Friday, September 16, 2011

Fwd: NDS Surfaces: the Next Revolution in TV - 3D CineCast

NDS Surfaces: the Next Revolution in TV

Posted: 16 Sep 2011 02:00 AM PDT

NDS provided the 'blow you away' demonstration for IBC2011 with its Surfaces concept, which takes the best of the big screen and companion screen experiences and throws them onto a single wall-sized display (or multiple walls) to create a feast of visual and interactive entertainment that still manages to maintain the lean-back characteristics of TV.

Surfaces is designed to exploit revolutionary advances in video display technology. NDS believes that wall-sized video displays, including video-capable 'wallpaper', will be available at reasonable prices within five years and has decided that there is no longer any reason to limit the TV experience to a 50 inch rectangular box. Surfaces will give platform operators the display real-estate to provide more immersive TV experiences when we want to fully relax, or a combination of entertainment, diaries, information, social media and connected home applications in a television-centric user interface at other times in the day.

In the demonstration, we were greeted by an 'ambient' display on the wall-sized screen showing large framed photos of family members and Facebook 'speech bubbles' with our latest social interactions. The first person to come down to breakfast is Mum, and as she is alone she selects 'Mum' on the controlling tablet and the display reorganises itself so that the equivalent of the BBC Radio 2 website appears in the centre of the wall, with music and details about the current show and the music playlist. To the right is a clock, the latest weather and diary items for the day. To the left are newspaper headlines that can be pursued for more information via the tablet.

Mum decides that she wants to watch the breakfast TV news so the screen reorganises itself so that the news bulletin appears in a 50 inch widescreen format at the centre-top of the wall. Radio 2 moves to the left and is muted as the audio switches to TV. But the radio playlist is displayed so Mum can switch back to a song she likes at any moment. Under the news are headline links, which can be clicked via the companion to learn more about the news stories. After the national news comes the regional news and the headline links change to local stories.

Then we return to the TV in the evening for some family entertainment. We choose the family profile on the tablet and The X Factor appears as an 80 inch widescreen TV display. Down the left-hand side are Twitter feeds relating to the show and below this is a live voting app where you can see viewer predictions about how each judge will vote, and you can cast your own vote via the tablet. The app is updated live so that as each judge makes their decision, a red cross or a green tick appears next to their photo.

For the purposes of the demo, NDS provides an 'Immersive' bar on the tablet that you manually adjust depending on how immersive you want your TV experience to be. At this point, we are watching X Factor at about half way on the immersive gauge, so we still have the social interaction on the left and on the right there are promotions for Amazon where you can buy the song that is being sung currently on the show. By sliding the immersive scale higher, these interactive and social elements disappear from the screen and the video content alone fills the entire wall. For good measure, the lights also dim to create a cinema ambience.

NDS then demonstrated what a 4k (ultra high-definition) movie looks like to confirm how the wall-sized screen can also act as your home cinema. Before we could relax too much, a video feed appeared as a picture-in-picture showing a baby crying in its cot upstairs, reminding us that not everyone gets to watch a movie uninterrupted! Mum and Dad can decide whether to keep an eye on that situation (the picture-in-picture can be reduced into the corner) or dismiss the babycam feed as one of them goes to settle the youngster. The demo clearly illustrates how the TV service provider can provide connected home applications in a way that make them much more useful and compelling.

Surfaces illustrates some exciting concepts. First, it expands the boundaries of TV in anticipation of advanced screen technologies that a few years ago seemed like science-fiction. Just as the television experience has already spilled out of the 40 inch widescreen and onto tablets and smartphones, it can now encompass an entire wall. Surfaces shows how you can make use of that real-estate to completely revolutionise the user experience and potentially introduce new services, from newspaper apps to home automation and videoconferencing, that will have additional value as part of an aggregated service provider user interface.

Surfaces takes all the richness of the convergence experience, like content and contextual apps and information, and gives viewers the option to have all that in one place without overlaying anything on the video itself. Then it allows consumers to decide how immersed they want to be in the video entertainment, so they can have less or more contextual apps and information to suit their mood and the time of day.

This is a stunning demo; the best I have seen personally in my 13 trips to IBC. Surfaces is revolutionary because if NDS is right, there will be no physical boundary to the television service in future. It was pointed out that you do not even have to produce TV for a rectangular display in this new world, so producers could experiment with new shapes and effects. And subtitles do not have to be contained within the screen frame, for example. The surfaces concept represents a fabulous opportunity for Pay TV operators to cement their position as the gateway to the home, building on what they are already doing in multi-screen and companion screen offers.

The implications for a Surfaces-enabled world (and of course we will expect other middleware/UI companies to embrace this concept) are dramatic. This looks like the easiest 'sell' to consumers of any TV innovation since colour. The public will be blown away by it and it will require little or no explanation. It will be an early adopter must-have with great 'wow' factor to impress neighbours and friends. This looks like something every service provider will end up offering once the technologies are priced for the mass-market.

This could also be the market-maker for ultra high-definition. When Steve Jobs introduced the Apple iPhone he gave us the reason to need mobile broadband. This will be the reason why millions of homes, rather than just a few palaces, will want ultra high-definition TV. It is worth noting that NDS upscaled HD automatically as the viewer slid the immersion scale upwards, and this still looked good across a 3.5 metre (approx) screen. And the company stresses that you can still use standard-definition TV too, since sometimes you will be viewing content in a 32 inch or 40 inch frame size. Nonetheless, cinema style displays, which is what you get when you slide the immersion scale to 'full', deserve more.

There will be homes that struggle to find a wall large enough, and without obstructions, to make this work. And as many of us eat breakfast in one room (e.g. the kitchen/diner) and relax in another (e.g. the living room) the full potential of Surfaces relies on screens being affordable enough to be present in more than one room. But this is so compelling you can imagine people wanting a wall display of some kind, however their home is configured, and this could also prompt a revolution in interior design so that rooms have one clear end for the screen. What does seem certain is that this UI will probably make traditional remote controls obsolete, as this is an experience that needs and deserves full tablet control.

Simon Parnall, UK Vice President of technology at NDS, said during the demo: "I have a 46 inch screen in the corner of my home and normally it is black. And whether it is news, sports or movies, I see all content in 46 inches. It is our fundamental belief that actually, the size of the image needs to change according to the kind of content I am watching to match my attitude towards the content and my degree of interest, or what we are calling my level of immersion, in it."

Nigel Smith, VP and Chief Marketing Officer at NDS, believes the rate of innovation in display technology means this will be realistic within five years, with pricing of $2,000 or less for full-wall displays that might even be a plastic film that can display video. He noted that husbands often want bigger screens today and are limited by what their wife will tolerate! With Surfaces, there is no screen to sit in the room as furniture, so this problem is removed.

NDS has based the Surfaces concept demo on its existing unified multi-screen headend (which provides common intelligence in the backoffice for video management and delivery) and its Service Delivery Platform, which provides an open API that acts as an interface between apps on devices, a TV platform and social networks or other Internet content, and opens the way to third-party development work in multi-screen and companion screen services. These are the foundation technologies for Surfaces.

As Smith points out: "We are not waiting for the screen technology to become available. We are working on getting the technology ready prior to what we think will happen anyway. We are waiting for the hardware technologies to catch up with the software." He adds that the CE vendors are looking beyond 3DTV for what will sell screens next and points out that 3D uptake has been slowed by lack of content. "We are helping them out because as soon as they launch these new screens, this will work."

Smith adds that everyone who saw the demo said they wanted this solution at home. We are not surprised. Like the screens they will harness, Surfaces and concepts like it will be the next big thing in TV.

By John Moulding, Videonet

IBC: Multi-screen Dominates, but Another Revolution is Brewing

Posted: 16 Sep 2011 02:00 AM PDT

There was a positive mood at IBC this year, based on our conversations with vendors and the amount of business they were doing at the show, and not surprisingly, multi-screen TV was the big theme again. It is becoming clear now how this is a transition almost as big and dramatic as digital TV itself, which is why it keeps rolling on as a subject.

Multi-screen is evolving and the discussion this year was about how platform operators can achieve scale cost-effectively as they move beyond tens of channels to hundreds of channels, and how the early movers can differentiate their services once everyone has content to all screens.

The answer to this second question seems to be an integrated and holistic multi-screen experience, which means companion apps like remote control from the smartphone, and pause-resume between devices. The bottom line is that duplicating content everywhere is not enough; the whole experience has to be enriched so that two plus two equals five.

Multi-screen should keep us all busy for some years yet, but the even better news from IBC is that there is another revolution on the way, eloquently demonstrated by NDS with its 'Surfaces' concept. This is the evolution of TV from a rectangular box in our home, and a piece of furniture, to wall-sized display surfaces, which means that all the contextual interactivity you can achieve across TV, smartphones and tablets can actually be replicated in one place, providing you get the balance between lean-back and lean-forward correct.

This demo made it very clear where the future of TV is heading in the home and it was stunning. In a way, convergence has given us such multimedia riches that we can no longer contain them on a 42 inch or 60 inch screen, thus the drive for companion experiences. But it appears that advanced display technology and an accompanying revolution in the TV user interface will give us the option to converge the post-convergence TV experience! That will not remove the need for companion apps but consumers will have more choice about where they have contextual apps and information.

NDS Surfaces

It often happens that the right technologies all come along at the same time, and that is not a coincidence, of course. Thus MPEG-4 AVC, DVB-S2, a new generation of decoders and lower priced flat-screen TVs arrived simultaneously to make the market for HDTV. So with wall-sized screens expected to become affordable, and a user interface that illustrates their potential for video and much more, it is probably time to start looking at ultra high-definition TV in more detail because NDS Surfaces looked to us like the reason mass-market consumers will want ultra high-def.

The HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding) next-generation compression standard is progressing well and is expected to halve bit rates compared to MPEG-4 AVC, and we are told the CE industry is looking for something to sell after 3DTVs and video 'surfaces' is where they are focused. So we may be set for the next big thing after multi-screen and connected/hybrid TV (including hybrid broadcast broadband).

To sum up a few of the other interesting things we saw and learned:

The connected home: Service providers can exploit new opportunities beyond video including home automation. Enabling whole-home TV and multi-screen is still the big driver today. There is a growing interest in IP thin clients around the home including set-top boxes that support adaptive bit rate streaming for OTT and even service provider STBs that only support adaptive streaming. It is also becoming clear that a major challenge for multi-screen TV at home is getting the cost of customer support down, since operators are going to be held responsible when the tablet stops streaming, whether it is their fault or not.

Social TV: More focus on integrating social media into the TV experience. TV Genius had a nice demo showing how you can populate the EPG with pictures of your Facebook friends who like the programmes. Liberty Global and Virgin Media both outlined the importance of content recommendation, and Think Analytics announced a major deal with Liberty Global to provide the recommendations on the Horizon platform across multiple UPC territories, demonstrating that we are moving into mass roll-out phase for this technology.

Multi-screen video processing: When it comes to video delivery, it is all about scale now and providing a common headend for classic broadcast and multi-screen delivery. There is a trend towards hardware-based transcoding to enable more channels per rack unit. Encoding vendors with a heritage in 'classic' broadcast are strengthening their multi-screen offers and vendors who targeted IPTV and multi-screen are looking for opportunities in traditional TV over cable and satellite. The bottom line is that everyone wants an end-to-end solution so they can take care of all video delivery for their customers.

Content security: Pay TV OTT content protection was another important theme for the show. There is a feeling that multi-screen has reached a tipping point where all channels are expected on all screens, and platform operators will expect the same levels of security on smartphones and tablets as they have on the STB. They also want a managed security service and not just a DRM, and that is a role the CA vendors are only too happy to fulfil.

Tablets: Where do you start? They are everywhere in this industry and will eventually be everywhere in homes, and they are already having a notable impact on TV. There is a growing feeling that they will displace the PC and even the second TV in the home because they are so easy to use, the picture quality is so good and they boot up instantly. Tablets are encouraging more linear viewing. There are big opportunities and disruptions ahead because of synchronisation between the tablet and the main TV, with the tablet providing Greenfield advertising inventory. Broadcasters will have to fight third-parties to control the interactive advertising (or engagement) opportunities on synchronised tablets.

By John Moulding, Videonet

No comments: