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Demonstrating the Future

Anyone looking for a quick tour of the key technical issues facing European broadcasters at IBC2011 should have stopped by the booth of the European Broadcasting Union. As usual, the EBU demonstrated a variety of technologies that were top of mind for broadcasters cruising through the convention halls in Amsterdam.

“The whole purpose of our demonstrations each year at IBC is to show recent innovations that our EBU members would be interested in and create some useful demonstrations that can impact the industry and our members by providing some technical direction,” says Hans Hoffman, head of media fundamentals and production technology at the EBU Technical Department and engineering VP at the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE).

This year’s demos explored such issues as upcoming advances in HDTV; specifications for improving digital work " ows and creating more interoperable IT infrastructures; developments in interactive TV; comparisons of Web-based video encoding formats; and issues relating to 3D, spectrum and loudness.

One of the biggest demos involved signal delivery in the hi-def 1080p at 50 frames per second format from Frankfurt, Germany, to EBU headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, and then the EBU booth in Amsterdam.

The use of 1080p/50—or in the case of the U.S., where 1080p at 60 frames per second is the highest resolution in the current standard—is not new technology. But the EBU demonstration was notable because it was designed to show broadcasters that are interested in the next developments in HD that technology for the use of 1080p/50 is now coming of age.

The demonstration found visitors to the EBU booth comparing two signals, a 1080p/50 and a 1080i/25 transmission.

In Frankfurt, a Grass Valley LDK8000 camera captured a signal at 1080p/50 and a Snell Alchemist Ph.C-HD cross-coded the output signal to create a 1080i/25 signal typically used by broadcasters today.

Both the 1080p/50 and 1080i/25 signals were coded by the Fujitsu IP9100 AVC/H.264 encoders and sent to Geneva via fiber, where they were uplinked to a Eutelsat satellite and sent to Amsterdam.

There they were re-encoded and the 1080p/ 50 signal was transmitted at 12 megabytes per second—the same bit rate and bandwidth needed for a normal 1080i/25 transmission— to a prototype Broadcom set-top box capable of handling the 1080p/50 signal. It was then displayed next to the 1080i/25 signal, allowing for the side-by-side comparison.

The test showed that equipment is available for broadcasters to achieve the bene! ts of the higher resolution offered by 1080p/50 while transmitting the signal over the same bandwidth needed for today’s HD content, Hoffman says.

In the U.S., ESPN has built a 1080p/60 infrastructure for its Los Angeles facility. Hoffman says that “there are already a few broadcasters in Europe that are interested in changing their production environment so it is 3gig-capable [to handle 1080p/50]. As we go slowly through the investment cycles, more broadcasters will continue to explore this format and see its benefits.”

Another major demonstration at the EBU booth involved its work on developing tools for better interoperability of digital work flows and service oriented architectures (SOA).This work is particularly important for European and other broadcasters that are increasingly creating content for more multiple platforms including TV, online and radio.

While the need to streamline these work flows has pushed broadcasters further toward IT-based equipment and infrastructures, integration between different vendors has often been difficult, Hoffman says.

To help solve that problem, EBU has been working with the Advanced Media Work- flow Association (AMWA) on a project called Framework for Interoperable Media Services (FIMS) and has developed a speci! cation that they hope to turn into a standard.

“The service oriented architecture provides an interoperability layer…so that you can change vendors and manufacturers relatively easily and still maintain your existing work flows,” Hoffman adds.

Given the importance of the issue, the EBU and AMWA are currently talking with SMPTE about turning this specification into a standard.

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