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8 July 2021

DVB prioritizes VVC in draft specs for 8K, no mention of LCEVC or EVC

DVB, Europe’s broadcast industry body, has dreamt about 8K video every night since the Versatile Video Coding (VVC) standard was finalized in July 2020. A year later, that dream isn’t quite a reality, but at least the DVB Project has made progress this week after approving three video codec candidates to spearhead its ambitious 8K and 4K roadmaps.

AOMedia’s AV1 and China’s AVS3 join MPEG’s VVC as DVB’s three choices with which it will work to develop draft specifications and explore intellectual property rights policies. However, there is no mention of EVC (essential video coding) nor LCEVC (low-complexity video enhancement codec) which have both previously been mentioned as being on DVB’s radar. Has the open standards organization given up on EVC and LCEVC, or will the two MPEG-5 video enhancement technologies be placed on the backburner and return at a later date when called upon?

We think early experiments will be underway with EVC and LCEVC by DVB members, while AV1, VVC and AVS3 have been prioritized as video codecs to first and foremost increase reach of DVB-based services to a bigger pool of devices, while carving a pipeline to 4K and 8K content delivery, as well as advanced features and improved efficiencies.

Support for 8K video is a key commercial requirement for DVB, specifying resolution up to 7680×4320, with HDR and HFR also to be supported. That said, to improve delivery models for 4K video, new codecs are required to provide a data-rate saving of at least 27% over HEVC in 4K broadcast applications, and of at least 30% for 4K in broadband applications.

Greater efficiency from these three next-gen video codecs will, according to DVB, enable an increased UHD service offer on terrestrial broadcast networks and galvanize greater reach coupled with lower distribution costs for broadband delivery. Improved personalization and accessibility have also been mentioned as end goals from specifying how to use next-generation video codecs, plus more flexible distribution by taking advantage of alignment across both broadcast and broadband delivery.

Some vendors don’t have plans for VVC or EVC as these standards are still in the very early exploration stages by the industry, since there is no playback on mobile devices or browsers available, and support on consumer electronics devices, including CTVs, is lacking.

Use of the word candidates by the DVB implies there will be one winner and two losers, but there is no reason to suggest DVB will drop any of the three codecs from draft specifications, unless it runs into any serious roadblocks – technical or otherwise. As roadblocks come, patent royalties and politics are arguably the most prolific, which is why the DVB cannot do any better than earmarking 2022 as the ballpark timeframe for specification releases, with first drafts expected early in the year.

However, we understand work on VVC is being prioritized over the other two, with draft DVB specifications already underway following preparatory technical studies carried out in recent months, and VVC specifications are therefore strongly expected to be the first to be delivered by the DVB.

Last year saw Ateme, which has been involved in promoting adoption of VVC, demonstrate the delivery of broadcast UHD satellite signals using VVC via its Titan Live video processing platform. Ateme encoded the UHD TV source in VVC and captured it in MPEG-TS, with streams modulated using DVB-S2, which were then broadcast by SES on an Astra 2E transponder. An OpenVVC decoder, developed by French university IETR, displayed the video after the signal was demodulated by a DVB to IP gateway.

The DVB difference is that it hasn’t historically been bothered about targeting mobile devices. It has always wanted to bring the best quality content to the biggest TV screens, and has been busy figuring out a way to continue doing that with an internet backbone via the DVB-I standard which emerged about a decade after HbbTV. We should note that an HbbTV application can be read by a DVB-I service list and be offered directly to the user, including both associated broadcast and broadband services. Similarly, DVB-I client applications can run on HbbTV platforms.

But that generalization about disinterest in mobile devices was only true up until early 2021, when DVB’s Steering Board approved push in-home redistribution of broadcast feeds to peripheral devices, such as smartphones. Called DVB Home Broadcast (DVB-HB), the technology is tailored to extend broadcast services’ reach within homes, so that satellite and terrestrial TV services can address second screens. It aims to fill some gaps during the transition period, so that operators can extend their reach beyond the main screen while gearing up their services to be broadcast in a native IP format that will be directly tailored for these peripheral devices.

Surely this is a no-brainer for the DVB. While VVC (H.266) is chiefly promoted by the Media Coding Industry Forum (MC-IF), it was also championed at the DVB workshop by The ITU ITU-T and ISO/IEC JTC industry groups, so it’s easy to see why the emphasis is on VVC.

The DVB is now actively encouraging companies to collaborate on the three distinct projects.