The Switch Targets 4K Delivery With Inter-City On-Demand Tests

The lightning storm of 4K/Ultra HD buzz at CES is past, but the excitement — and question marks — surrounding the next-gen format remains. While Ultra HD (UHDTV) sets take the market by storm and major gains are being seen on the camera/capture side, the rest of the 4K ecosystem still faces significant hurdles in producing and distributing content to the masses — especially live sports content.

Seeking to alleviate 4K-development concerns on the transmission side, fiber-distribution-service provider The Switch is using its Inter-City On Demand (ICOD) network as a testing ground for UHD video delivery. In December, The Switch demonstrated UHD transport of contribution-quality 4K over 14,000 route miles of its ICOD network — representing the first field deployment of Net Insight’s newly released 4K software, which provides advanced internal-synchronization capabilities to transport and reassemble master-quality 4K/UHD transmissions.

“The heart of The Switch network is its 20-Gbps inter-city optical backbone and Net Insight platform, with a [JPEG2000] compression engine, that enables contribution-quality 4K content to be transported from over 150 sports-rights–holder facilities, arenas, stadiums, and venues today,” says Rich Wolf, EVP, The Switch. “With our rich management and control systems and network architecture, all service that rides on The Switch network is offered with a 1+1 protection model, including 4K.”

4K Delivery Coast to Coast and Across the Pond
The demonstration, which originated in New York, consisted of 3840×2160 60p Type-B 4K video content from a Sony 4K camera and an Astrodesign HR-7510 uncompressed 4K SSD recorder/player (which provided an alternative source of prerecorded 4K content).

The camera segmented this source content into four 3G video quadrants, each of which was converted to Type-A 4K format using Astrodesign model SD-7070 4K interface converter. The four source quadrants were then compressed using Net Insight JPEG2000 encoding of the 3G signals before they were routed via the ICOD network. Using Net Insight’s 4K software installed on the network, The Switch internally synchronized all the quadrants to present a uniform signal at the receive site.

From New York, the 4K signals traveled more than 14,000 miles to Los Angeles, Miami, London, and ultimately back to New York, where they were decoded at The Switch Network Operations Center (NOC). The reassembled 4K signals were displayed on Sony and Astrodesign 4K monitors.

“With the power of the J2K engine, we transported 4K content over the network at several different compression data rates and demonstrated that 1 Gbps of total throughput could still offer a high-quality and synchronous 4K experience,” says Wolf. “Where 10-Gbps local loop service is in place, like at a majority of our network access points, we can handle as many as nine simultaneous 4K transmission paths.”

JPEG2000 Remains Key
According to Wolf, the quad-split J2K compression technique is likely to serve as the go-to strategy, at least in the near term, for many early adopters. The Switch has made a significant investment in building out its J2K infrastructure and 20-Gbps network backbone that can support high-quality contribution 4K services.

The J2K engine is known to be a high-quality and almost latency-free compression system,” says Wolf. “We believe the latency advantage and lossless-compression capability will offer the highest-quality experience to our customers at a fair price, and that includes 4K.”

Looking Ahead
The demo looks to be just the beginning for The Switch, which currently has a 4K monitoring and control infrastructure at its New York NOC that is capable of demonstrating and monitoring 4K transmission in a controlled environment across its network.

“We can embrace and endorse trials and demonstrations and [enable] our partner companies and clients to kick the tires and make sure they are satisfied,” says Wolf. “We are ready, now, to support high-quality 4K contribution service across our network, and they can see it first-hand at our NOC.”

Although the 4K ecosystem remains a work in progress and 4K consumer adoption is still lagging, projections for 2015 are promising. The Switch has already seen plenty of interest from its regional sports clients. That said, as most market leaders have stated, OTT providers are expected to lead the way early on.

“We are starting to see certain regional sports organizations showing interest in how they might be able to take the leap into 4K transmission,” says Wolf. “The single largest hurdle in 4K is the distribution bottlenecks that exist in many of the cable and broadcast models to the home.

“So there is a popular belief,” he continues, “that we are going to see early adoption in non-traditional content distributors — Netflix, Google, Yahoo — since they simply don’t have the same distribution bottlenecks traditional distributors have. One way or another, I think we are going to see more and more interest in 4K transmission in 2015, and we are ready.”