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France Télévisions invites Intel to its world premiere of 8K 5G TV

Roland-Garros has long been established as the innovation hub for France Télévisions. The Parisian tournament’s conditions are favorable for this, including sufficient duration for installing and testing equipment, as well as the event’s geographical location. (Publi-rédactionnel)

After HD in 2006, 4K UHD SDR in 2013–14, 4K HDR in 2015–2018, VR in 2015–2017, and other innovations and world premieres from the French public group, 8K UHD has now been the focus of testing for two years.

A great human adventure

In 2018, testing concentrated on 8K video capture and recording without live broadcast. In 2019, France Télévisions intends to go much further. The challenge: to create a full ecosystem of live broadcast and playback in 8K 60 fps HDR10, i.e. to offer the best there is, and to get it all done in three months! As Bernard Fontaine, Director of Technical Innovations at France Télévisions, emphasizes, “It would have been impossible alone. It is a true human and industrial adventure. All our partners have responded, ‘We want to be a part of this,’ because world premieres don’t happen that often.”

Intel can be found at the heart of this tremendous challenge, stationed at the France Télévisions stand, and is part of a real technical and human adventure—bringing together over 20 companies and mobilizing more than 150 people spread across three continents!

A complete platform

It all starts with video capture, which is carried out using two Sharp 8K broadcast cameras placed on the Philippe Chatrier court and sent to two television screens from the same manufacturer. Between the two, the hardware equipment and software solutions used are impressive.

After all, the cameras produce enormous data streams, with four times the pixels of 4K: 7680 x 4320 pixels versus 3840 x 2160 pixels. For this, four Synoptic Broadcast fiber-optic SDI connections are used, which can support outputs of 12 Gbit/s each and transmit this content to a platform of services. The latter has all the features necessary for broadcasting today, including live encoding, creation and management of videos for broadcast, catch-up TV, and SVOD, as well as image adaptation for smartphones and tablets. Although still experimental, this complete platform has already demonstrated that it works. Ambition is certainly high, but it is all the more justified because, as President of VLC Jean-Baptiste Kempf puts it, “With 8K 60 fps HDR10, we are all set technologically for at least five or six years”.

From capture to broadcast

The video feeds are sent to an 8K BlackMagic switcher or directly to SSD storage. This second method is used to supply the Grass Valley editing stations. Unsurprisingly, the high-end video-editing workstations are powered by single- or dual-socket Intel® Xeon® Scalable processors, while the Mainstream Workstations feature Intel Core X-Series processors. It should be noted that most of the software used by professionals already supports 8K (Adobe Premiere Pro, Cinema 4D, SGO Mistika, etc.).

The 8K Grass Valley Workstation

In partnership with Juniper Networks and Harmonic, Intel has set up a mini cloud data center to provide smart and agile infrastructure services in line with the expectations of the video-processing and broadcasting market.

The videos are then encoded into several types of solutions, including one from Intel based on its own, open-source codec, which is a real plus, allowing rapid integration into the broadcasting ecosystem.

Two other 8K encoders are used. The first is from NEC, feeding a Harmonic VOS Origin Cloud server at 85 Mb/s, using two Intel Xeon Gold 6152 processors to produce a live DASH stream, two VOD streams, and a web server. The second is from Advantech, broadcasting live programs from France Télévisions at the Orange stand.

Harmonic’s streaming solution interfaces with an Intel NAS to manage SVOD and catch-up TV. Harmonic was in charge of coordinating headend video, as well as media processing with offline transcoding, format conversion, and export. Thierry Fautier, VP of Video Strategy at Harmonic, told us the tight deadline was not a problem, because “Harmonic had already developed a workflow for transcoding 8K VOD, presented at NAB Show in April 2019”. The three people involved in this experiment have worked towards developing the Origin Server’s function and ensuring compatibility with VLC media player. For Thierry Fautier, the Roland-Garros 2019 project “had many challenges, tight deadlines, technical aspects, integration of 20 partners…” and he also emphasizes the support from Intel, which played a unifying role.

This then raises the question of broadcasting these wonderful images. Fiber optic is, of course, the optimal solution for retaining maximum quality, but it is also possible to use satellite for 8K, even if this method of broadcast has a lower bandwidth than fiber and does not support the catch-up TV and VOD on this experimental platform.

For broadcasting these programs, Bernard Fontaine confirms that digital terrestrial television in its current technical configuration is not adapted for 8K, particularly in terms of available bandwidth required. If they do not want to be excluded from this 8K UHD format, broadcasters must find appropriate solutions, preferably with acceptable economic models. 5G may be one answer to this question.

To test this, two 5G transmitters have been rolled out for testing at Roland-Garros by Orange with the support of Nokia. They have integrated a 5G core network into the France Télévisions platform, supplying two 3.6 Ghz 5G antennas installed in the stadium, one pointing to the France Télévisions showroom space, the other to that of Orange. The stream is received directly by Oppo Reno 5G smartphones, which act as a modem. The video is then picked up by two PCs equipped with Intel Xeon processors, which decode it using VLC media player and are powered by software and hardware that take advantage of hardware acceleration. This was developed and optimized in three weeks. Jean-Baptiste Kempf confirms that the work carried out for this experiment has already been integrated into the latest version of VLC, available for all to download today!

With a fully software-based decoder, the Intel Xeon processor utilization is approximately 60%. Optimization could potentially result in a further approximately 10% gain. Taking advantage of hardware acceleration results in processor utilization falling below 5% when an 8K 60 fps HDR10 video is read. Pending the arrival of HDMI 2.1, the two machines send the video to the Sharp 8K screens through four HDMI 2.0 ports per screen.

At each step, Intel engineers optimized the platform’s hardware and software. Lynn Comp, Vice-President, Data Center Group at Intel, confirms that her company supports software companies of any size. It has been a tradition at Intel for many years. For example, Intel’s teams have helped the start-up Tiledmedia to develop and optimize its tiled streaming technology that allows users to zoom in on an 8K image on an HD smartphone or tablet. For Lynn Comp, the Roland-Garros experiment has helped to demonstrate that the cloud could “allow the industry to create more immersive and connected content with more accessible, more standardized, more flexible, and faster technologies”.

This is an exceptional operation, which will demonstrate that all the usual features of digital TV services today, primarily HD with some 4K UHD, are completely transferable to 8K UHD. The technology will be on show for a fortnight for hundreds of visitors, curious and delighted to discover what is in store for the coming decade.

(Publi-rédactionnel)

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