Flexible solutions are needed for an evolving 4K landscape, says Rob Green

Even though the signal chain to support full HD (1080p60) remains incomplete, the industry is already predicting and planning for the uptake of its successor, Ultra High Definition (UHD-1, or 4K), which delivers 3840 x 2160 pixels. Beyond that, Super Hi Vision (UHD-2 or 8K) is also emerging.

There is no terrestrial or satellite broadcasting infrastructure to support 4K TV yet, but online streaming services are able to take advantage of the higher definition standard and 4K-capable TVs are already on sale and being purchased.

This evolution requires many things, including more sophisticated integrated solutions capable of handling higher pixel counts, frame rates and bandwidth requirements.

However, professional versions of new compression standards — specifically the High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) standard now under development by the ISO/IEC Motion Picture Expert Group — aren’t expected to be available for around 18 months, with full commercial roll-out being as much as three years away.

This delay could threaten the success of 4K TV service providers, who are keen to start profiting from the consumer pull for higher resolution content but aren’t able to source integrated solutions.

On the face of it, these new networks are the perfect application for a System-on-Chip (SoC) solution; high volume and highly optimised integrated circuits that target a specific application.

But while the standards remain in a state of flux it will be some time before integrated device manufacturers are prepared to commit silicon to the solution.

One of the many challenges SoC providers face is accommodating the changing needs of an emerging market.

However, if a programmable platform were to be used, changes can be easily implemented, without losing the intellectual investment already made.

One area of uncertainty in the professional video space, for example, is the direction video analytics will take.

It is believed it will become necessary to provide metadata for video content as it is captured, a challenging task that will require a significant amount of processing power, particularly as frame sizes increase to 4K and beyond.

Furthermore, this will need to be implemented in the camera head and not impose any loss of quality, or introduce significant latency. Developing a SoC that could meet the requirements of many broadcasters would be extremely challenging.

However, by using a programmable platform, many configuration changes can be made while still preserving the underlying functionality — even changes in compression standards.

Smarter vision networks are now being developed, networks that can not only capture and process 4K video but offer value-added features such as metadata analytics, while preserving the higher resolution experience all the way to the TV.

By choosing a programmable platform, OEMs are able to meet the growing demand from consumers while not compromising on features or performance.

It is unlikely that a ‘one SoC fits all’ solution will emerge for 4K TV providers in the near future, but by choosing a powerful and flexible programmable platform, OEMs don’t need to miss the show.

Rob Green is senior marketing manager, Broadcast and Consumer at Xilinx