Those in the technology industry know that September is a busy month for shows and events; this year, both IFA and IBC 2013 have grabbed the news headlines. Between them both shows have provided a superb opportunity for companies to demonstrate their latest products and technological developments.
For those who haven’t come across these shows, IFA is a public event held annually in Berlin focussed on consumer electronics, showcasing everything from electronic components through to smart home appliances. IBC, on the other hand, is a private business conference and exhibition in Amsterdam, covering the breadth of technology within the broadcast and content industry, which this year attracted over 53,000 visitors worldwide.
What follows next is a rundown of the main highlights from IFA and IBC 2013.
Ultra HD (4K) TVs were everywhere at IFA, with several manufacturers revealing their range of 4K TVs for the first time. Screen sizes for Ultra HD range from an impressive 110 inches all the way down to much more affordable 20 inch 4K professional displays. Ultra HD is no longer just a technology whim: 4K is now certain to set new standards for television and OTT video services over the next few years. Companies involved in the broadcast delivery chain have all experienced the transition from SD to HD. They are therefore well prepared to execute a similar strategy to migrate services from HD and Full HD to Ultra HD.
Support for the new HDMI 2.0 standard was broadly announced by the TV manufacturers; HDMI 2.0 has the necessary capacity to fully enable transfer of Ultra HD between A/V consumer electronics devices.
Meanwhile broadcast studio equipment and television camera companies continue to invest in technology necessary to deliver Ultra HD; professional encoders are now available to support 4K TV production, and broadcast editing facilities are being upgraded to account for the new Ultra HD format. Broadcasters themselves are experimenting with 4K programme transmission; however the slow infrastructure upgrade cycle means it will be around three to five years before 4K broadcast TV becomes a reality.
The promise of Ultra HD television provides the primary reason for consumers to upgrade their equipment to support 4K transmission. And HEVC is the technical counterpart that will allow broadcasters to efficiently deliver Ultra HD services. The two developments go hand in hand.
Several software decode solutions for HEVC were in evidence, running entirely on the CPU today; but there are plans to use GPU compute to accelerate HEVC decode for platforms that do not integrate dedicated video hardware. Indeed several of Imagination’s partners are already creating viable solutions that accelerate software codecs using compute on PowerVR Series6 GPUs. For example, LG is using OpenCL to achieve HEVC decode in software; others are employing software HEVC on the CPU or otherwise using FPGA implementations in their 4K TVs.
For silicon providers looking to offer the best in picture quality, performance and power efficiency for HEVC video decoding at 4K resolutions and beyond, Imagination has announced the PowerVR D5500, a multi-standard, multi-stream video decoder with a multi-core architecture that allows performance to be easily scaled for high resolution or high frame rate applications up to full HEVC level 5.0 using mainstream silicon processes at ultra-low power consumption.
3D TV was almost completely absent at IFA and IBC this year. The technology is no longer being aggressively marketed; nor does it seem to be being actively developed. That’s not to suggest that 3D has disappeared: 3D is still a feature of mid- to high-end smart TVs, and the move to 4K will help immensely as the increased resolution means there’s scope for 3D HDTV.
Presently the technology is being used in new and innovative ways: for example, using active shutter 3D technology and giving each player 3D glasses to sync with either the left or right video feed enables gamers to play simultaneously full-screen without needing to create a split view.
Wireless speaker technology
This is an area of high activity today. Many of the well-known consumer electronics companies now have some form of wireless speaker technology, either surround sound audio systems using proprietary protocols or companion speakers for tablets and smartphones using Bluetooth. Single stream Bluetooth audio solutions dominate the market. Multi-room solutions are becoming more widely available; however those that have 802.11 Wi-Fi presently reserve its use for AirPlay integration.
This is where Caskeid, our new stream synchronization IP, steps into the limelight. Caskeid provides connected audio OEMs a proven and fully featured solution to truly differentiate in a rapidly growing market. Caskeid from Imagination provides the ultimate solution for wireless multi-room audio with low-latency synchronisation that is far superior to any other multi-speaker solution on the market today and, from the perspective of a human listening, audibly indistinguishable from a wired speaker system.
Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and NFC communication
NFC is now becoming a mainstream technology. Several products now employ NFC to simplify pairing over Bluetooth, most notably wireless speaker systems but also some smart TVs. Bluetooth 4.0, IEEE 802.11ac Wi-Fi and NFC are rapidly becoming essential technologies for the new generation of connected consumer devices within the home. This is a trend Imagination has long been preparing for: by pairing our MIPS CPUs with our Ensigma radio processors, our partners can build platforms which support a wide range of these standards today, with more to be added in future generations of IP. This allows companies targeting the connected home space to branch out beyond their traditional business, and build smart home technologies packaged up in attractive products for the end user.
Both IFA and IBC serve as a useful barometer on developments in home consumer electronics. The industry is grappling with migration to HEVC and 4K, which promises to create yet another digital TV switchover as older products need to be replaced with those boasting the new technology. Meanwhile the trend towards every device going wireless and becoming connected or somehow “smart” continues to show no suggestion of slowing, especially in home consumer electronics with notable advances being made in audio equipment. Imagination’s customers and technology partners continue to benefit by deploying semiconductors using our IP to harness the product and technological opportunities on offer.
Remember to come back to our blog and follow us on Twitter (@ImaginationTech) for the latest reports from various events that we attend throughout the year.