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17 September 2015

DVB says broadcast is not dead; we’re not so sure

At the DVB Project’s IBC press conference this week, chairman Philip Laven opened proceedings by stating, “Broadcast ain’t dead,” and he proceeded to describe a scenario where they were most truly dead and buried.

He said that HEVC was coming to the aid of broadcasters, perhaps he has not seen the HEVC Advance royalties? And went on to describe a phased approach to UHD, firstly HEVC 4K at 60 frames per second, and then onwards to full UHD. He maintained that delivery via broadcast was still much cheaper than OTT delivery.

All he would admit to was that there were, “Many technical issues still to be resolved, before UHD phase two could be implemented.” What he really means is that there have to be at least 3 or 4 major technological breakthroughs before it could happen and he eventually conceded that the internet and IPTV would be important for delivering UHDTV.

Finally, Laven admitted that we will need to deliver more services using less spectrum, and that a capacity shortfall of approximately 80% has been identified.

The DVB will publish a report on ‘Defining the Long Term Vision for Terrestrial Broadcast’ by the end of 2015 to identify the challenges of broadcasting in tighter bandwidths. The DVB defines cable and satellite, but it is terrestrial that has a serious problem.

Graham Mills, chair of the DVB Commercial Module, said the report would look at a future of broadcasting more channels using demanding formats such as UHD, with capacity decreased to accommodate mobile broadband users. Mills outlined new uses for terrestrial broadcast at the IBC conference, such as hybrid networks by combining high-speed downstream data with a low-speed upstream.

The ‘Long Term Vision’ is due to be released in the coming months, but it looks unlikely to announce any saving graces. DVB’s Phase 1 4K stream, that uses 2160 x 3840 pixels at up to 60fps, says it is nearly able to cope with 12 Mbps, but it has absolutely no idea how to cope with data transfer speeds of 108/128 Mbps posed by the full UHD of Blu-ray.

The now-confirmed technical capabilities of Blu-ray are hard to argue with. Its speed is almost ten times greater than the 15.6 Mbps the HEVC/h.265 compression tech which allows Netflix to deliver a 4K episode of House of Cards.

DVB members developing the next phase of its UHD specification are split over the deadline for introducing features such as HDR, HFR and Wide Color Gamut. David Wood, chair of the DVB’s commercial module for UHD TV, said at IBC that some members want the specification fixed now so services can start from 2017, while others want to wait until 2019 to see what the decoder chip development cycle delivers.

As technical advances required to include HFR are much lengthier than HDR, this timing disagreement probably relates to how popular the next version of UHD will be – including 120 fps.