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Keeping upstream with video content

If content is king, then video content is today’s emperor, reigning supreme with 4k video content. The quadrupling of resolution from the 1080p HDTV format opens up broadcast, gaming and other sectors to a world of mobility via the ubiquitous smartphone. By Caroline Hayes, Senior Editor.

Those in the know are already looking at 4k video and posing questions about storage of the increased video content. Those anticipating 4k video on mobile devices are looking at ways to exploit the technology for information and entertainment. There are others still, who are looking beyond 4k and anticipating 8k video streaming.
To begin with what is available now, 4k video is available now. Netflix, the service which provides on-demand Internet media, began streaming 4k content in Q1 this year. Sony has announced it will stream 4k video in Q2 and Google will be adding 4k streaming to its YouTube service this year. The 4k streaming brings higher resolution images. It doubles the lines of pixels from 1920 x 1080 (the measurement is rounded up to 2k) that is found in HD (High Definition) displays. Doubling the pixel capacity to 3840 x 2160, quadruples the pixel count and, broadcast at 50- or 60frame/s produces clear, detailed images that can be broadcast on large screens without loss of detail.

Mobile for the future
For Silicon Image, the technology is not confined to the large 50inch and larger screens. David Kuo, Senior Director, Mobile Product Marketing believes the emphasis is on mobile use. As more smartphones will be introduced next year that support 4k, he believes that compression technology will play a part in realizing high-speed data transfers to mobile devices.
He explains that using the de facto connectivity technology, HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface), 4k streaming at 50 or 60 frames/s produces image quality that is four times the clarity of 1080 at 60 frames/s. Although HDMI 2.0 has been the industry’s de facto connectivity standard since it was introduced in 2013, with four billion products in the marketplace, he believes that the MHL [Mo bile High Definition Link] 3.0 technology is the way forward for mass data transfer using 4k.
The MHL technology standard was developed by Silicon Image, Nokia, Samsung, Sony and Toshiba in 2011 and has already been adopted by more than half a billion product. “Four out of the five top smartphone brands have adopted MHL,” he says, positioning the smartphone as a hub for automotive infotainment. Other figures show that 22% of smartphones, 28% of digital TVs and 25% of PC monitors sold in 2013 supported MHL.

MHL revision
MHL 3.0 was introduced last year and supports UHD (Ultra high Definition, 2160p30) and has improved remote control protocol to support peripherals. Five wires are required, which simultaneously deliver up to 4k uncompressed UHD (Ultra High Definition) video and up to eight channels of digital audio. Kuo explains that MHL-enabled devices can be connected to a large screen, on an automotive system, and are able to interact with the devices using existing remote controls, keyboard, mouse or touchscreen. “There is no need to be constrained by a small screen,” says Kuo “We call it mobility through the looking glass,” he continues, referring to the increase of MHL-enabled smartphones from big names such as Samsung, Sony, HTC, Huawei, ZTE and Fujitsu and the expectation that over 40% of TVs are expected to ship with MHL this year.
Rob Tobias, Silicon Images’, Senior Director of Standards, described the evolution of MHL with “bumped up speed” to support 4k and with the addition of HDCP 2.2 (HD Content Protection) technology.
Silicon Images believes it is the only company to date to announce a transmitter (Sil8620) with near zero latency and is ahead of the pack to target the wireless gaming console, replacing the console with a smartphone, using the improved quality video. Other MHL 3.0 4k UHD products are an MHL 3.0 to HDMI 2.0 bridge, an MHL 3.0 multimedia switch, supporting UHD video, a single port MHL 3.0/HDMI 2.0 4k 60frame/s HDI receiver and an MHL 3.0/HDMI 2.0 4k 60frame/s HDMI port processor with HDCP 2.2 support.

On the way to 8k
Andre Bouwer, Vice President, Marketing, Analogix has bigger plans for video content. He spoke of the industry being on the road to 8k resolution. The company’s digital media chips and IP cores are installed in over 500 million DisplayPort devices, VESA’s (Video Electronics Standards Association) digital display interface acting as transmitters and transceivers for video to mobile devices.
This month, it will introduce Slimport Pro for audio, video and data. Next year, says Bouwer, there will be DisplayPort 8k. “Phones and tablets already support 4k,” he notes “Support for Qualcomm QuickCharge 2.0 [the charging battery technology] allows for efficient charging and accommodates the increase to 8.1Gbit/s frequency”.
Comparisons with MHL are inevitable. For Bouwer, DisplayPort 1.3 has the edge, allowing as it does the use of optical cables. MHL signaling with merged clock and data, he points out, is not possible over optical fiber.
It is compression that is going to be one of the roadblocks in the route to 8k. Uncompressed 4k content consumes over 250Mbyte/s or more than 15Gbyte/min. For Bouwer, the advantage of DisplayPort is that it is packetized, making it easier to transfer video [and data]. Additionally, he points out that the frequency does not depend on resolution “DisplayPort allows any resolution and compression,” he says, and allows spread spectrum to reduce EMI. “There is no big frame buffer,” he says “video compression is frame-by-frame, a low-cost option, which results in basically lossless quality”.

Coding complications
He outlines the route to 8k, tracking the evolution of video technology. First there was 2k video, with a frequency of 5.4Gbit/s. This year, 4k will be increasingly popular, with its UHD (Ultra high Definition) status at 60Hz and operating at 6.75Gbit/s. At this stage, the demands on charging will increase as the throughput must not be allowed to drain the batteries of portable devices, such as smartphones. Next year, Bouwer predicts 8k video will be used for both display stream compression and optical functionality, requiring 8.1Gbit/s and 10.8Gbit/s respectively.
Another part in the video evolution, is the video coding technology. This many pixels has to be reproduced without corruption. A poor TV reception will not be tolerated, the same for Internet video content – research by Nielsen found that 57% of consumers would not share a poor quality video, so whether content used as a revenue source, in the Netflix model, or as promotional or educational material, the coding must maintain the quality of the original.
To compress for Blu-ray players, the industry adopted H.264 AVC (Advanced Video Coding) but this is being superseded by H.265, or HVEC (High Efficiency Video Coding) compression. HVEC reduces bandwidth requirements by 50% so that it can be viewed over-the-air or IPTV (Internet Protocol Television).
As video technology accelerates, the winner may be the consumer, as long as compression – and, further down the road, storage – technologies can keep up. There is some co-operation in the industry, but there are already signs of a schism around 4k video, which need to be addressed before 8k can flourish.

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