Technicolor’s Alan Stein: Integration of Over-the-Top and Over-the-Air Programing Creates Need for Robust HDR Features in ATSC 3.0 Standards

24 April 2017

  • High Dynamic Range (HDR) video capability is being considered for inclusion in the upcoming ATSC 3.0, and what’s needed is an approach that can unify the SDR/HDR experience.
  • ATSC 3.0 is a suite of broadcast standards for transmitting IP packets over the air and supports a hybrid broadcast/broadband TV approach. Most of the individual standards are in the final stages of completion.
  • As Android TV and other OTT offerings converge with OTA broadcasts, it will be important to have a robust, comprehensive SDR/HDR delivery solution that can manage the complexity of multiple formats and networking environments.
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  • High Dynamic Range (HDR) video capability is being considered for inclusion in the upcoming ATSC 3.0, and what’s needed is an approach that can unify the SDR/HDR experience.
  • ATSC 3.0 is a suite of broadcast standards for transmitting IP packets over the air and supports a hybrid broadcast/broadband TV approach. Most of the individual standards are in the final stages of completion.
  • As Android TV and other OTT offerings converge with OTA broadcasts, it will be important to have a robust, comprehensive SDR/HDR delivery solution that can manage the complexity of multiple formats and networking environments.

The new ATSC 3.0 standards are coming to market as new technologies enable over-the-top (OTT) programing to be integrated with over-the-air (OTA) broadcasts.

Broadcasters around the globe are exploring how to incorporate state-of-the-art systems and capabilities into their next-generation systems, and expect the upcoming ATSC 3.0 broadcast standard to play a big part in their efforts.

Alan Stein, Vice President of Technology and Standards at Technicolor

Alan Stein, Vice President of Technology and Standards at Technicolor

South Korea is adopting ATSC 3.0 as its next-generation broadcast standard. It is also actively working to have ATSC 3.0 systems, with High Dynamic Range (HDR) capabilities, on the air by the time of the 2018 Winter Olympics, which the country is hosting.

We caught up with Alan Stein, Vice President of Technology and Standards at Technicolor, to hear more about ATSC 3.0, how it supports a hybrid broadcast/broadband TV approach, and how Technicolor is participating in ATSC 3.0’s advancement.

Before we jump into the meat of our discussion today on the role of over-the-top and over-the-air, and what that means for ATSC 3.0, tell us what the state of ATSC 3.0 is today?

Stein: ATSC 3.0 is nearing completion. It is a suite of standards documents. Most of those documents are now in the final stages of completion, and we’re seeing a rollout in the first half of the year in South Korea. South Korea is taking the lead on ATSC 3.0 deployment in anticipation of broadcasting the 2018 Olympic Games.

Additionally, at the NAB Show we expect to see commercial ATSC 3.0-compatible products entering the market.

Can you describe the new functionality of ATSC 3.0, and some of the features that would be enabled by some of these new standards developments?

Stein: ATSC 3.0 is internet-compatible in a way that the original HD over-the-air transmissions aren’t. Gone are arcane, broadcast-only protocols, and in place is standard internet protocol delivery. ATSC 3.0 brings IP packets over the air. Audio and video are sent in separate streams, so one can have multiple languages, for instance, delivered over separate paths.

Some of those alternate language audio streams could come via a hybrid over-the-top path. ATSC 3.0 supports the idea of a broadcast plus broadband, or a hybrid broadcast/broadband TV approach.

That’s very interesting, especially in the context of the recent Android TV announcements and their adoption by network service providers around the world which are specifically designed to support both an over-the-top (OTT) and over-the-air (OTA) capacity or capability. How do these trends fit into the ATSC 3.0 picture?

Stein: A key driver behind ATSC 3.0 is the ability to have highly targeted advertising, so one can imagine smart TVs or smart boxes with local storage and ad inventory that can be dynamically inserted based on user preference, or demographic information such as ZIP codes.

I think there’s a strong awareness of the potential benefits to broadcast and the combination of broadcast and broadband, and of course Android TV is a leading platform for enabling those functions.

In terms of market acceptance, what do you see as key to acceptance by consumers? And how is that affecting the standards-development process in terms of trying to create a frictionless path to adopting the features that are incorporated into ATSC 3.0?

Stein: One of the main changes is the “runtime environment” that winds up being your new program guide, i.e. all the graphics overlaid on the screen, that wind up being a web page.

The web standards and JavaScript libraries will have interactive functionality — just as you have for web experiences on your laptop and on your phone.  With ATSC 3.0 you’ll have those same web-based experiences on the TV. TV is an app.

Industry groups, such as NAB “Pilot” research lab, are actually providing JavaScript libraries to enhance TV function that will be freely available to the entire industry, so that changing channels, or getting information about actors in a program, or voting online (voting in video) will actually be much more elegant and functional than it has been in the past.

Considering the practical implications from a broadcaster’s perspective, what will broadcasters be able to do? You described targeted advertising, but in terms of user experiences, what are some things they will be able to offer to consumers?

Stein: ATSC 3.0 is a highly flexible system. In the past, we’ve been able to have HDTV, so we’ve been able to have 720p or 1080i or 1080p video and 5.1 audio and closed captions, and that’s about it.

Now we could have 4K video; we could have HDR, or wide color gamut; we could eventually have high frame rate at as much as 120 frames per second (and I can’t wait to watch a hockey game without motion blur at 120 frames per second).

We could have dense packing of multiple films or TV episodes in a single TV channel. There are some broadcasters that want to maximize the number of programs they can get over a single 6MHz TV channel and offer something like a “skinny bundle” that’s being offered commercially by some satellite providers.

So, there’s great flexibility in the ATSC 3.0 system. Additionally, the hybrid delivery augments that. We have broadcasters that said they want to deliver sub-HD resolution over the air and augment that with spatially scalable video to get to full HD in the home, but have mobile reception receive just the smaller picture, with more transmission robustness.

Let’s talk about HDR, and the ability of ATSC 3.0 to integrate this particular technology. What should we be thinking of as an industry about how to manage HDR in this hybrid environment?

Stein: HDR has been considered very important as an up-step in ATSC service. ATSC 3.0 – unlike the original “ATSC 1” A/53 system – is not a mandatory switch for broadcasters.

So, the broadcasters that are going to deliver HDR want to make sure they get extremely high quality. At the same time, there are hundreds of millions of legacy television sets that don’t do HDR. Technicolor’s technology explicitly addresses that issue and the broader issue of terminal diversity. Beyond that, some broadcasters think they will be able to deliver an HDR signal to devices that are not HDR screens, but are “HDR-compatible” in the sense that they consume an HDR signal and display a standard dynamic range output.

It seems clear that efficiency is important for having multiple programs go over a single channel. One of the industry observations has been that between SDR and the multiple flavors of HDR, a situation might arise where that efficiency would get busted. How important is it to have a streamlined approach to the delivery of SDR and these different formats of HDR and perhaps other technologies that are coming down the pike to enhance the viewing experience?

Stein: I think that the explosive combination of possibilities in the production environment rightly concerns the broadcasters. The other aspect to that problem goes back to the targeted ad use case. If you must create SDR and HDR versions of every ad that you want to insert locally, that adds complexity and cost into consumer devices, which are extremely price-sensitive. An approach that can unify the SDR/HDR experience has some very clear benefits to broadcasters.

Does that work in the hybrid environment of over-the-air and over-the-top? Is synchronization between OTT and OTA delivery important, and is that being discussed?

Stein: It’s important, but it’s somewhat orthogonal. I would say that the HDR approach that’s selected, or the approaches that are selected, affect the video elementary bitstream, whereas the hybrid delivery is really more about media transport and packets and combining networks, which is a somewhat separate problem.

What is Technicolor advocating for and encouraging the standards community to do in response to these new ways of connecting over a greater variety of mediums with consumers who expect a seamless experience no matter where they are?

Stein: Technicolor Advanced HDR, also known as SL-HDR1, advocates for a bitstream that’s decodable directly as SDR, or decodable directly as HDR, with a bit of post-processing software in the receiving device.

The idea is that you would never have to simulcast two different bit streams; you would have a single bitstream; devices that simply have an HEVC decoder with no HD knowledge work just as they work for non-HDR. These decode the bitstream normally, and they ignore a little bit of extra bitstream that we insert to let HDR be recovered. This allows, for example, a device that acts as a home to receive a single stream off the air, potentially insert an ad that’s stored in local storage, and then deliver that stream in the home to both HDR and SDR devices. We believe our approach is the most flexible and elegant solution for the problem of diverse receiver capabilities.

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