. The question is, how widely available will it be? How many different channels over the next year will become UHD? We see the pay-TV operators universally ramping up to carry UHD. The actual channels themselves are a little more circumspect, but we expect them to move fairly quickly.

And you feel sports will be a driver in this?
There’s a lot of exciting stuff coming up in sports. Sports is the killer app for UHD, and so those who want that massive TV, the prices have come down. With the best sports on that, they are going to get that.

On a lot of the OTT stuff, you’re going to keep seeing things like alternative camera angles. We see that a lot throughout the world, but we think it’s going to start to tie together more seamlessly.