Advantech on Being an Early 8K Adopter
Advantech is known as an 8K early adopter. The company developed an 8K encoder used in a trial broadcast of the Rolland Garros tennis championship in 2019, among other demonstrations. Since then, the list of 8K products on their website is now impressive. The 8K Monitor has covered this company’s news a few times (for example, here). We reached out to the company to learn more about this encoder and the lessons learned from being early in the 8K market. Below is the result of the email exchange we had with Jasmine Huang at Advantech in Taiwan.
[8K Monitor] Advantech has been an early adopter of 8K video. Would you mind telling us about that?
[Advantech] Advantech are technology innovators: we have been pushing the boundaries of compact, low-power, accelerated video encoding in collaboration with some world-leading technology providers for many years. We have a close relationship with encoding SoC provider Socionext, offering early commercial-off-the-shelf access to their live 4K/UHD HEVC encoder chips. So when Socionext developed a way to combine 4 of their 4K encoders into a native live 8K encoding solution, it was only natural that Advantech would work with them to add capture functions and offer that 8K capability to the broader market.
[8K Monitor] You participated in a successful proof-of-concept with 8K over 5G at the Paris tennis championship in 2019. Since then, in which other experimentations have you been involved?
[Advantech] Advantech has been involved in Interbee with Alibaba for a public event. Although we did not participate in the event, our system was used as an essential component. In addition, we have been involved in several private experiments for which we, unfortunately, cannot disclose details.
[8K Monitor] You launched your 8K appliance in 2020 to respond to operational challenges in Paris. Can you tell us some more about the genesis of this product?
[Advantech] Our solution is based around a PCI Express card that we developed. The VEGA-3304 captures 8K video and audio via 4 x 12G-SDI ports. It encodes the video directly on the card, thereby not requiring a super-powerful server to move raw 8K video at 60fps around internally. In early engagements, we found that integrating this card into various user-provided appliances was tricky enough. But what was even more challenging was for users to create the optimized control and live streaming environment needed to support an 8K 60fps 4:2:2 live encoder required in typical use cases. This led us to work closely with Spin Digital to create a more tightly coupled appliance where many of these challenges are solved by us rather than our customers. This collaboration also allowed us to offer some matched decoder/player appliances to offer a complete end-to-end link.
[8K Monitor] Can you tell us any of the features on the roadmap for your 8K appliance over the next few years?
[Advantech] We expect more focus on evolving the streaming protocols to improve latency while improving the network performance. For example, we already have ways to enable SRT transmission between encoder and decoder, but we expect to integrate that more closely with the encoder and decoder shortly.
[8K Monitor] Your 8K products work with HEVC. Will they also work with VVC? If so, when?
[Advantech] Our current 8K encoder uses a hardware HEVC encoding accelerator to allow us to offer good real-time performance in a compact unit. Right now, there are no comparable VVC accelerated solutions available. As they appear, we shall look to see what might be possible.
[8K Monitor] Please share with us any general opinions you have on the topic of CODECs.
[Advantech] We can only hope that the lessons from the HEVC licensing situation are learned and not repeated with VVC. For now, the HEVC codec is the only realistic field-ready live encoder solution available.
[8K Monitor] We hear a lot is expected from China in terms of 8K and 5G with the forthcoming Winter Olympics. Will you be involved?
[Advantech] Yes, although through some OEM engagements rather than directly with broadcasters. Unfortunately, we are unable to disclose details.
[8K Monitor] What has been your experience so far in the market for 8K products – in terms of interest/demand? Is it still only early adopters?
[Advantech] We have found interest and demand to be quite limited, mainly we believe due to the pandemic hitting all live event productions in some way.
[8K Monitor] What market evolution is Advantech anticipating for 8K products in the next few years? (in terms of value but also which market segments)
[Advantech] We believe that the market for live 8K broadcasting will be pretty limited and will probably focus on specialized sports or esports content using OTT channels for the next few years at least. The content and applications always tend to follow the adoption of devices and screens that display the material efficiently. But we also anticipate 8K growing in relevance in some adjacent markets such as medical or industrial, where the ability to zoom into regions without losing detail is essential. This ability to open personal high-resolution viewports into a broader landscape also benefits applications such as VR and AR.
[8K Monitor] Are there any future deployments you can mention – even if the client/operator name must remain confidential?
[Advantech] I’m afraid we cannot mention future deployments as we are working on some experiments that have not yet successfully finished testing.
[8K Monitor] Finally, a quick product detail question. The early adopter VEGA-3304 product encodes 8K by breaking it into four slices or quadrants. Other encoders can ingest the full-frame. Do you plan to upgrade the encoder to offer full-frame ingest and encoding?
[Advantech] The VEGA-3304 has four semi-independent hardware encoder engines, so some level of divide and conquer will always take place at the business end of the process. However, the capture side can already capture and assemble a full-frame ingest. Today that uses 4 x 12G-SDI inputs in a standard manner, but later we can anticipate upgrading to an HDMI 2.1 or ST2110 ingest. Moving to a full-frame encoding engine is a task for a next-generation product!