More than 1700 companies converged and invaded Las Vegas to demonstrate the hottest solutions for content producers, broadcasters and video service providers at the 2019 NAB Show. Certainly, at the Harmonic booth the major story for the show was unified video delivery solutions for all deployment scenarios — including SaaS, cloud and hybrid environments — for smarter, faster and simpler distribution of OTT and broadcast channels.
But digging a little deeper, what technology innovations were attendees buzzing about? What were the key video trends? Here are seven big trends we observed at the show.
Video Trend 1: The cloud is getting stronger
The cloud is becoming a key requirement, as evidenced by many companies at the show demonstrating a slew of cloud solutions. Across the industry, we’re seeing the cloud used more and more for OTT and broadcast delivery, including live sports streaming. With the cloud, video content and service providers can get channels off the ground quickly, with minimal investment in infrastructure.
During the show, we got many questions centered on cloud playout. It was clear by the conversations we had that the industry desires solutions that go beyond simple cloud playout. There is a requirement to be able to deliver an entire channel with a single solution that supports file-based playback, switching to and from live events, transcoding to target devices, scrambling and encryption, packaging and origin capabilities, and rapid branding. Cloud playout, therefore, broadens in scope and becomes channel origination. Its purpose is to streamline operations, and it makes it easier to monetize channels.
Video Trend 2: Primary distribution SaaS is set to transform OTT delivery
With the cloud getting stronger, software as a service (SaaS) solutions are being used more and more, especially for OTT delivery. The first wave of OTT was focused on direct to consumer services. But in the U.S., we are seeing a new breed of channel aggregators, and they need a simple way to manage and deliver linear channels from programmers to their affiliates, whether they are traditional pay-TV operators, virtual MVPDs or local broadcasters. At the show, Harmonic launched a Primary Distribution solution, which relies on SaaS to deliver channels anywhere in the world via CDN without needing dedicated networking links and satellite transponders.
Video Trend 3: 5G is on the horizon
As video consumption on mobile devices rises, industry experts are predicting that 5G networks will play a major role in its delivery. The NAB Show confirmed this trend. A 5G pavilion with demos and speaking sessions attracted attendees excited about the prospect of what 5G means for mobile video delivery. Promising to reach speeds that are 20 times faster than 4G LTE, 5G is expected to help operators meet the demand for high-quality video on mobile devices in the most efficient and affordable way possible.
Video Trend 4: The future is all-IP
On the playout and production front, the show was all about IP and cloud, as mentioned above. For IP, most people in the industry understand the transport technology, most notably SMPTE ST 2110, but they’re not sure how to implement it. Help is now on hand to enable faster, smarter deployment. 2019 NAB Show attendees were looking for solutions that would enable them to make a smooth transition to all-IP workflows. Many new products that support SDI and IP, bridging the gap between both worlds were on display enabling the next wave of playout and production solutions.
Video Trend 5: ATSC 3.0 has arrived
For broadcasters, ATSC 3.0 has reached a point of no return. Last year, there was a lot of talk at NAB about ATSC 3.0. This year, ATSC 3.0 was more than talk. There were actual deployment commitments and for the first time, we saw hybrid delivery via SaaS on ATSC 3.0 TVs.
Here’s the thing about ATSC 3.0 – it is designed to do much more than OTA broadcasts. With hybrid delivery, broadcasters can combine over the air footprint with over the top personalization to deliver HD and UHD, time-shift TV, catch-up TV, start-over TV, fast channel change, targeted ads and more. This allows broadcasters to deliver a much more “streaming-like” experience, which can be monetized.
The industry goal is to have 70 percent of the country covered by ATSC 3.0 by the end of 2020, and NAB was a great indication that the industry is moving in the right direction.
Video Trend 6: The difference between 8K vs. 4K is getting clearer
8K created a big buzz at CES in January. At the NAB Show, attendees wanted to know, what is the difference between 8K vs. 4K? We saw demos at various booths comparing picture quality and the bitrate needed to deliver 8K. Delivering 8K requires a very high bitrate, but MPEG is defining a new codec called VVC (Versatile Video Codec) that will offer a 50 percent improvement in HEVC bandwidth by 2020, which will aid 8K deployments in taking off. The question going forward is: will there be enough 8K content?
Video Trend 7: AI has hit center stage
Another trend we saw at the show was artificial intelligence (AI). Quality of experience (QoE) issues still linger in the video streaming world. From a compression standpoint, we see AI as the future as we address old problems using innovative AI techniques. At the show, we also introduced a unique way to increase QoE with dynamic resolution changes and showcased how to increase density using dynamic frame rate encoding.
Cloud, SaaS, OTT, all-IP, 8K, 5G, ATSC 3.0, and video QoE were popular topics at NAB this year. Yet, with many new technologies to choose from and it being hard to predict what’s next, there’s a reluctance to invest heavily in new infrastructure. Based on a pay-as-you-grow business model, SaaS is a simple and cost-effective solution that supports a range of use cases — from ATSC 3.0 to primary distribution and live sports streaming — and this year’s NAB Show confirms that SaaS will play a major role in the future of video delivery.