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Why Shrink the Chocolate Bar? Five Reasons Uncompressed Video is the Future of the Media & Entertainment Industry

Does everyone remember Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory? Towards the end of the movie, Wonka unveils “Wonkavision” in which he physically compresses a massive chocolate bar with an oversized camera and sends it over wavelengths to a Wonkavision on the other end, where it would re-appear as a physical, regular-sized and edible chocolate bar. It needed to be large because “everything appears smaller on the other side”.

It’s incredible (albeit entirely mythical) technology. But it’s interesting to note that even in a place as fantastical as Wonka’s chocolate factory, they were hamstrung by the need to compress – without beginning to imagine the CAPEX in creating a massive chocolate bar as well as the technology to shrink it.

But wouldn’t life have been simpler if he could just transport the chocolate bar in its native form?

The Film and Television industry has come a long way, from black-and-white to color, and from standard-definition to high-definition. But just like during the advent of Wonkavision, the demand for cutting-edge technology has brought with it an increased reliance on networked-based compression to address increased bandwidth requirements and costs.

But for pre- and post-production contribution networks, this compression can lead to a loss of signal quality and the headache of additional costs and network complexity.

With the increased availability of high-capacity, fiber optic networks and rapidly declining bandwidth costs, the need for compression devices has been greatly reduced.  Here are five reasons why professional media needs to consider non-compressed video transport for today’s pre- and post-production contribution networks:

  1. Maintain Original Video Signal Quality

Compressing and decompressing video signals can compromise signal quality.  Conversely, uncompressed, native video transport does not introduce any signal impairments, unlike compression techniques that alter the original video signal. Uncompressed video signals are of the highest quality and are easier to use and manage for both users and service providers.  For video signals that require extensive processing before broadcast, uncompressed transport will help ensure that the best possible quality is available. 

  1. Improve Cost Effectiveness

Before optical transport technology, compression was required because transport networks could not cost effectively provide the required bandwidth for most film and television video contribution applications.  At the same time, network bandwidth was considered too expensive, further driving the use of coding and encoding devices, commonly referred to as ‘codecs’.  As video has evolved from SD to more bandwidth intensive HD formats, more powerful, and more expensive, compression hardware and software is required.  As an example, encoders and decoders used in broadcaster and content producer networks can range from $10,000 to $50,000.  As video formats and rates change the compression hardware and software must be upgraded or be replaced with new units.  Uncompressed video transport eliminates the need for ‘codec devices’ and associated support and maintenance costs.

  1. Reduce Complexity and Improve Reliability

The best way to ensure picture quality is to start with the best video source available and keep it in native format as long as possible.  But that’s not the traditional process for broadcast video.  In an industry where transporting video during the production process represents a significant cost, extensive digital compression of source video has been the norm.  However, compressing and decompressing video signals adds cost and complexity and can compromise signal quality.  Video compression devices need to be tested and configured to be sure of interoperability before they can be connected.   With an uncompressed video transport solution users eliminate the time and costs associated with installing and managing the encoders and decoders.  In addition to adding complexity to the network, the use of compression equipment creates more points of potential failure that could comprise network reliability.

  1. Reduce Time to Market 

Another big concern for the TV and motion picture business, regarding the use of compression devices is, besides picture quality, compression makes the digital workflow more complicated.  Many editing processes are automated and the altered signals can affect the editing machines where manual intervention is needed to adjust and recalibrate the machinery, thus slowing down the work flow process.  Now, once the production houses have a master copy of the video ready, the video can then be compressed without adverse effects, before transmitting it to video head ends of broadcasters, MSOs and other service providers.

  1. Address Low Latency Needs

In general, latency is not a major concern for most video applications.  However, this is not the case for live two-way audio broadcasts. Transport of uncompressed video streams means that every bit that enters a signal path is delivered unchanged at the output without added video processing latency. The encoding and decoding processes associated with compression can introduce significant delays. 

Would Willy Wonka prefer to create a giant chocolate bar because of the need to compress it, or a technology that enables the like-for-like sending of that chocolate bar great distances?

While I can’t speak for Mr Wonka, I can hazard a guess and speculate that Wonkavision would have been a great deal different had the network existed back then.

Jim Gerrity is Director of Global Industry Marketing at Ciena.