The CES show has a reputation for delivering a vivid insight into the world of future tech, and once again, this year lived up to expectations. From robotic dogs that can learn to love you, to the next generation of television and gaming products, there was something for everyone. For the Bitmovin team it was a chance to exhibit some of our latest solutions, including AV1 delivery, multi-codec streaming and per-title encoding, and also a chance to get out and see who else is moving and shaking in the video industry. Here is what we found:
SK Telecom and Sinclair set their sights on re-inventing broadcast television with ATSC 3.0
Plans to develop a next-generation broadcast platform, combining the advantages of IPTV and OTT are underway and will use the ATSC 3.0 broadcast standards suite published by the The Advanced Television Systems Committee earlier this month. This new broadcast system, being developed by SK Telecom and Sinclair is aimed at bringing terrestrial broadcast technology up to speed with the current Quality of Experience standards being set by OTT leaders such as Netflix and Youtube. This will include features like: delivering 4K HD, interactive user experiences, an upgrade to the existing ad delivery technology and of course increasing the range of devices that can receive and play content. Supported formats will included Dolby AC-4 and MPEG-H 3D Audio, HEVC including HDR, HFR, or WCG, digital watermarking for both audio and video and a lot more.
It seems likely that ATSC 3.0 will not be backwards compatible with existing ATSC systems, which raises some questions about how quickly it will be adopted but the initial launch is scheduled for the Winter Olympics in South Korea next month, and then we expect to see a broader rollout through the US market where ATSC is already the most common standard.
AV1 continues to gain momentum
As the AV1 bitstream format gets closer and closer, interest from broadcasters, chipmakers and the video industry in general continues to grow. Although the industry consensus is that 2019 is the earliest we can hope for hardware chips to support the new codec, software is moving much faster. Firefox nightly already supports AV1 playback and more content providers and infrastructure teams alike are preparing to incorporate AV1 into their workflows.
I had the opportunity to meet with a number of industry players about AV1 including Myra Moore, President of Digital Tech Consulting, a digital media industry analysis and research firm based out of Dallas, TX. She helped me sum up her view of the evolution of AV1’s adoption by the industry as follows:
“Transporting high-quality video over bandwidth-constrained networks at ever lower bit rates is one of the biggest challenges for video distribution. Interest is high for any technology that accomplishes this. Browser use will be the first step but it will likely be well into 2019 before the market can make devices (such as mobile handsets) that decode AV1 on dedicated hardware because of long chip-development timelines.”
Low-cost, all-in-one VR headsets will drive demand for immersive content
360 video or “immersive experience” video is an area that is still showing great promise and is getting closer to finding the right balance between devices and delivery. There seems to be a consensus that tile based streaming will be the most effective way to resolve the bandwidth bottleneck created by the larger 360 video files, and we saw a lot of evidence to confirm that our own research and development in this area is well and truly on track.
In the realm of VR consumer devices we saw many vendors on the CES show floor presenting low-cost, all-in-one VR headsets. These all-in-one headsets such as the Pico Goblin include a built-in screen and range between $200 to $300. They are a much simpler alternative to wired VR headsets like the Oculus Rift which require a high-powered PC and graphics card, and easier than popping in your phone to GearVR or Google Cardboard. With an all-in-one VR headset you can just pick up and go.
Part of the trade-off in lowering costs is that these headsets offer rotation tracking only. (You can look around but not move.) That might sound restrictive if you’re keen on full motion VR action games, but this is perfect for consuming immersive media — you’re not going anywhere!
These devices are WiFi enabled and will continue the growth we’ve already seen in streaming immersive media (180º or 360º 3D or mono video). “360 media has probably exploded beyond anything I would have expected…” said John Carmack, CTO of Oculus a few months ago. And he should know, his company Oculus is owned by Facebook and also partnered with Samsung to ship over 5 million GearVR devices in use by real consumers, not just geeky VR fanatics. Samsung’s own VR video playback app has been consistently a popular VR app — at one point event topping the charts.
Consumers will expect high quality streaming without understanding the underlying complexities, driving the need for publishers to commit efforts to developing a solid workflow for 180º and 360º immersive media.
According to our discussions at CES with manufacturers like Pico, many of these headsets support the forthcoming WebXR standard which opens the door for web-based playback of demanding media formats in web video players like the Bitmovin Player, a feat once entrusted only to native apps. We expect these stock VR browsers to be Chromium-based (like Facebook’s Carmel and Daydream’s Chrome) of varying vintages, sometimes many releases old since updating complicated 3D/VR code for each Chromium release is not practical.
We expect the immersive media distribution landscape to continue to change rapidly for the next few years while consumer adoption of VR slowly, but steadily, climbs fueled by further hardware refinements and price reductions. We can hope for some sanity soon as multiple working groups are discussing a wide range of standardization topics from native browser playback of immersive media, to adding augmented reality support in the browser.
We’re already learning.
Take this as an example: in VR people don’t look around that much. This led Google to propose a new standard around 3D 180º which they’re calling VR180. “People pay attention to what’s in front of them. They’re not really circling their head around all the time to check to see what’s behind,” said Jeff Meredith, Lenovo’s SVP & GM of Consumer PCs and Smart Devices in a recent interview. Lenovo announced the launch of a VR180 camera that shoots in 3D in this format and announced an all-in-one VR headset called the Mirage.
All in all CES was a great way to start 2018 together with over 3,900 exhibitors and close to 200,000 visitor. It was inspiring to see so many new ideas and technology. A clear indication that 2018 will be another great year for tech. If you missed us at CES, please feel free to reach out to our solutions team to discuss any aspect of your video delivery workflow.