This project is a critical step to the introduction of HD media streaming services from mobile terminals in 2015. The solution is proposed to demonstrate dynamic video transmissions using the latest HEVC video codec running on a portable encoder combined with the latest Inmarsat BGAN HDR and GX satellite services
The VICOMESTRA (High Efficiency Video Coding over Satellite for Media Streaming) project succeeded in delivering one of the first mobile HEVC/H.265 contribution encoders in the world. The project enabled variable bit rate dynamic HEVC video transmissions using a portable encoder streaming over the latest Inmarsat BGAN HDR and Global Xpress (GX) satellite terminals.
The VICOMESTRA Project was an essential step towards a global mobile solution for streaming variable bit rate High Definition (HD) media over satellite. This reflects growing demand for broadcast quality video content from regions with limited terrestrial infrastructure. In conjunction with this, the High Efficiency Video Codec (HEVC/H.265) offers nearly twice the efficiency of the current H.264 codecs. The project successfully showed live HD and SD video transmissions from remote locations with no terrestrial infrastructure using a Quicklink HEVC custom encoder and GX and BGAN HDR terminals. GNSS was also used to demonstrate that all media could be geo-tagged.
An initial pilot took place in Europe using the HEVC encoder over the Inmarsat BGAN HDR network. This was followed by a pilot with key broadcasters using the encoder over the Eutelsat NewsSpotter and Inmarsat GX services.
The key objective of the project was to introduce a disruptive technology, namely a satellite-optimised HEVC codec which could be integrated in a small, mobile form factor and be powered by standard camera batteries.
The VICOMESTRA solution was piloted by key broadcast customers in real life scenarios.
The system supports the following features:
- The same quality to be transmitted with up to half the bit rate of the current H.264 codec.
- Reduced product running costs for the same quality compared to the current H.264 based solutions used for media streaming.
- The mobile HEVC solution meets the most important end-user requirements in different challenging locations.
- HD media streaming using portable satellite communications + GNSS geo-tagging.
The scope of development includes:
- Satellite connectivity: GX or BGAN HDR satellite connectivity to provide high bandwidth from remote locations
- GNSS: to provide geo-tagged metadata with the rise in popularity in applications such as Google™ maps.
- HEVC Mobile encoder: to provide almost double the quality of current mobile encoders
- Terrestrial connectivity: to provide dynamic bandwidth switching of the video transmission via a range of transmission paths e.g. ADSL, Wi-Fi, 3G, 4G,LTE
The VICOMESTRA solution was demonstrated by five key broadcast companies Aljazeera, BBC, BskyB, TV2 Denmark and TVI Portugal.
Users and their needs
The potential users of the new encoder are any entity with a requirement to transmit broadcast quality live video. They are located globally and include:
- Television Broadcasters
- Media Sector - Newsgathering, Freelance Journalists, Production Companies, Live Documentary events
- Government organisations
- Relief organisations
- Non-profit organisations as well as Enterprises
Some of the expressed user needs are:
- “I'm not a technician so it needs to be simple to use and fast to setup.”
- “I want to be able to do 2-way interviews at really good quality.”
- “If the control centre can tag my location that will make life easier and allow them to show where I am on the map.”
- “If I can do the same quality at half the price, I'll probably end up doing more.”
- “I want to be able to transmit my video to several locations at the same time."
- “I want to be able to send high quality video reliably from remote locations.”
- “At the studio, we need to access the streams via the web.”
Service/ system concept
The television industry’s move to HD has been taking place during a period of unprecedented change. Broadcasters are being asked to do more with fewer resources and, wherever possible, costs are being driven down. In this environment, the HEVC encoder’s ability to exploit lower data rates to either reduce costs or increase quality is a perfect fit.
HEVC enables broadcast quality HD on the non-contended Inmarsat GX uplink service.
HEVC will also enable dynamic action standard definition (SD) video using Inmarsat BGAN HDR as opposed to the type of static 'head and shoulders' shot which has been used previously.
Space Added Value
Satellite Navigation (GNSS) reflects the increasing importance of geo-tagging content in the media industry. All streamed media will be geo-tagged to confirm the authenticity of the source location. GNSS is also being used to show placement, tracking and movement of the equipment whilst in the field. Integration with overlays such as Google™ maps is now very popular in events such as cycling tours. GPS is available from the inbuilt 3G / 4G modems and also via direct communication with the Inmarsat BGAN HDR terminal.
The VICOMESTRA solution provides the following benefits;
- Commercialise the first HEVC Broadcast Solution on a mobile platform
- Almost double the video quality of the current H.264 solution
- Reduction of operating costs for the same quality video
- Operation on all types of Internet connectivity such as Wi-Fi , 3G, 4G,LTE
- Variable bit rate encoding to automatically adjust to varying network conditions such as packet loss, fluctuating network bandwidth and network delay.
- A web distribution service which increases the distribution possibilities via the web
- High Definition video to provide a sharper picture ,
- An attractive solution for markets such as sports which require High Definition footage
The following diagram shows the high level architecture of the VICOMESTRA demonstration solution:
- A video camera source connected to HEVC encoder
- GX satellite terminal will create a 5 Mbps streaming connection to the internet or IP backbone which is sufficient for High Definition video streaming.
- BGAN HDR terminal will create a 650 kbps (or 1.3 Mbps bonded) streaming connection to the internet or IP backbone which is sufficient for moving SD video streaming.
- A terrestrial IP network is required for either the HEVC Quicklink Multi Media distribution (multi point system) or the HEVC Playout server (the single point system).
In the multipoint option, the HEVC Distribution Server distributes to the web and/or Playout server and acts as a router.
In the single point option, the HEVC Playout Server receives and plays out directly the Serial Digital Interface (SDI) feed.
The Quicklink HEVC encoder can be connected to the Inmarsat GX terminal or the Inmarsat BGAN HDR terminal via an Ethernet cable or via inbuilt WiFi
The project addresses the following issues with the current broadcast solutions in the newsgathering sector;
- Broadcast users frequently report from remote field locations and wish to have a solution that is easy to operate and is compact for mobility.
- Throughput on the BGAN network means the existing H.264 Quicklink encoder is limited to a cropped 'talking head' shot with limited capability to include complex moving video in the background, for example the flames of a forest fire.
GNSS is also used as there is an increasing demand for the video to be geo-tagged
The VICOMESTRA project has been fully completed. Outside of the project some media companies continue to use the HEVC and GX equipment for testing in the field (as of Sept 2015). The outcomes of the project are summarized below
Quicklink HEVC Encoder Solution Produced and Piloted
The HEVC Solution from Quicklink was manufactured and optimised for the media market as a result of the VICOMESTRA project. The HEVC Solution from Quicklink consists of a HEVC mobile encoder for use on an internet protocol (IP) network which can be point to point (directly connecting to a playout server) or alternatively to a Distribution multi-point Server (where the streams can be played out on multiple playout servers). The HEVC encoding solution provides portable, affordable, live to air video streaming but with the added benefit of high quality footage suitable for high definition transmission even in places with no terrestrial infrastructure.
- The mobile HEVC encoder system was used to transport video over the new generation satellite networks such as Inmarsat BGAN HDR and Ka-band satellite networks including the Inmarsat GX network.
- The HEVC compression will ultimately offer almost twice the quality compared to current H.264 encoders in low delay live mode at the same bandwidth.
- The HEVC encoder integrates with both HEVC multi point distribution system and stand-alone playout system at the TV studio.
The new HEVC codec compression accompanied by the increased capacity available within satellite networks is bringing about a revolutionary change to video capabilities from the field. High Definition video will be able to be transmitted from satellite solutions which previously only supported Standard Definition video.
The terminals used for the pilot were the L-Band Explorer 710, the Ka-band Cobham Explorer 5075GX and various NewsSpotter terminals.
Quicklink Hardware Produced
All development and hardware production for the HEVC encoder, HEVC Distribution Server and HEVC Playout server was performed in the UK.
The Quicklink HEVC Solution consists of a HEVC mobile encoder, HEVC playout server and an optional HEVC Distribution Server. The Quicklink mobile encoder is used to enable video contribution from the field. The Quicklink HEVC Playout Server receives, decodes and outputs the live stream. The Quicklink HEVC Distribution Server allows the stream to be routed to multiple simultaneous locations or the transmission can be streamed for web distribution. The Quicklink HEVC encoder was designed following many workshops to gather input from broadcasters. The design takes account of trends in hardware and the case was prototyped using 3D printers. The codec was tuned and re-optimised for the input buffers within the GX terminal.
Figure 1 : System architecture
The Quicklink HEVC Encoder
The Quicklink HEVC Encoder Backpack produced for the VICOMESTRA demonstration project includes the following;
- hardware chassis
- operating system
- Quicklink software including error correction algorithms
- HEVC Codec licence
- bonding algorithms
- 3G/4G high gain modems
- 3G/4G antenna system
Figure 2 : HEVC Backpack encoder
The brochure for the HEVC Encoder can be downloaded here
As a result of user feedback from the pilot Quicklink have also launched (outside of the ESA project) the HEVC live codec into other mobile form factors such as the Mini Camera Mount unit, the 1U rack mount encoder and the Windows Software only version.
Figure 3 :Quicklink HEVC Camera Mount Unit
The Quicklink HEVC Playout Server and Distribution Server
The Quicklink HEVC Distribution Server and the HEVC Playout Server were produced for the VICOMESTRA project and the HEVC playout server is shown in Figure-4
Figure 4 : HEVC Playout Server
The brochure for the HEVC Playout Server can be downloaded here
The brochure for the HEVC Distribution Server can be downloaded here
Quicklink Software Produced
Quicklink developed specialist software in preparation for the VICOMESTRA demonstrations. The HEVC Software was developed for the Encoder, the Playout Server and the Distribution Server. A web portal was also produced to collate user feedback during the demonstrations.
The HEVC solution software included the following elements
- Graphical User Interface (GUI) of Encoder, Decoder, Distribution Server and Remote Web Interface (allows the encoder to be controlled from a mobile phone, for example).
- HEVC Encoding/Decoding engine
- Interface Input Module
- Existing transport encoding stream was modified to compensate for packet sizing output from HEVC codec
- Creation of modified Playout player to utilise the HEVC decoder codec convert from RTP packets to base band video signal (SDI)
- Existing Forward Error Correction (F.E.C) module modified
- Automatic adjust bandwidth calculation module
- System optimised to operate on Windows 8.1
- Distribution Server handshake module for HEVC codec
- Automatic bandwidth adjustment algorithm for the BGAN HDR and Ka Band network characteristics
- Optimisation of existing bonding algorithms for the BGAN HDR and Ka Band network
Figure 5 :Graphical User Interface of HEVC Mobile Encoder
Figure 6: Remote GUI Web Interface of HEVC Encoder
Inmarsat Certified Application Partner (CAP)
As a result of the VICOMESTRA project , Quicklink has been able to submit the HEVC encoding solution for CAP accreditation with Inmarsat . The Inmarsat Certified Applications Partner (CAP) programme allows third parties to develop applications and solutions that are optimised for use with Inmarsat’s satellite communications network.
Promoted the Solutions at Trade Shows
IBC is Europe's largest professional broadcast show and is held annually in September at the RAI Exhibition and Convention Centre in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
NAB Show is an annual trade show produced by the National Association of Broadcasters. It takes place in April at the Las Vegas Convention Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.
At NAB 2014, Quicklink was represented on the Inmarsat stand and demonstrated the first bonded HD transmission over the Inmarsat BGAN network.
The high definition demonstration was then repeated at the following industry trade shows;
- IBC 2014
- NAB 2015
- Le Bourget Paris Air Show 2015
- IBC 2015
The Quicklink Midi Backpack was used to demonstrate HEVC live demonstration video over the BGAN HDR network. The event was covered extensively by the online media agencies and also trended on Twitter , Facebook and Linkedin. This is a good example of the flexibility of usage for the Quicklink HEVC Encoder;
The Quicklink HEVC solution was also showcased at the Farnborough International Airshow on the ESA Stand.
At IBC 2015 , Quicklink and Inmarsat demostrated the Quicklink HEVC solution in conjunction with the Global Xpress (GX) network in order to demonstrate high quality video transmission using the Cobham 5075GX terminal.