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May 27, 2022

MainConcept Demonstrates 8K Live in the Cloud at NAB 2022 

As the first large-scale conference in over two years, NAB was hectic, and we missed the opportunity of seeing MainConcept‘s 8K demo in Vegas. They kindly agreed to give us a virtual catchup session, and I met with Geoff Gordon, MainConcept VP Marketing, and Thomas Kramer, VP Strategy & Business Development.

The company, founded in 1993 in Aachen, Germany, is now part of the US-based Media, Entertainment and Sports conglomerate Endeavor.

Figure 1 MainConcept’s NAB 2022 Booth

The NAB Demo I wanted to see was the “8K live in the Cloud.” It used familiar content from The Explorers.

The demo runs on a single AWS EC2 G4 instance that uses four NVIDIA T4 Tensor (Turing architecture) GPUs, delivering full live encoding of three streams:

  • 8K50
  • 4K50
  • 720p25

Two of the GPUs are used for encoding the 8K stream, and during the demo, GPU usage went up to 70%, producing an 80 Mbps HEVC stream for 8Kp50 10-bit and a 20 Mbps 4K stream. MainConcept pointed out that although the NAB demo ran at up to 50 fps for 8K and 4K encoding, their technology is capable of 60 fps.

All details for the demo are in the table below.

 System MonitorFrame rateBitrate
GPU 1HEVC 8K Ingest/Decoding50 fps8K source = 90 Mbit
GPU 2 & 3Hybrid HEVC 8K Encoding50 fps8K layer = 80 Mbit
GPU 4Hybrid HEVC 4K Encoding50 fps4K layer = 20 Mbit
CPUHEVC 720p Software Encoding25 fps720p layer = 1.5 Mbit

MainConcept told us that for the 90 Mbps input stream, as long as a single GPU can decode the HEVC 8K input signal in real-time, its bandwidth doesn’t impact the hardware.

Note that what we call a “layer” here is also known as a “rung” in an encoding ladder.

Figure 2 MainConcept 8K Demo at NAB 2022

The source file used, as well as all three streams created, were encoded with HEVC.

The following flowchart illustrates the demonstration’s workflow.

Figure 3 Flowchart of MainConcept 8K Demo at NAB 2022

Geoff Gordon informed me that in Las Vegas, they limited the live output to 720p because of the high prices charged by NAB’s telecom provider for dedicated lines. Without that limitation, the output would be 4K with 25 Mbps or 8K with 80 Mbps.

For the demo, outputs were all 4:2:0 as for these use cases, 4:2:2 didn’t make sense.

The product demonstrated at NAB targets broadcasters and event-based live streaming. Thomas Kramer mentioned that although the NAB demonstration did not show a live or linear workflow, the MainConcept technology use would be identical for those use cases.

Note that HEVC playback uses WebAssembly via the MainConcept WebASM HEVC Decoder SDK. WebAssembly enables the development of web applications with video decoding capabilities—without depending on 3rd-party browser plugins. It is secure, efficient, and scalable and is supported by all of today’s popular browsers.

MainConcept Live Encoder, which has been around for over five years, supports HEVC and H264. Thomas Kramer informed me that VVC and maybe other more recent codecs would be added to the MainConcept product line in the future. The novelty of this NAB demonstration was the 8K-live support shown in public for the first time in Las Vegas on a single cloud instance.

Trials are ongoing with several clients, both Cloud-based and on-premises. While we weren’t told who these clients were, we did find out that one is UK-based and another from South America.

The MainConcept team was keen to deliver the cost-reduction message to us. Running an 8K rig off a single system uses their “secret sauce,” a hybrid approach mixing a software codec with GPU acceleration. This approach differs from pure hardware encoding by partially leveraging GPU power. Of course, part of the low-cost story is that all the hardware used is “off-the-shelf.”

MainConcept provided us with the following cost estimate for 8K-capable hardware (CPU, GPU, memory and capture card) to use their hybrid solution outside the AWS environment. Note the cost includes listed hardware and not additional components including power supply, SSD, cooling, case or rack, cables, and so on—estimated at $8,000 to $17,000.

Entry-level config

AMD Ryzen Threadripper PRO 3955WX1$800$800
Supermicro M12SWA-TF (motherboard)1$659$659
64 GB Micron MTA18ASF4G72PDZ-3G2E1 RAM2$225$450
NVIDIA GeForce RTX 30703$499$1,497
DeckLink 8K Pro1$645$645

High-end config

Intel Xeon Gold 62302$2,033$4,066
32 GB DDR4-2933 RAM4$260$1,040
NVIDIA GeForce RTX 30703$499$1,497
AJA Kona 5 SDI capture board 1$3,699$3,699

Estimate for an 8K software-only setup is $38,000 ($21k for listed items + $17k additional components).

As we wrapped up our discussion, Geoff Gordon confirmed that their 8K solutions are being actively tested by customers but not yet in any commercial production. They expect their first 8K live commercial production by EOY, probably in time for the World Cup.

Broadening the perspective to the overall 8K market, Thomas Kramer told me he is unsure when 8K will be a reality in the global market but sees encouraging signs. “It just takes time, same as with all resolution jumps. 8 K’s development is tied to the codec life cycle, measured in decades, not days, months or even years.”

He explained that while HEVC is an efficient 8K delivery vehicle, VVC and others will be even more so. There will be more 8K moving forwards, especially in live sports. “We’ve seen it already with the past two Olympic Games, and the upcoming World Cup will be another excellent venue,” added Geoff Gordon. “However, I expect that about ten years is still needed for mass-market adoption. Effectively, 8K demand follows a similar trajectory as 4K and similar resolution jumps before it.”

Mr Kramer closed the interview with the very pragmatic statement that “MainConcept plans to develop their 8K portfolio as customers ask for it and shared with me that some already have.” As the US is lagging in resolution, MainConcept expects that most requests will come from other regions first and had “no comment” on whether any such requests were already being looked into concerning the forthcoming football World Cup.

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