Technology

Is India ready for HD HEVC set top boxes?

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MUMBAI: India may be struggling with completing the strenuous task of digitising the close to 9.4 crore cable TV homes, but when it comes to keeping pace with technology as compared to the rest of the world, we are not very far behind.

While it was direct to home (DTH) player Videocon d2h which first announced that it was working out to launch its 4K Ultra HD service, Tata Sky followed soon. And with this, came the one big question: is the country ready for a technology such as this? Answers Broadcom Corporation associate product line director Brett Tischler, “The consumer is ready for 4K technology, which gives a clearer, sharper and brighter viewing experience. When people see it, they want it.”

Worldwide, when the first 4K Ultra HD TV was launched, it cost close to $20,000. “This has now come down to $1000. This makes the TV much more affordable. The premium consumer is quick to respond,” he adds.

The chip making company, Broadcom has forayed into 4K technology as well. And if sources are to be believed, it is Broadcom’s chip that has been used in the 4K Ultra HD set top boxes (STBs) introduced by both Videocon d2h and Tata Sky.

While one may feel that there is not enough 4K content available the world over, Tischler feels otherwise. According to him, 4K content can be made available on Over the Top (OTT) platforms or through Live TV, Video on Demand (VOD) and web based content. Sports and movies are the two genres which will be popular in 4K. “There are a few Hollywood movies which are being made in 4K. Also the last three or four 2014 FIFA World Cup matches were broadcast in 4K in South America,” adds Tischler.

Broadcom, in the past had also telecast the winter Olympics using 4K technology. According to Broadcom managing director Rajiv Kapur 4K will be adopted faster world over.

Ultra HD filming, transmission and broadcast requires a significant increase in bandwidth. “Our Ultra HD video decoder solutions with integrated high efficiency video codec (HEVC) technology reduces bandwidth usage by 50 per cent, allowing users to download Ultra HD content in half the time,” informs Tischler.

Both Kapur and Tishler are of the view that HEVC is the standard that the industry will move towards now. And if the duo is to be believed, the operators in India will soon move towards HD HEVC set top boxes (STBs), since the technology compresses the content and reduces the bandwidth needed to half.

“India has the potential. We have developed an optimised technology that works well in the country. It is an exciting time for the country,” opines Tischler.

Content today is generally produced and transmitted in 8 bit but HEVC take it up to 10 bit, giving a wider colour gamut. And so a lot of the content creators will now be looking at adopting this technology. “Most producers and broadcasters know that they will need to create content in 10 bit for better experience, but if they make it in 8 bit, even that will work,” informs Tischler.

On the flip side, with Indian DTH operators facing transponder space constraints, will the technology be accepted? Answers Tischler, “HEVC content at the same resolution is about half the size. So the 10 megabit AVC content can be reduced to 5 megabit HEVC content, without having any effect on the quality of the content. HD moving to 4K is a multiplier by four and by using the HEVC, this can be halved, and so it’s a multiplier by two.”

For both Kapur and Tischler, cable satellite and IP TV operators either have definite plans to move to HEVC or are planning to move to it. “It is a better codec for them to use. They are already putting it in their next generation equipments,” says Kapur.

4K Ultra HD is a premium service, which according to Kapur will start as VOD and then move to OTT and then to full channels.

The primary obstacle for introducing 4K is gone. With TV sets being sold, the operator cannot ask the consumer to first go and buy TV and then launch the service. “TVs are selling and  the service can't be far behind. 4K initially will be a premium product, but HEVC as an HD codec, applies to everybody. So some operators who are doing HD will go right into HEVC, and will only do HD in HEVC. So we see HEVC being adopted by some of the biggest and most developed DTH operators in the world and also some of the emerging markets which are going into digitisation,” opines Tischler.

HEVC is future-proof and will give better returns on investment. “We have a range of HEVC chips, but the 4K p60 10 bit HEVC chip is what we are planning to put in people’s houses,” adds Kapur.

If the operator chooses to do VOD in HEVC, they can do it using half the bandwidth. According to Kapur, the early decision of deploying boxes by the operators will now play a critical role, since changing the boxes, after the operator has installed them over a large subscriber base will be a tedious task. 

The HEVC boxes will move into production this year and will be available by 2015. “We are right at the cusp of these developments,” informs Tischler.

Both Tischler and Kapur are of the view that the phase III and phase IV markets in India will not be using HEVC, since MPEG 2 SD boxes will dominate these markets. “Currently, the operators are looking at grabbing as many subscribers as possible. So they want to push as many and cheapest boxes as possible. It is only later they will introduce newer technology boxes. Then they will try to grow their revenue and give more services to their consumers,” opines Kapur.

Unlike DTH, the cable TV market in India is still dominated by the SD STBs. Will that also see introduction of HD HEVC boxes? Says Kapur, “DTH also took decades to grow from basic SD boxes to some of the latest technologies. Cable will go through similar evolution.”

Broadcom which has some 70 offices worldwide, invests heavily on R&D. The company which has close to 35 R&D offices, spends close to 21-23 per cent of its total revenue on R&D.

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