SVG Sit-Down: T-21 Technologies’ Kevin Ancelin on the Future of HEVC and UHD-Content Delivery

The company aims to bridge broadcast and IT to enable OTT distribution

In 2014, broadcast-industry vet Kevin Ancelin and security/ITS vet Mehdi Daryadel launched T-21 Technologies with an eye to providing next-gen stream and file-based HEVC decode/transcode/encode for delivery of 4K UHD content. Since T-21’s launch, high dynamic range (HDR) and wide color gamut (WGC) have become must-haves for any UHD-content provider, and T-21 is rolling out the solutions.

SVG sat down recently with CEO Ancelin to discuss why he launched T-21 and how its products have evolved, how the surge of OTT and streaming outlets has impacted the decode/transcode/encode market, the future of HEVC as a contribution and distribution codec, why he believes the popularity of UHD is set to explode in 2018 with HDR and WGC, and what NAB 2017 attendees can expect from T-21.

T-21 Technologies CEO Kevin Ancelin at the company’s Jacksonville, FL, headquarters

T-21 Technologies is a fairly new player in sports-video technology. Can you provide some background on the company and why you decided to launch?
I started T21 shortly after my departure from Adtec, and I knew from the get-go that I wanted to focus on UHD workflows. I felt that UHD was going to be a compelling product when you combined higher resolution with wide color gamut and HDR. It’s maturing and finally becoming a genuine product from a broadcast-workflow point of view. I think the consumer displays are still significantly far behind the performance of BT.2020 color and HDR. I think the display industry needs the rest of 2017 to get it right. It is compelling when you see it done right, though. Wide color gamut and HDR make UHD truly come alive. Without those two, I believe UHD is just going to fall flat.

What I wanted to do first with T21 was focus on the monitoring side of UHD workflows, and we did that. We came out with one of the first, if not the first, network appliance that could decode HEVC UHD at distribution and contribution bitrates: the T9261-D. We’ve now shipped nearly a thousand of the T9261-D since inception, and it’s been a very successful product for us. It’s deployed in a wide spectrum of use cases: from UHD HEVC contribution monitoring, AVC and MP2 HD/SD decoding with broadcast-quality SDI down to HLS and RTMP decode to SDI and network protocol translation.

Building on the T9261-D, we are now launching our T23 4K HDR Ultra HD decoder, which will ship next month and is designed for that pro-cast [market]. At IBC2017, our T529 product will launch with the ability to do quad-SDI, 12G-SDI and ST-2022/2110.

How has the explosion of OTT and streaming outlets changed the needs of the encoding/decoding/transcoding market for sports-content providers?
OTT-monitoring workflows have become a real focus for us. Today, consumption of video is done, in large part, on more small-screen devices and over-the-top consumer devices. [At] T-21, this is a priority. We initially worked with RTMP; then we did DASH. But we soon realized that DASH is nascent in deployed market right now, so we refocused our efforts on HLS [HTTP live streaming], which we see growing today. This is not to say DASH is dead. I fully believe it’s going to grow, and we are very committed to DASH, but, in terms of selling product and services today, HLS is pervasive.

We support RTMP, we support HLS, and we support a limited amount of DASH. We allow users to choose which stream they want to see within the manifest. We allow users to monitor the bitrates, codec, and resolution. We allow users to take those streams and record them as well so they can archive them. We support closed captioning, which is a very important piece of any distribution workflow. The T9261-D OTT-to-SDI feature facilitates traditional SDI multiviewer broadcast-monitoring workflows.

We are in half of a hemisphere of broadcast SDI, and the other half of the hemisphere is public-facing over-the-top streaming technologies. We are that bridge. And we think that that opportunity to monitor over-the-top workflows is only going to grow.

What do you see in the future for HEVC? Will we see mass adoption in the near future, and, if so, in what markets will it flourish more: contribution or distribution?
For me, HEVC is a distribution codec; it’s not a contribution codec. I believe the contribution market is mostly uncompressed, certainly out of all the stadiums. If they do need to compress it because they’ve got the terrestrial circuits, they’re using JPEG2000. We believe that, based on the new workflows in production, if HEVC is used as a contribution codec, there will be a limited role played by a traditional IRD [integrated receiver/decoder] to baseband video. They’re going to deal with everything in a compressed domain with software repurposing transcoders and workflows. SDI cables won’t be used anymore. It may simply just be [that] HEVC comes in [and] maybe you have a device that converts it to ST-2110 and feeds it into some compression or transcoding workflow and [it is repurposed] at the outgoing side. I don’t believe HEVC has a large future in contribution links. Unless it’s a dense limited-bandwidth–type application, such as REMI [or at-home production]. I think it fits that REMI-type model quite nicely.

Since T-21 is heavily focused on UHD, How do you see the 4K UHD market for live sports programming progressing in the next 12 months?
I don’t think UHD is going to be a wild growth market in 2017. I believe the year of UHD is going to start next year. And I think the limiting factor is a compelling implementation of wide color gamut and HDR. In my opinion, without wide color gamut and HDR, UHD has very little value for customers. That said, I think UHD is going to continue to go this year, and then we’ll see the explosion in 2018.

First off, we need to get past quad-SDI for 4K. NEP and all the [mobile-unit providers] I’ve talked to simply can’t deal with it long term. The [SMPTE draft] ST-2110 standard is not quite here; 10G-SDI is not fast enough because you can’t fit a 12G UHD [signal] into a 10G network connection. So putting in a 10-gig router or devices is not going to do it. I don’t believe people are going to be compelled to use mezzanine compression, such as TICO or VC2, because people want an uncompressed UHD [signal] in their production workflow. In my opinion, you’re going to see a real uptick in 12G-SDI [product offerings]. We’ve got a product that we will be discussing at NAB and releasing at IBC2017 with 12G-SDI capability. Obviously, we are also supporting ST-2110, which is coming fast. I think ASPEN and all the other [proposed IP formats] are going to die away. AIMS and ST-2110 is the future in the uncompressed world.

We have presence with all the major players that are [currently producing and delivering live UHD sports content]. We’re in their trailers for the monitoring of the [4K signals].

Is any specific sector in the sports-video market exploding with opportunity today?
We believe that the college market represents one of the largest markets in front of us. Previously, schools couldn’t get distribution [for their sports content], but the internet has solved that problem. We even have peer-to-peer television networks now. So everybody can get distribution through a CDN. They need to compress live from SDI at the venue to over-the-top streaming.

We have that perfect solution for them: a small box with low power that’s easy to use and affordable. We also have links where they can do point-to-point links. If the stadium is across campus and they need to get [the signal] to the point of presence to go to the internet, we have solutions for that. We also have solutions for coach interviews with major networks: if the team happens to be undefeated eight games in and, all of a sudden, ESPN wants to interview the coach remotely [from the campus], we can provide for that.

What can we expect from T-21 Technologies at the NAB Show this year?
We won’t have a booth, but we will have a lot of gear and staff at NAB. For HDR over SDI, we’re already working with Plura, who has a 12-G monitor with HDR functionality, and we’ll be showing our solution with that [monitor] at their NAB booth (N2510). We will also be with Ross, Cobalt, Zixi, D2D, Persistent Systems and a few others. We are supporting partners that have either displays or broadcast workflows representing and/or reselling our products.

We see ourselves as the bridge between traditional broadcast infrastructure and information technology to enable new, modern over-the-top distribution technologies. That’s the message we’re hoping to bring to people.

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