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European Athletics Championship 2018: Alberto Morello (RAI CRITS) at the SMPTE X seminar.

The technologies on which we can operate tomorrow.

Italian broadcaster Mediaset hosted, at the end of September and in its Camana hall of the TV Production Center, the 10th edition of the SMPTE "Emerging Technology" Seminar.
The SMPTE, as well as being a regulatory body, is the association that deals with training for the dissemination of the technical culture of the media and it is in this context that fully inserted this Seminar with the aim of examining the continuous technological evolution of the broadcast and new media industry, in particular "broadband" telecommunications.


In this context was the speech of Alberto Morello (RAI CRITS) on the RAI experimentation carried out during the 2018 Athletics European Championships, on the new advanced television formats (4k / HFR on T2, UHD on 3GPP rel.14).
Morello has centered at least three of the main trend lines highlighted by SMPTE which concern:
1) consolidation of full HDTV technology - based on a progressive digital serial (SDI) video signal (50 frames / sec.) In 2K (about two thousand pixels per line), with improvements in both time resolution (HFR, High Frame Rate), that of luminance (HDR, High Dynamic Range) and color (WCG, Wide Color Gamut), and on an advanced audio signal NGA (Next Generation Audio)
2) use of the most advanced UHD (Ultra High Definition) technologies of 4K (about four thousand pixels per line) and 8K (about eight thousand pixels per line) for a wide range of purposes, ranging from broadcasting on conventional television networks (terrestrial and satellite) and on computer networks.
3) Broadband connectivity with 5G, fifth generation mobile technologies and standards, which allow performance and speed far superior to current ones and above all low latency, so as to allow the transport of images in UHDTV.
The results of the tests carried out in the 2018 Athletics European Championships were intended above all to understand whether it is worthwhile to work -tomorrow- on these formats, analyzing their pros and cons. The tests were carried out by Rai in tandem with EBU and other members (Rai, BBC, France TV, ZDF, RT research institute) and about twenty industrial partners, who set up a complete chain of filming, processing, recording, and distribution of live UHD content with HDR and NGA.
For shooting the cameras were Sony HDC 4300 and then it was set up a multi vendor system capable of producing, storing and processing 2160 P100 signals with HDR and all that is needed to achieve near real time editing, with uncompressed recording.
As per audio - especially on the production and monitoring side – it was chosen an immersive technology management - that is how to produce an immersive audio stream - but agnostic with respect to the emission standard (Dolby AC4, MPEG-H, etc).
Instead, the video distribution was the easiest and most consolidated tech part; and for the audio, in addition to the NGA signal, two mono and audio description comments were also delivered in English and French.
The first part of the experimentation was, in fact, to bring these signals on a transport and distribution chain. Here everything has worked on DVB standard and there are no missing "rings" in this chain.
Among the vendors in the supply chain were SONY, EVS, Rohde & Schwarz, Schoeps, LG TVs, and for audio Dolby (AC4), Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft (MPEG-H), Qualcom (MPEG-HOA), Ambisonic.
The production chain envisaged not to double the flow but to use 8 cables and SD-SDI signals and not yet on IP. The HFR production chain involved machines that processed equal frames and odd-synchronized frames, ie two parallel chains.
In production, several signals were made up, one at 2160 P100 with HDR-HLG, SDR back compatible, with stereo audio (as there is still no way to process both UHD and NGA audio in a receiver, then to testing the NGA it was necessary to scale to an HD signal at 100 Hz).
A Stream 1080 P50 was also produced to power the 5G trial.
All signals were sent via satellite and then aired in Italy and in Monaco and via fiber in Glasgow.
For the transport of the UHD / HFR signal, the only uncertainty that still remains is on the back compatibility: it can be done in many ways, for example by putting everything on a single PID to transmit it. The problem is the non-backward compatibility of current Phase 1 UHD TV sets.
Another way is to unpack this signal on two different PIDs; on one the equal frames are carried and on the other the odd ones and therefore a non-HFR phase 1 television is however able to present a signal taken at 100Hz at 50Hz, however with some inconvenience, like a "strobing" effect more or less visible depending on the content of the image, the inner movement and how the shooting was made (shutter all open or 180° and so on).
This strobing is mitigable if the Motion Compensation Frame Interpolation function is present in the receiver. Others proposed modes of transmission always with double PID but on one flow inserting the odd and even frames added and on the other the difference between odd and even frames, with the related coding problems of the two flows in order to make them compatible (the problem of the retro-compatibility in transport is debated by the DVB consortium in the meeting of December 2018).
The transmission was carried out on a satellite 3 degrees west to 65 MB that carried all services, one with video 2160 P100, about 28 / 30MB in HEVC with audio AAC (with some problems because these bitrates are not yet managed in constant mode), so the decoder optimization is still needed; the second service brought video with HFR and HDR but in HD resolution with the various "Falvours" NGA audio alternating over time (every half hour), and the third service that was intended as a contribution to the 5G network. All was irradiated (a flow at a time, of course) on the DVB-T2 network in Val d'Aosta (trial from 7 to 10 August, first day with T2 in the air and other days in 5G), on two channels bringing both UHD to 100Hz and HD to 100Hz to allow to see them side by side.
The reception took place on LG tv sets with appropriate software update and for the NGA part, the Dolby decoding took place in the TV with user interface screen control and 5 + 2 discrete speakers; the MPEG-H part was rendered with a simple front SoundBar.
The immersive effect and the yield was just as pleasant.
Among the audio results, there is the sensation that the user interface in which a listener can choose which object to listen to, decide the volume with respect to the background, and place it in space, are rather complex menus for the common user at the moment. It has been suggested that it is better, perhaps, to create presets offered by the broadcaster that simplify the user interface.
For broadcast on 5G, all European broadcasters are trying to bring to the 3GPP tables (which deals with standards in the mobile area) the service requirements for broadcasters, especially for distribution and production (still in progress).
The idea pursued is to make it possible to receive non-SIM services or stand-alone broadcast services and others that need to be carried forward in standardization of 5G.
Today the system is taking advantage of the release 14 of 3GPP that uses all the bandwidth assigned without having to depend on unicast mode, so a pure broadcast world, or "supplementary downlink" from the network to mobile terminals without other connections via sim.

Some final considerations: The tv cameras are available, while for all the rest of the UHD / HFR chain, two chains still have to be used at 50Hz in production.
As per the diffusion of the frame rate required for the coding, the increase is is only around 20%, but much depends on the content and a possible pre-processing (to reduce strobing). This is a non-significant increase in bitrates.
As per back-compatibility level, the shots made at 100fps and 360° shutter tend to give a better quality of the base layer at 50fps compared to the 180° shutter case.
At the question "does the same content seen in the comparison between shooting at 100Hz and 50 Hz, shows an important qualitative leap?", the answer was: "it depends a lot on the content and how the signals are set up. The official comment on this data is that "it requires further in-depth analysis to provide correct scientific data, compared to the method used". Another comment is that "In general we could say that on some sequences you appreciate a greater fluidity of the movement but without a direct comparison between HDR and HFR you might not grasp the improvement."
Anyway the EBU has enriched their library of test sequences with further material that is made available to all. Concerning the HDR / HLG issue, there is substantially a confirmation of the perfect superior quality performance of HDR in shooting situations with high dynamic range, such as in stadiums, with in light and in shadow areas and night competitions.
Several production streams have been tested to manage simultaneous HDR and SDR outputs with minimal intervention on the production chain. As per the 5G it is confirmed that even from broadcast towers it is conceivable to offer a service in SFN mode and coverage gives good results also in outdoor and vehicular mobile reception (within certain distances). Everything works even without a unicast network and all the service can be contained in a single broadcast mode; even the terminals manage to correctly manage the HEVC part.
It still remains to be seen how the new phones that are also professed HDR ready will behave with a similar signal and practically 5G devices are expected to hit the market only around 2020/21.
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