Tandberg Revamps Standard-Def Compression

Promises 15-30% improvement with new MPEG-2 encoder

tandberg.jpgWhile compression vendors have focused on advancements in MPEG-4 AVC and high-definition encoding in recent years, Tandberg Television has taken another look at standard-definition MPEG-2 encoding and developed a new encoder, the EN8100, which it will formally introduce at NAB next week.

The product is designed to deliver more efficient compression of existing standard-definition channels transmitted today by satellite and cable operators. Tandberg claims the EN8100 can produce the same picture quality in 15% less bandwidth than previous-generation SD MPEG-2 encoders, and perhaps as much as 30% less. At a minimum, that would mean that operators could reclaim roughly one in five channel frequencies being used for SD delivery today and repurpose them, says Tandberg VP of technology Matthew Goldman.

“We’re addressing an underserved market,” says Goldman. “No one’s looking at existing SD markets.”

The reclaimed bandwidth could be used to launch more HD, VOD or data services. Or operators could simply use the same bandwidth with the EN8100 and improve the picture quality of their existing SD channels without raising the bit-rate.

While MPEG-4 AVC delivers great compression benefits for program distribution to cable headends, and some satellite and telco operators have rolled out new set-tops to support MPEG-4 delivery all the way to the home, the overwhelming majority of digital programming is still delivered in MPEG-2 form. In fact, Goldman estimates there will be close to a billion MPEG-2 SD set-tops and integrated digital TV sets deployed by the end of this year. And they aren’t going to be replaced anytime soon.

“There are still thousands of SD channels that are not being replaced with HD because the economics aren’t there,” says Goldman, who notes that “there hasn’t been a lot of replacement of MPEG-2 SD with MPEG-4 AVC.”  Replacing functional MPEG-2 set-tops with new MPEG-4 models is particularly unattractive to multichannel operators who have to subsidize their purchase, such as U.S. cable operators.

So the EN8100 takes advantage of the “40-fold” improvement in processing power from early MPEG-2 SD encoders to deliver better pictures to existing MPEG-2 SD set-tops, says Goldman. The product has 50% less power consumption than previous Tandberg models and 50% more density, delivering up to six channels per one rack unit (1RU). The product is already being tested by beta customers, including both satellite and cable operators, and will begin shipping in June.