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Radical innovation promises Ultra-Low Latency live TV

01 Apr 2024 | Yeori Goatskins |

Of all the blessings that the internet has brought to mankind, one of the more important ones is surely live streaming. IP delivery of video signals offers flexibility and all sorts of benefits, such as the ability to watch the content on a wide variety of devices, from TV sets to tablets and smartphones.
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Up with quality
With the capacity of the broadband network growing year after year, picture and sound quality are improving, too. 720p, once good enough to qualify as "HD", is the bare minimum now, but many providers will give you 1080p HD and some even 2160p or 4K resolution, with HDR High Dynamic Range, no less, and with Dolby Atmos 3D sound if you're in luck.   The good stuff doesn't end there. Multiple camera angles for the viewer to choose from, statistics and all kinds of interactivity are becoming more and more common.  

The problem

That's all fine and dandy, but there's one thing that's going in the wrong direction: latency. And we're not just talking about a few frames here. The latency is better expressed in seconds. In fact, in some cases the delay between the actual event and the delivery in the home, "from grass to glass", is no less than two whole minutes! - "It’s really baffling. We started with streaming video at the beginning of this century, and in the beginning it was a bit bumpy. We thought that with technology progressing and bandwidth growing it’d become as smooth as a baby’s bottom but it seems that the more tech we throw at it, the worse it gets," as one system architect put it.  

Radical Innovation

Imagine watching live sports with zero latency

This is getting out of hand, as you'll no doubt agree. Imagine living near the stadium where the sports event takes place, and you hear the crowd cheering waaay in advance of the goal on your screen. But you don't even need to live near a sports arena. You may have a next-door neighbor who uses a different service than you, where the delay is 'only' one minute. Same story, same frustration.   Never mind sports betting. While flash traders are trying to shave milliseconds off transmission delays, you may be up against someone with 'advance' information, whose video is simply far less delayed than yours.  

A breakthrough

A drastic improvement is necessary, and scientists and engineers have come up with something that just might work. A radical new video technology promises sub-1-frame delays. This almost sounds too good to be true, but hang on.   It's not an easy switch, because the whole chain from capture (cameras), production, adding of graphics to distribution needs changing. But early tests have proven very promising.   Now there are a few different flavors of this innovative technology being developed, having to do with differences in the way the infrastructure works in different parts of the world, like 50p and 60p frame rates.   One of the technologies is called PAL, the other NTSC. Now you may wonder, how is this technology going to be rolled out and adopted? Aren't we facing a giant chicken-and-egg situation here? Well, perhaps surprisingly, through a quirk of history, there's a vast installed base of TV sets that are compatible with these new, unknown formats. - "It was amazing! It just worked, and it was like I was actually watching live, just like I remember from my childhood days," one of the testers testifies.   But really – less than a single frame delay! That's about 0.04 seconds – less than the time it takes you to say the words "real time".  

Swings and roundabouts

So what's the catch? Well, of course, there are downsides. You may have to get used to 625i or even 525i resolution. Perhaps they can work on that. Without doubt, analog HDTV is possible. There must be a spec for it, on ice, or a dusty shelf, somewhere. And once we get there, perhaps analog 4K will prove possible. It's only a matter of bandwidth, of which lots must have become available thanks to the ever smarter compression of all the digital channels out there.   The sound, meanwhile, is glorious stereo. Analog. Like vinyl. Fancy that! - "I don’t care if it’s AC-5.1. If I want surround sound I’ll just invite my mates over," a football fanatic added.   Next time you shop for a TV, forget any questions about what operating system the TV runs, what apps are available, if the tuner is ATSC 3.0, whether the HDMI 2.1 inputs are 48 Gbps, and all that. Instead, ask for PAL/NTSC. Insist on analog, just like audiophiles do, and kiss latency farewell. - Photo: Yahye Abdi,

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