Time to Think About TM&M for HEVC


BTR_Feature_Art_HEVC_3-31-13 The cable industry is eagerly awaiting High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC). The new compression technique, which will replace MPEG-4, is seen as an important step forward as the industry struggles to deal with expanding amounts of content being trafficked today and paves the way for the eventual arrival of UltraHD TV later.

Experts say the development of the test, measurement and monitoring (TM&M) tools that will be part of the HEVC family is vital and can’t effectively be left to the last minute. Indeed, the two are developing in tandem and are deeply entwined: The test and measurement element of HEVC is an important tool in the development of the core equipment itself. “We help the infrastructure developers implement solutions that operators will deploy,” said Paul Robinson, Tektronix’s CTO for Video. “We will add monitoring solutions once operators actually deploy HEVC services, which in general they are not doing yet.”

The development of these tools will proceed in stages until the widespread deployment of HEVC systems. “First there are the tools for encoders and decoders before [HEVC] gets deployed,” Robinson said. “That’s where we are in our product offerings today. We have analyzers at the point of use today that are being used by encoder and transcoder vendors and decoder chipset vendors.”

It is an important development cycle - and momentum is starting to build. In mid-March, IneoQuest took a step in the development of HEVC test and monitoring tools. The company announced that what it said is the first video quality monitoring platform for HEVC-encoded streams. The press release said the platform - which is being developed in partnership with Harmonic - will monitor both quality of service and the more subjective quality of experience (QoS and QoE) parameters.

Kirk George, the vice president of marketing for IneoQuest, counseled operators to pay attention to HEVC TM&M developments and to have the proper infrastructure ready to go when the systems roll out. “You definitely have to be ahead of the game,” he said. “Whoever deploys an HEVC system for 4K TVs needs an end-to-end system. They need video service assurance. They need probes.”

HEVC uses a codec referred to as H.265. It doubles the compression potential of H.264, the codec in the MPEG-4 standard that HEVC gradually will replace. The extra compression capabilities can be used in two ways: To support UltraHD - which is not feasible without the additional compression - or to squeeze more existing content into a given amount of spectrum.

Robinson said MPEG-4 is 10 times as complex as MPEG-2 and that HEVC is three to five time as complex as MPEG-4. That is a radical increase in complexity in a relatively short period of time. This growth in complexity is occurring as competition is increasing and consumers’ tolerance for less-than-stellar performance is shrinking. The clock is ticking on widespread rollouts of HEVC, which are expected next year. Today, Tektronix’s key HEVC device is the MTS4EV7 test and measurement analyzer, Robinson said.

Rohde & Schwarz offered responses from two executives to emailed questions. The bottom line is that the test, measurement and monitoring of HEVC is not a simple task. “Measuring and monitoring of HEVC encoded streams is very complex as there are substantial differences between existing video codecs and HEVC,” wrote Marcus Ruoff, a systems engineer for GMIT GmbH, a Rohde & Schwarz company. “The complexity of HEVC is significantly higher than that of H.264 or MPEG-2, and this is especially true with content in 4K/UHD resolutions."

Greg Kregoski, the business development manager for Rohde & Schwarz, said the vendor has expanded the functionality of its BMM-810 Multiviewer. It now supports real-time encoding for HEVC content.

The road to a new compression standard is a long one, however - and it is important to understand that the tools that the TM&M gear that accompanies HEVC are in many ways as important as the core technology itself. If the systems don’t work smoothly and reliably, the entire process is not worth the effort.

The call from vendors is to recognize that attention must be paid to TM&M as well as the core equipment itself. “Of course, this is no simple task and will require new equipment on both the production and operations side of the business," Kregoski said. “To make good business decisions, developers and operators need to be informed on the latest TM&M equipment that meets their current requirements while providing some scalability to address evolving needs.”

Carl Weinschenk is the Senior Editor of Broadband Technology Report. Contact him at carlw@pennwell.com.

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