4K, HEVC and 3D TV: Trends and highlights from the 2013 NAB Show

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Over the last eight years the NAB Show (held yearly at the LVCC in Las Vegas) has continuously evolved and grown.  Over 90,000 media and entertainment professionals attended from over 150 countries, representing more than 1,500 companies in the broadcast industry.

Overall the 2013 NAB Show focussed on the consolidation of existing technologies rather than the introduction of new ones. The show serves as a useful barometer on the adoption of new TV recording, broadcast and production technologies that will percolate into the CE market segment.

4K TV production

Broadcast studio equipment and professional camera manufacturers continue to invest in 4K resolution.  Cameras, editing suites, production facilities and content workflows are now 4K-ready.  Broadcasters are experimenting with 4K transmission, but the cadence of the infrastructure upgrade cycle means it will be around three to five years before 4K broadcast TV becomes widespread.

2013 NAB Show Panasonic 4K camera

    A 4K prototype camera from Panasonic

From a CE perspective, 4K has not yet hit primetime; indeed there is a stall in the consumer grade 4K camcorder market this year.  But costs are decreasing, more 4K content is being produced and it’s clearly beginning to permeate into CE market segments, as evidenced by Sony’s announcement of the FMP-X1 4K media player and associated 4K online movie service, plus Red’s promotion of their RedRay 4K player.

2013 NAB Show Sony FMP-X1 4K media player

Sony FMP-X1 4K media player

As design cycles usually take 12-18 months, building 4K-capable hardware will quickly become a reality for most mobile SoC vendors. Of course, solutions are already in production for 4K TVs.


Several demonstrations of HEVC were in evidence this year.  Today it’s predominantly software decode solutions for CE, running entirely on the CPU; but there are plans to use GPU compute to accelerate HEVC decode with companies involved including NTT Docomo, Vanguard Video Solutions and Ittiam.  Of course, the replacement of dedicated video hardware functions with GPU compute solutions may not reduce cost in SoCs as there will always be a trade-off between GPU silicon area versus optimised hardware.

2013 NAB Show Ittiam HEVC encoding decoding

Meantime, multi-stream and 4K will be key drivers for hardware HEVC decode and encode, which Imagination’s IP has already been designed for.

3D television

Again notable by its relative absence at the event this year, 3D TV is not being aggressively addressed by the studio equipment manufacturers.  However content producers and film studios are reluctant to abandon 3D entirely as a concept because, when used intelligently, 3D can enhance the storytelling.  So technology development continues but at a slower pace than in recent years. Notably on the broadcast delivery side, Sisvel’s 3D Tile Format has been extended to improve auto-stereoscopic 3D display; it’s an innovative solution to the delivery of quality 3D visuals.

2013 NAB Show Sisvel Extended 3D Tile Format, including depth map

Sisvel Extended 3D Tile Format, including depth map

Broadcasters and STB manufacturers have deployed the technology but it’s not yet enjoying mainstream adoption.

Video encoder technology

Encoder manufacturers are now actively promoting 4K and HEVC solutions.  Offline encoding is entirely feasible – both for 4K and HDTV – using software-based implementations running on high-end x86-based professional encoders.  Live HEVC encoding is proving to be a challenge at the quality, resolution and bitrates expected by TV studios; but this will change as hardware-based implementations become more widely available.

2013 NAB ShowFPGA 4K HEVC encoder

An FPGA implementation of a 4K HEVC encoder

The primary target for HEVC today is mobile content consumption, with focus switching to broadcast TV once the technology matures.  HEVC delivers video at around half the bit-rates of the existing H.264 standard whilst maintaining the same quality, so investment in the technology will improve bandwidth utilisation for the carriers, and further reduces file sizes and storage requirements for the video service providers.

Imagination is offering a complete multimedia IP solution

Imagination have been working on 4K and HEVC solutions for several years; indeed today’s PowerVR Series5XT and Series6 GPUs are already 4K capable, while PowerVR Video Series4 IP has been built to support the widest possible collection of industry standard codecs including H.264, VP8, MPEG-4 and many more; future PowerVR video products will add HEVC support as well.

By choosing Imagination’s IP, our partners are building fully optimized 4K solutions constructed around principles of low power and high efficiency. We enable our licensees to drive high resolution displays by providing not just powerful multimedia hardware – PowerVR GPUs and hardware video encoders, MIPS CPUs or Ensigma radio processors – but complementing it with an attractive software proposition in the form of optimized drivers, intelligent algorithms and developer support, all vital to accelerate time to market.

Imagination Multimeda complete solution SoC PowerVR Pure Avalon 300R Connect

For example, Imagination is committed to working closely with SoC vendors to identify an optimal solution for video transcoding by using either GPU compute on our latest generation PowerVR graphics or by integrating our highly efficient dedicated PowerVR video hardware engines.

Enjoyed our coverage of the NAB Show? Drop us a comment if there’s something we’ve missed and follow us on Twitter (@ImaginationTech) for more news and live reports from shows across the world. We also have a dedicated event page to tell you where we’ll be at next.

Simon Forrest

Simon Forrest

A graduate in Computer Science from the University of York, Simon possesses over 20 years’ experience in broadcast television, radio and broadband technologies and is author of several patents in this field. Prior to joining Imagination, Simon held the position of Chief Technologist within Pace plc.

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