HDTV: doing more with less

06 Sep 2006

(Broadcasting and Cable via NewsEdge) "Doing more with less" is a common refrain in business. But it's never been more of a necessity than it is now for telcos launching TV services and satellite operators wrestling with new HD programming, as both try to squeeze as many video streams as possible into as little bandwidth as necessary.

The IBC show in Amsterdam (September 7-12) should bring some relief, as various manufacturers unveil new encoders using the MPEG-4 Advanced Video Compression (AVC/H.264) standard. MPEG-4 AVC encoders promise the same picture quality as MPEG-2 in less than half the bit rate. New models go even beyond that.

Tandberg Television is introducing its next generation of MPEG-4 AVC HD and SD encoders at IBC. Tandberg has deployed more than 1,000 high-def MPEG-4 AVC encoders, giving the company an estimated 95% share of the high-def AVC market, and some 4,000 MPEG-4 AVC encoders overall. Big customers include DirecTV, Swisscom and Premiere in Germany.

Tandberg says its new encoders, the EN8030 for SD and the EN8090 for SD/HD operation, provide bandwidth improvements of up to 50% over its first-generation MPEG-4 AVC gear. While MPEG-2 encoders can compress high-def video down to the 16Mbps-18Mbps range, early-generation AVC encoders can deliver the same quality in 10Mbps.

"Now we're looking at 5Mbps-6Mbps for high-motion sports at 1080i resolution, and maybe 4Mbps for 720p film material," says Matthew Goldman, Tandberg's VP of technology, for compression systems.

That improvement means IPTV operators can fit two full-resolution HD channels over an ADSL2+ (advanced DSL) pipe, or that satellite broadcasters can fit up to eight HD channels on a 36MHz transponder.

Tandberg is also introducing MPEG-4 AVC encoding modules for its Plex brand encoders. Those are aimed squarely at telco IPTV customers and based on technology Tandberg gained when it acquired SkyStream last February.

Tandberg's MPEG-4 AVC's improved chip technology allows for "single-slice" video processing. The encoder can process an entire HD picture in a single slice instead of having to break it down into smaller slices. That frees up computational power for other functions.

The new Tandberg encoders can generate three channels from a single HDTV input: a full-resolution HD channel, a full-resolution SD channel, and a low-res "micro" channel for picture-in-picture applications. The high-density Plex systems can deliver up to 12 simultaneous channels from a one-rack-unit device: four HDs plus four SDs plus four low-res channels.

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