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2.5 Digital-Video Applications

Main consumer applications for digital video include digital TV broadcasts, digital cinema, video playback from DVD or blu-ray players, as well as video streaming and videoconferencing over the Internet (wired or wireless) [Pit 13].

2.5.1 Digital TV

A digital TV (DTV) broadcasting system consists of video/audio compression, multiplex and transport protocols, channel coding, and modulation subsystems. The biggest single innovation that enabled digital TV services has been advances in video compression since the 1990s. Video-compression standards and algorithms are covered in detail in Chapter 8. Video and audio are compressed separately by different encoders to produce video and audio packetized elementary streams (PES). Video and audio PES and related data are multiplexed into an MPEG program stream (PS). Next, one or more PSs are multiplexed into an MPEG transport stream (TS). TS packets are 188-bytes long and are designed with synchronization and recovery in mind for transmission in lossy environments. The TS is then modulated into a signal for transmission. Several different modulation methods exist that are specific to the medium of transmission, which are terrestial (fixed reception), cable, satellite, and mobile reception.

There are different digital TV broadcasting standards that are deployed globally. Although they all use MPEG-2 or MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 video compression, more or less similar audio coding, and the same transport stream protocol, their channel coding, transmission bandwidth and modulation systems differ slightly. These include the Advanced Television System Committee (ATSC) in the USA, Digital Video Broadcasting (DVB) in Europe, Integrated Multimedia Broadcasting (ISDB) in Japan, and Digital Terrestial Multimedia Broadcasting in China.

ATSC Standards

The first DTV standard was ATSC Standard A/53, which was published in 1995 and was adopted by the Federal Communications Commission in the United States in 1996. This standard supported MPEG-2 Main profile video encoding and 5.1-channel surround sound using Dolby Digital AC-3 encoding, which was standardized as A/52. Support for AVC/H.264 video encoding was added with the ATSC Standard A/72 that was approved in 2008. ATSC signals are designed to use the same 6 MHz bandwidth analog NTSC television channels. Once the digital video and audio signals have been compressed and multiplexed, ATSC uses a 188-byte MPEG transport stream to encapsulate and carry several video and audio programs and metadata. The transport stream is modulated differently depending on the method of transmission:

  • Terrestrial broadcasters use 8-VSB modulation that can transmit at a maximum rate of 19.39 Mbit/s. ATSC 8-VSB transmission system adds 20 bytes of Reed-Solomon forward-error correction to create packets that are 208 bytes long.
  • Cable television stations operate at a higher signal-to-noise ratio than terrestial broadcasters and can use either 16-VSB (defined by ATSC) or 256-QAM (defined by Society of Cable Telecommunication Engineers) modulation to achieve a throughput of 38.78 Mbit/s, using the same 6-MHz channel.
  • There is also an ATSC standard for satellite transmission; however, direct-broadcast satellite systems in the United States and Canada have long used either DVB-S (in standard or modified form) or a proprietary system such as DSS (Hughes) or DigiCipher 2 (Motorola).

The receiver must demodulate and apply error correction to the signal. Then, the transport stream may be de-multiplexed into its constituent streams before audio and video decoding.

The newest edition of the standard is ATSC-3.0, which employs the HEVC/H.265 video codec, with OFDM instead of 8-VSB for terrestial modulation, allowing for 28 Mbps or more of bandwidth on a single 6-MHz channel.

DVB Standards

DVB is a suite of standards, adopted by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) and supported by European Broadcasting Union (EBU), which defines the physical layer and data-link layer of the distribution system. The DVB texts are available on the ETSI website. They are specific for each medium of transmission, which we briefly review.

DVB-T and DVB-T2

DVB-T is the DVB standard for terrestrial broadcast of digital television and was first published in 1997. It specifies transmission of MPEG transport streams, containing MPEG-2 or H.264/MPEG-4 AVC compressed video, MPEG-2 or Dolby Digital AC-3 audio, and related data, using coded orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (COFDM) or OFDM modulation. Rather than carrying data on a single radio frequency (RF) channel, COFDM splits the digital data stream into a large number of lower rate streams, each of which digitally modulates a set of closely spaced adjacent sub-carrier frequencies. There are two modes: 2K-mode (1,705 sub-carriers that are 4 kHz apart) and 8K-mode (6,817 sub-carriers that are 1 kHz apart). DVB-T offers three different modulation schemes (QPSK, 16QAM, 64QAM). It was intended for DTV broadcasting using mainly VHF 7 MHz and UHF 8 MHz channels. The first DVB-T broadcast was realized in the UK in 1998. The DVB-T2 is the extension of DVB-T that was published in June 2008. With several technical improvements, it provides a minimum 30% increase in payload, under similar channel conditions compared to DVB-T. The ETSI adopted the DVB-T2 in September 2009.

DVB-S and DVB-S2

DVB-S is the original DVB standard for satellite television. Its first release dates back to 1995, while development lasted until 1997. The standard only specifies physical link characteristics and framing for delivery of MPEG transport stream (MPEG-TS) containing MPEG-2 compressed video, MPEG-2 or Dolby Digital AC-3 audio, and related data. The first commercial application was in Australia, enabling digitally broadcast, satellite-delivered television to the public. DVB-S has been used in both multiple-channel per carrier and single-channel per carrier modes for broadcast network feeds and direct broadcast satellite services in every continent of the world, including Europe, the United States, and Canada.

DVB-S2 is the successor of the DVB-S standard. It was developed in 2003 and ratified by the ETSI in March 2005. DVB-S2 supports broadcast services including standard and HDTV, interactive services including Internet access, and professional data content distribution. The development of DVB-S2 coincided with the introduction of HDTV and H.264 (MPEG-4 AVC) video codecs. Two new key features that were added compared to the DVB-S standard are:

  • A powerful coding scheme, Irregular Repeat-Accumulate codes, based on a modern LDPC code, with a special structure for low encoding complexity.
  • Variable coding and modulation (VCM) and adaptive coding and modulation (ACM) modes to optimize bandwidth utilization by dynamically changing transmission parameters.

Other features include enhanced modulation schemes up to 32-APSK, additional code rates, and introduction of a generic transport mechanism for IP packet data including MPEG-4 AVC video and audio streams, while supporting backward compatibility with existing DVB-S transmission. The measured DVB-S2 performance gain over DVB-S is around a 30% increase of available bitrate at the same satellite transponder bandwidth and emitted signal power. With improvements in video compression, an MPEG-4 AVC HDTV service can now be delivered in the same bandwidth used for an early DVB-S based MPEG-2 SDTV service. In March 2014, the DVB-S2X specification was published as an optional extension adding further improvements.

DVB-C and DVB-C2

The DVB-C standard is for broadcast transmission of digital television over cable. This system transmits an MPEG-2 or MPEG-4 family of digital audio/digital video stream using QAM modulation with channel coding. The standard was first published by the ETSI in 1994, and became the most widely used transmission system for digital cable television in Europe. It is deployed worldwide in systems ranging from larger cable television networks (CATV) to smaller satellite master antenna TV (SMATV) systems.

The second-generation DVB cable transmission system DVB-C2 specification was approved in April 2009. DVB-C2 allows bitrates up to 83.1 Mbit/s on an 8 MHz channel when using 4096-QAM modulation, and up to 97 Mbit/s and 110.8 Mbit/s per channel when using 16384-QAM and 65536-AQAM modulation, respectively. By using state-of-the-art coding and modulation techniques, DVB-C2 offers more than a 30% higher spectrum efficiency under the same conditions, and the gains in downstream channel capacity are greater than 60% for optimized HFC networks. These results show that the performance of the DVB-C2 system gets so close to the theoretical Shannon limit that any further improvements would most likely not be able to justify the introduction of a disruptive third generation cable-transmission system.

There is also a DVB-H standard for terrestrial mobile TV broadcasting to handheld devices. The competitors of this technology have been the 3G cellular-system-based MBMS mobile-TV standard, the ATSC-M/H format in the United States, and the Qualcomm MediaFLO. DVB-SH (satellite to handhelds) and DVB-NGH (Next Generation Handheld) are possible future enhancements to DVB-H. However, none of these technologies have been commercially successful.

2.5.2 Digital Cinema

Digital cinema refers to digital distribution and projection of motion pictures as opposed to use of motion picture film. A digital cinema theatre requires a digital projector (instead of a conventional film projector) and a special computer server. Movies are supplied to theatres as digital files, called a Digital Cinema Package (DCP), whose size is between 90 gigabytes (GB) and 300 GB for a typical feature movie. The DCP may be physically delivered on a hard drive or can be downloaded via satellite. The encrypted DCP file first needs to be copied onto the server. The decryption keys, which expire at the end of the agreed upon screening period, are supplied separately by the distributor. The keys are locked to the server and projector that will screen the film; hence, a new set of keys are required to show the movie on another screen. The playback of the content is controlled by the server using a playlist.

Technology and Standards

Digital cinema projection was first demonstrated in the United States in October 1998 using Texas Instruments’ DLP projection technology. In January 2000, the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, in North America, initiated a group to develop digital cinema standards. The Digital Cinema Initiative (DCI), a joint venture of six major studios, was established in March 2002 to develop a system specification for digital cinema to provide robust intellectual property protection for content providers. DCI published the first version of a specification for digital cinema in July 2005. Any DCI-compliant content can play on any DCI-compliant hardware anywhere in the world.

Digital cinema uses high-definition video standards, aspect ratios, or frame rates that are slightly different than HDTV and UHDTV. The DCI specification supports 2K (2048 × 1080 or 2.2 Mpixels) at 24 or 48 frames/sec and 4K (4096 × 2160 or 8.8 Mpixels) at 24 frames/sec modes, where resolutions are represented by the horizontal pixel count. The 48 frames/sec is called high frame rate (HFR). The specification employs the ISO/IEC 15444-1 JPEG2000 standard for picture encoding, and the CIE XYZ color space is used at 12 bits per component encoded with a 2.6 gamma applied at projection. It ensures that 2K content can play on 4K projectors and vice versa.

Digital Cinema Projectors

Digital cinema projectors are similar in principle to other digital projectors used in the industry. However, they must be approved by the DCI for compliance with the DCI specifications: i) they must conform to the strict performance requirements, and ii) they must incorporate anti-piracy protection to protect copyrights. Major DCI-approved digital cinema projector manufacturers include Christie, Barco, NEC, and Sony. The first three manufactuers have licensed the DLP technology from Texas Instruments, and Sony uses its own SXRD technology. DLP projectors were initially available in 2K mode only. DLP projectors became available in both 2K and 4K in early 2012, when Texas Instruments’ 4K DLP chip was launched. Sony SXRD projectors are only manufactured in 4K mode.

DLP technology is based on digital micromirror devices (DMDs), which are chips whose surface is covered by a large number of microscopic mirrors, one for each pixel; hence, a 2K chip has about 2.2 million mirrors and a 4K chip about 8.8 million. Each mirror vibrates several thousand times a second between on and off positions. The proportion of the time the mirror is in each position varies according to the brightness of each pixel. Three DMD devices are used for color projection, one for each of the primary colors. Light from a Xenon lamp, with power between 1 kW and 7 kW, is split by color filters into red, green, and blue beams that are directed at the appropriate DMD.

Transition to digital projection in cinemas is ongoing worldwide. According to the National Association of Theatre Owners, 37,711 screens out of 40,048 in the United States had been converted to digital and about 15,000 were 3D capable as of May 2014.

3D Digital Cinema

The number of 3D-capable digital cinema theatres is increasing with wide interest of audiences in 3D movies and an increasing number of 3D productions. A 3D-capable digital cinema video projector projects right-eye and left-eye frames sequentially. The source video is produced at 24 frames/sec per eye; hence, a total of 48 frames/sec for right and left eyes. Each frame is projected three times to reduce flicker, called triple flash, for a total of 144 times per second. A silver screen is used to maintain light polarization upon reflection. There are two types of stereoscopic 3D viewing technology where each eye sees only its designated frame: i) glasses with polarizing filters oriented to match projector filters, and ii) glasses with liquid crystal (LCD) shutters that block or transmit light in sync with the projectors. These technologies are provided under the brands RealD, MasterImage, Dolby 3D, and XpanD.

The polarization technology combines a single 144-Hz digital projector with either a polarizing filter (for use with polarized glasses and silver screens) or a filter wheel. RealD 3D cinema technology places a push-pull electro-optical liquid crystal modulator called a ZScreen in front of the projector lens to alternately polarize each frame. It circularly polarizes frames clockwise for the right eye and counter-clockwise for the left eye. MasterImage uses a filter wheel that changes the polarity of the projector’s light output several times per second to alternate the left-and-right-eye views. Dolby 3D also uses a filter wheel. The wheel changes the wavelengths of colors being displayed, and tinted glasses filter these changes so the incorrect wavelength cannot enter the wrong eye. The advantage of circular polarization over linear polarization is that viewers are able to slightly tilt their head without seeing double or darkened images.

The XpanD system alternately flashes the images for each eye that viewers observe using electronically synchronized glasses The viewer wears electronic glasses whose LCD lenses alternate between clear and opaque to show only the correct image at the correct time for each eye. XpanD uses an external emitter that broadcasts an invisible infrared signal in the auditorium that is picked up by glasses to synchronize the shutter effect.

IMAX Digital 3D uses two separate 2K projectors that represent the left and right eyes. They are separated by a distance of 64 mm (2.5 in), which is the average distance between a human’s eyes. The two 2K images are projected over each other (superposed) on a silver screen with proper polarization, which makes the image brighter. Right and left frames on the screen are directed only to the correct eye by means of polarized glasses that enable the viewer to see in 3D. Note that IMAX theatres use the original 15/70 IMAX higher resolution frame format on larger screens.

2.5.3 Video Streaming over the Internet

Video streaming refers to delivery of media over the Internet, where the client player can begin playback before the entire file has been sent by the server. A server-client streaming system consists of a streaming server and a client that communicate using a set of standard protocols. The client may be a standalone player or a plugin as part of a Web browser. The streaming session can be a video-on-demand request (sometimes called a pull-application) or live Internet broadcasting (called a push-application). In a video-on-demand session, the server streams from a pre-encoded and stored file. Live streaming refers to live content delivered in real-time over the Internet, which requires a live camera and a real-time encoder on the server side.

Since the Internet is a best-effort channel, packets may be delayed or dropped by the routers and the effective end-to-end bitrates fluctuate in time. Adaptive streaming technologies aim to adapt the video-source (encoding) rate according to an estimate of the available end-to-end network rate. One possible way to do this is stream switching, where the server encodes source video at multiple pre-selected bitrates and the client requests switching to the stream encoded at the rate that is closest to its network access rate. A less commonly deployed solution is based on scalable video coding, where one or more enhancement layers of video may be dropped to reduce the bitrate as needed.

In the server-client model, the server sends a different stream to each client. This model is not scalable, since server load increases linearly with the number of stream requests. Two solutions to solve this problem are multicasting and peer-to-peer (P2P) streaming. We discuss the server-client, multicast, and P2P streaming models in more detail below.

Server-Client Streaming

This is the most commonly used streaming model on the Internet today. All video streaming systems deliver video and audio streams by using a streaming protocol built on top of transmission control protocol (TCP) or user datagram protocol (UDP). Streaming solutions may be based on open-standard protocols published by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) such as RTP/UDP or HTTP/TCP, or may be proprietary systems, where RTP stands for real-time transport protocol and HTTP stands for hyper-text transfer protocol.

Streaming Protocols

Two popular streaming protocols are Real-Time Streaming Protocol (RTSP), an open standard developed and published by the IETF as RFC 2326 in 1998, and Real Time Messaging Protocol (RTMP), a proprietary solution developed by Adobe Systems.

RTSP servers use the Real-time Transport Protocol (RTP) for media stream delivery, which supports a range of media formats (such as AVC/H.264, MJPEG, etc.). Client applications include QuickTime, Skype, and Windows Media Player. Android smartphone platforms also include support for RTSP as part of the 3GPP standard.

RTMP is primarily used to stream audio and video to Adobe’s Flash Player client. The majority of streaming videos on the Internet is currently delivered via RTMP or one of its variants due to the success of the Flash Player. RTMP has been released for public use. Adobe has included support for adaptive streaming into the RTMP protocol.

The main problem with UDP-based streaming is that streams are frequently blocked by firewalls, since they are not being sent over HTTP (port 80). In order to circumvent this problem, protocols have been extended to allow for a stream to be encapsulated within HTTP requests, which is called tunneling. However, tunneling comes at a performance cost and is often only deployed as a fallback solution. Streaming protocols also have secure variants that use encryption to protect the stream.

HTTP Streaming

Streaming over HTTP, which is a more recent technology, works by breaking a stream into a sequence of small HTTP-based file downloads, where each download loads one short chunk of the whole stream. All flavors of HTTP streaming include support for adaptive streaming (bitrate switching), which allows clients to dynamically switch between different streams of varying quality and chunk size during playback, in order to adapt to changing network conditions and available CPU resources. By using HTTP, firewall issues are generally avoided. Another advantage of HTTP streaming is that it allows HTTP chunks to be cached within ISPs or corporations, which would reduce the bandwidth required to deliver HTTP streams, in contrast to video streamed via RTMP.

Different vendors have implemented different HTTP-based streaming solutions, which all use similar mechanisms but are incompatible; hence, they all require the vendor’s own software:

  • HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) by Apple is an HTTP-based media streaming protocol that can dynamically adjust movie playback quality to match the available speed of wired or wireless networks. HTTP Live Streaming can deliver streaming media to an iOS app or HTML5-based website. It is available as an IETF Draft (as of October 2014) [Pan 14].
  • Smooth Streaming by Microsoft enables adaptive streaming of media to clients over HTTP. The format specification is based on the ISO base media file format. Microsoft provides Smooth Streaming Client software development kits for Silverlight and Windows Phone 7.
  • HTTP Dynamic Streaming (HDS) by Adobe provides HTTP-based adaptive streaming of high-quality AVC/H.264 or VP6 video for a Flash Player client platform.

MPEG-DASH is the first adaptive bit-rate HTTP-based streaming solution that is an international standard, published in April 2012. MPEG-DASH is audio/video codec agnostic. It allows devices such as Internet-connected televisions, TV set-top boxes, desktop computers, smartphones, tablets, etc., to consume multimedia delivered via the Internet using previously existing HTTP web server infrastructure, with the help of adaptive streaming technology. Standardizing an adaptive streaming solution aims to provide confidence that the solution can be adopted for universal deployment, compared to similar proprietary solutions such as HLS by Apple, Smooth Streaming by Microsoft, or HDS by Adobe. An implementation of MPEG-DASH using a content centric networking (CCN) naming scheme to identify content segments is publicly available [Led 13]. Several issues still need to be resolved, including legal patent claims, before DASH can become a widely used standard.

Multicast and Peer-to-Peer (P2P) Streaming

Multicast is a one-to-many delivery system, where the source server sends each packet only once, and the nodes in the network replicate packets only when necessary to reach multiple clients. The client nodes send join and leave messages, e.g., as in the case of Internet television when the user changes the TV channel. In P2P streaming, clients (peers) forward packets to other peers (as opposed to network nodes) to minimize the load on the source server.

The multicast concept can be implemented at the IP or application level. The most common transport layer protocol to use multicast addressing is the User Datagram Protocol (UDP). IP multicast is implemented at the IP routing level, where routers create optimal distribution paths for datagrams sent to a multicast destination address. IP multicast has been deployed in enterprise networks and multimedia content delivery networks, e.g., in IPTV applications. However, IP multicast is not implemented in commercial Internet backbones mainly due to economic reasons. Instead, application layer multicast-over-unicast overlay services for application-level group communication are widely used.

In media streaming over P2P overlay networks, each peer forwards packets to other peers in a live media streaming session to minimize the load on the server. Several protocols that help peers find a relay peer for a specified stream exist [Gu 14]. There are P2PTV networks based on real-time versions of the popular file-sharing protocol BitTorrent. Some P2P technologies employ the multicast concept when distributing content to multiple recipients, which is known as peercasting.

2.5.4 Computer Vision and Scene/Activity Understanding

Computer vision is a discipline of computer science that aims to duplicate abilities of human vision by processing and understanding digital images and video. It is such a large field that it is the subject of many excellent textbooks [Har 04, For 11, Sze 11]. The visual data to be processed can be still images, video sequences, or views from multiple cameras. Computer vision is generally divided into high-level and low-level vision. High-level vision is often considered as part of artificial intelligence and is concerned with the theory of learning and pattern recognition with application to object/activity recognition in order to extract information from images and video. We mention computer vision here because many of the problems addressed in image/video processing and low-level vision are common. Low-level vision includes many image- and video-processing tasks that are the subject of this book such as edge detection, image enhancement and restoration, motion estimation, 3D scene reconstruction, image segmentation, and video tracking. These low-level vision tasks have been used in many computer-vision applications, including road monitoring, military surveillance, and robot navigation. Indeed, several of the methods discussed in this book have been developed by computer-vision researchers.

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