Encoding inches forwards at R&S, and backwards at Ericsson

There is a tendency to think that the encoding wars are well and truly over, and that AWS Elemental has pretty much won them, but you may get an argument or two from the likes of Harmonic, Cisco and even Ericsson, and this week as NAB was under way at least one unlikely new player emerged at Rohde and Schwarz – better known for broadcasting transmitters.

First Ericsson, which tried to convince us that MediaFirst has a UHD end to end system which takes in media processing, encoding, storage claiming to solve the problem from camera to consumer in UHD and HDR.

But instead of basing this on its acquired Envivio software only encoders working from the cloud, this is based around its AVP 4000 chip and its AVP system encoders. When we last asked about this chip, launched at NAB 5 years ago, we were told by Ericsson that it had sold “100s of them” but it failed to name a single client, and none have even been press released. So this seems a tame NAB announcement around its MediaFirst Video Processing, MediaFirst Content Processing and AVP System Encoders for what it calls a holistic UHD solution. Of course, we have to be patient, this is no longer expected to be part of Ericsson once its sale of 51% of the business is completed to One Equity Partners. Once that group sorts out its management team, it may well make very different and more outwardly sensible decisions.

Meanwhile Rohde & Schwarz unwrapped a software only encoder written for it by the Fraunhofer Institute, which has stayed abreast of all codec issues for the past 30 years or so and been a major contributor to the intellectual property in the area. This is the latest edition and it has been using the Fraunhofer Institute code for some years for encoding for broadcast. Now it works with full UHD.

This is at the heart of the R&S AVHE100 encoding and multiplexing solution and this is a real extension of the R&S core business – multiplexors for creating broadcast multiplexes, and it has just slipped back one step in the logistics chain to produce a bit more of the solution.

When you are creating multiplexes of a half dozen TV channels for broadcast, you need to carefully consider where the data heavy aspects of a video stream are, from one TV channel to the next – so for instance you don’t want to send constant bit rate GOPs (Groups of pictures) synchronously and would prefer that each I-Frame was out of step with its neighbor. So during encoding you ensure that this is the case, encoding all channels at once for the multiplex, referencing each one against the other, so that your real time stream never contains any reason for delay at the other end. Thomson was expert at this, and that resource is now part of Harmonic, so it makes sense for Rohde and Schwarz to be in this area.

The R&S AVHE100 software platform now supports HDR video and is SMPTE ST 2110 ready, which is the format for sending existing broadcast TV channels encoded in HEVC over IP – something that is in great demand right now in OTT channels. The systems supports HEVC, H.264 and MPEG-2 and all available codecs and resolutions can be mixed, in combination with the statistical multiplex function. The system has no single point of failure, so is ideal for broadcast TV channels.