nScreenMedia OTT multiscreen media analysis

A first step toward Ultra HD adoption completed

One of the first sign-posts on the road to Ultra HD adoption is the availability of a wealth of compatible devices. For that to happen, the processors CE products are built with must support it. ViXS’ introduction of the XCode 6400 is an essential step on that long road to mass adoption.

The XCode 6400 is the first System-on-Chip (SoC) to support HEVC (high efficiency video codec) Main 10 profile. It can decode Ultra HD 4K (3840×2160 pixels) with 10 bit color at between 24 fps (frames per second) up to 60 fps. The chipset also provides direct support for HDMI 1.4b and HDCP 1.4 and will support HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2.

HDMI 2.0 adds support for 60 fps 4K video. HDCP 2.2 is also a very important upgrade. HDCP (high-bandwidth digital content protection) 1.4, which protects the video delivered via HDMI cables, has been hacked. It is likely the industry, principally driven by Hollywood, will demand a higher level of security for the delivery of Ultra HD movies. Movielabs has proposed that HDCP 2.2 should be adopted to protect the higher quality video on HDMI connections. If this happens, devices that do not support the new protocol won’t be able to display 4K movies.

HEVC is very important for Ultra HD acceptance. Since 4K video has 4 times higher image resolution than 1080p, it could require up to 4 times the bandwidth to deliver it using existing compression techniques. HEVC promises to reduce the bandwidth required to roughly the same as currently used for 1080p.  Anselmo Pilla, Director of Marketing at ViXS, told me that XCode 6400 based prototypes have decoded 4K 24 fps movie trailers delivered in just 3.5 mbps streams. Today, HD video is delivered by online providers at about the same bitrate. He went on to say that he has seen 4K 60 fps video at between 12 and 16 mbps.

Getting direct support for 4K into device chipsets is very important. At IBC 2013, I saw demo’s of 4K at 60 fps, but it required a very beefy and expensive quad core processor to decode it smoothly. This type of processor consumers a lot of energy. For portable devices, energy is at a premium. So, moving the decode duties into hardware, into the SoC, is very important to keep the power consumption to minimum. Mr. Pilla told me the XCode 6400 consumes just 5 watts while decoding 4K 60fps video.

The first devices to ship powered by the XCode 6400 family will be Panasonic Ultra HD TVs. The AX800 series will ship in the first half of 2014 using the XCode 6403. ViXS is also working to bring Ultra HD to set-top boxes. The company announced a new reference design for an IP set-top box called “Thunder” based on the 6403.

Why it matters

One of the necessary conditions for mass market adoption of Ultra HD is the availability of a large number of devices supporting the standard.

For that to happen, chipsets that CE makers use in their devices must support Ultra HD and the associated HEVC standards.

With the arrival of a SoC supporting 4K and HEVC Main 10 profile, an essential step in the delivery of a large number of 4K devices is now completed.

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