With all-IP content, a TV program essentially becomes a computer file. It’s encoded, wrapped in DRM, infused with metadata and adapted for streaming to any device. Here are some key ingredients.

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EncodingMetadataAdaptive Bit Rate (ABR) Digital Rights Management (DRM)4K Ultra HD

Encoding

Encoding video in a particular digital format is the key to how it will be delivered and how it will look when it’s decoded on a screen. Cable long has relied upon MPEG2 (also referred to as H.262) digital compression to deliver multiple digital and high-definition television channels, modulated for digital delivery using QAM (quadrature amplitude modulation). IP video streaming relies upon MPEG4 (also known as H.264 or AVC, advanced video coding), offering greater bit rate savings. 4K Ultra HD requires an even more advanced level of encoding: high efficiency video coding (HEVC, or H.265).

It’s estimated that each leap in compression, from MPEG 2 to MPEG4 to HEVC, produces a 50% savings in bit rates. Better bit rates equal bandwidth savings and better quality. Encoding or transcoding from one format to another can take place in several parts of the video distribution chain, conducted by the content provider, a content distributor (like a satellite company) or the cable provider.  

Find out more: What is HEVC? High Efficiency Video Coding, H.265, and 4K compression explained

Metadata

Attached to any movie or TV show are masses of metadata, digital bits of information that provide everything from the title and actors to run dates and video formatting. Metadata is vital to providing advanced programming guides with new discovery tools and recommendation engines.

When a consumer searches for a particular actor, it’s the metadata that will help match their interest to the available content. Metadata can even be used to support voice commands in emerging voice-controlled TV remotes.  Metadata also can include business policies about the rights associated with a program, such as where and when it can be shown.

Adaptive bit rate (ABR)

Adaptive bit rate (ABR) streaming provides a way to match video so that it appears correctly on a device. ABR takes a video stream and “right sizes” it by providing the correct bit rate speed, video format, screen size and picture resolution for a particular device: for example, large-screen aspect ratios and high resolution for an HDTV set versus small screen, mobile resolution for a smartphone. There are four primary protocols for ABR online streaming: Apple HTTP Live Streaming (HLS), Microsoft Smooth Streaming (MSS), Adobe HTTP Dynamic Streaming (HDS), and a developing standard, MPEG-DASH (dynamic adaptive streaming over HTTP).

With ABR, video is distributed in a “device aware” manner so that it arrives properly and renders correctly on whatever screen you’re watching. As a result, providers can exercise greater control over the playback of streamed content and create a higher-quality viewing experience. With wireless connections, which encounter frequent fluctuations in signal strength, raising or lowering the encoding bit rate can support the smooth delivery of video and help to avoid video stalling, viewing delays and other playback problems. 

Find out more: Overcoming the Delivery Challenges of ABR Streaming, a Heavy Reading White Paper

Digital Rights Management (DRM)

Digital rights management (DRM) solutions are commonly used in media & entertainment fields to protect and manage content. DRM enables content providers to apply business rules to their video assets – copying permissions, release windows and so on – so they can automatically manage various business relationships with cable affiliates and other partners. With IP video distribution and changes in certain regulatory requirements, DRM or a downloadable conditional access system (DCAS) could be used in cable devices instead of CableCARDs, which are being phased out. (The FCC has established a Downloadable Security Technology Advisory Committee (DSTAC) to explore new security options for cable-connected devices.).

Application development software and online video players, offered by Microsoft, Apple, Adobe and others, include DRM while various groups promote technical standards or offer open source alternatives. As content providers and distributors continue into the IP frontier, new types of rights relationships and business models, supported by DRM, are changing the video business almost as much as the technologies are. 

Find out more: Digital rights management

The Changing Face of DRM, by Streaming Media

4K Ultra HD

Considered the next big thing in video, 4K Ultra High Definition TV (UHD) provides 4 times the resolution of current high-definition TV plus a wider screen. A related capability, high dynamic range (HDR), provides brilliant bright and dark shades. To fully deliver this eye-popping experience, 4K requires more bandwidth per UHD channel, HEVC encoding, higher frame rates and new connector cables (HDMI 2.0) for 4K Ultra HD TV sets. Programmers need to shoot shows using 4K cameras and other equipment. 

Since consumer demand, content availability and technical changes are evolving, the transition to 4K is expected to be gradual. Amid efforts to up-convert HD video to UHD and to sell smaller-sized UHD TVs, there is debate over what constitutes “true Ultra HD,” just as there was much debate over HDTV formats. But the overall goal is to present a dazzlingly clear picture. 

Find out more:

CTAM Top Ten Tech Developments, Ultra HD and 4K TV  

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