SVG@NAB Perspectives: Tektronix’s Valentine on IP Migration, Explosion of ABR Streaming
In an era of transition like today, monitoring and testing becomes a key link in the video-production chain. Looking to capitalize on the transition, at NAB 2016, Tektronix highlighted new or updated monitoring/analysis products in several bleeding-edge sectors, including SDI-to-IP transition, 4K and high dynamic rate (HDR), HEVC, and adaptive-bitrate (ABR) streaming.
Tops among Tektronix’s booth news was the launch of the Prism hybrid SDI/IP media-analysis platform, which enables a smooth transition from SDI- to IP-based infrastructure. The company also unveiled decryption and decode functionality for the Sentry ABR video-quality–monitoring platform, as well as 4K, HDR, and HEVC monitoring and analysis tools.
SVG sat down with Ian Valentine, business director, video products, Tektronix, to discuss how he sees Prism aiding sports broadcasters in making the transition to IP, the growing need for accurate ABR monitoring, the rate of 4K/HDR/HEVC adoption, and the company’s role in NBC Olympics’ production at the Rio Games this summer.
How is Tektronix helping ease the transition for broadcasters looking to make the move to IP?
The biggest trend that you see going on in the industry is transition from SDI to IP, so we have just released a new product called Prism, which is all about bridging the gap between the traditional SDI side and the up-and-coming IP side. We see that people are going to have to do both SDI and IP for a certain period of time, so we have a route to allow them to do that with Prism.
Also, no matter what kind of video you are moving around, you have to synchronize your signals. Once you move onto the IP side, you’re using PTP, Precision Time Protocol, for synchronization. No one is going to make this transition overnight; there is going to be a whole series of hybrid environments where you have SDI and IP. So we need to deal with both. Here at the show, we have introduced the SPG8000A [sync-pulse generator], which synchronizes your facility on the SDI side and the PCP side or one or the other. If you’re not sure if you’re going to IP, you can start with that product in the SDI side and upgrade later on. Again, one of the important principles for Tektronix is trying to protect the investment that any customers make.
How can Tektronix help users navigate the ongoing IP-production standards battle, while still moving forward with a transition to IP?
If you walk around this show, there’s still a lot of uncertainty around IP standards and various other things. We have created the platform and will support all the various IP standards using software. This is all [to protect] the investment of our customer base. For us, as a testing company, there’s a lot of different standards out there. At the end of the day, it’s not really about us choosing sides; it’s about us helping people either interoperate or prove that things are working the way they are supposed to.
So far, we have seen people trying to build confidence in IP in the broadcast centers by pushing a lot of monitoring signals through the IP side to drive multiviewers and things like that and then using SDI for all high-value content, like sports. That is the definition of a hybrid environment. And that’s exactly what Prism is all about: that environment where you have people working in IP, working in SDI, and trying to bring the two sides together gradually.
The other hot topic here at NAB is 4K and HDR. How is Tektronix approaching those up-and-coming markets?
We have products that support 4K today, but we are still working towards HDR. At the moment, things like our 8300 products are already being used to do HDR measurements, but we know that we can improve the way that’s done. But it’s not only about HDR; it’s about high frame rate, focus assist, and various other things. Ultimately, we are going to take the Prism platform and move that forward to handle HDR as well. But, at the moment, we are monitoring it all because, to be honest, it’s unclear how all of that’s going to come together. Part of the challenge for us is figuring out what standards people are going to want to test and other things. We have people working on algorithms and various displays that we could use to do that, but we really want to get a little bit further down the line before committing.
On the 4K-delivery front, the other thing that we have on the booth deals with HEVC analysis. Our Sentry product portfolio can do all your HEVC monitoring when you want to start to deliver that to the home. On the content-creation side, we have waveform monitors and products that will do 4K. And then, once you get into delivery and the compression side, we have a whole series of tools around HEVC that will allow you to do that.
Have you seen the interest in HEVC delivery growing significantly, or are we still in the early days?
Early-ish. We have actually sold a significant number of HEVC analyzers and are increasingly seeing people buy that option on our monitoring solution. And, as soon as people start buying it on the monitoring solution, that tells you they’re about to start delivering it to the home. There are two ways you could look at HEVC: either you are trying to crush more programming into the same pipe, or you are trying to get a better picture using the same pipe. And, actually, it’s the latter that we’re hearing more than the former. People really are looking at delivering high-resolution content. That is well on its way, I believe, especially the streaming [companies] like Netflix and Google.
What else do you have on display at the show?
Everyone is using ABR to stream right now, so the challenge becomes how do you sync these different bitrates? With ABR, you basically take the content and chunk it up into 10-second chunks at eight or nine different bitrates and then send those out. All of those chunks have to be synchronized so that, if you go from a high bitrate to a low bitrate, you don’t get a jump. That is where our Sentry ABR comes in.
Two things you have to start checking for when you do this are QOS [quality of service] and QOE [quality of experience]. QOS means, when I go on to the CDN and check, is my network there, can I call down the file, and will it arrive? Sentry ABR allows you to do that. It will subscribe to your service; it pulls down a manifest file, which is a list of all the things that are available to you. It looks at the manifest file and then checks that all of those things are available.
The next piece is to look at the content and make sure that what’s being delivered is actually acceptable. The next challenge you have is, a lot of the content sitting out there, as soon as it’s been fragmented into all of the channels, is encrypted. So now, if you want to see whether the content itself is any good, you now need to decrypt it. That’s the latest thing that we’ve added to Sentry ABR: it will allow you to do QOE measurements, which is really looking at the content.
What role will Tektronix be playing in NBC Olympics’ production at the Rio Games this summer?
For us, Olympics is one of the big sporting events. So there’s a couple of areas that we’re working with people on this. NBC has come back to us and said, we trust you guys to get all of the signals from Olympics because it’s high-value stuff. So we are providing them with nearly our entire range, which is great for us. From that perspective, it’s showing their confidence in the products that we’ve produced. Sports is such high-value content, you can’t let that go wrong, so monitoring becomes a major piece of the puzzle.