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5G for Pro AV: Three Things

This new platform will accelerate wireless speeds, connect the Internet of Things—and drive competition.

1. It’s a new ecosystem

From a systems perspective, it’s important to know that 5G isn’t just 4G + 1; it is a paradigm different from all the Gs before. Rather than transmitting signal over long distances via massive cell towers, 5G is likely to leverage its spectral efficiency over a mesh of hundreds of thousands—potentially millions—of smaller cells and across broad new frequency allocations in the millimeter wave region of the radio spectrum.

Anytime an ecosystem changes, the current winners do battle with the emerging winners, which inevitably complicates the uptake of technology. In the case of 5G, the demand is potent, but don’t underestimate the ambitious build out. On the regulation front, different states and localities have adopted varied rules, assessment fees, distance restrictions, aesthetic requirements, zoning policies, and other regulations that may inflate the cost and complexity of installing these small cell microsites. The FCC—in a déjà vu moment—is taking public comment on what to do with the now-valuable 95-3000 GHz frequencies. And, additionally, the security elephant lurks in the room.

Some analysts predict a longer rollout than anticipated; others say 5G will beat the 2020 projection. On May 14th, Qatar’s Oeredoo said it has launched 5G Supernet, the “first commercially available 5G network in the world” to serve the capital Doha. The carrier says modems or hotspots will be available within a month, and 5G smartphones by June 2019. Verizon and AT&T have promised 5G network launches later this year.

Whatever the pace of commercial rollout, AV will of course not be the first and primary application.

2. It’s the dawn of videoconferencing but…

Does anyone but me remember ISDN video conferencing? Or the spectacular HP Halo 3D AR conference suite with the price tag to match? (Dreamworks had one). I once spent an afternoon with a breathless Caltech team that had managed to conference scientists into CERN from all over the world—at 7 frames per second. Videoconferencing— more than anything else in AV—has been on a torturous journey; engineers and companies have fought a pitched battle against bandwidth and latency without much reward, certainly not the progress we’ve seen on other AV fronts. The promise of 5G is not just that video conferencing will work in the way we’ve hoped it would, but that it would blow past that to be a very different experience. In theory.

Already companies are experimenting with robotic smart cameras and multiple beamforming microphones to make videoconferences more interactive and panoramic. VR with three degrees of freedom would be possible on today’s networks—but it’s not really happening. 5G—again in theory—can support six degrees of freedom, so you’re invited to imagine a virtual conference room where remote people can see each other (or their avatars) and move around the virtual space. They can draw on a virtual whiteboard, and talk amongst themselves, as if they were in the same room.

Likewise, there is already a mature landscape of professional collaboration software (like in the film and some sports industries) that has been too bandwidth intensive to go fully remote and spread to other industries. On a 5G platform, the possibilities for remote collaboration products and software open up exponentially, for corporate, distance learning, and medical. It’s predicted drones will also come into play as remote streaming cameras, allowing users to do virtual closeups of onsite locations.

So for now, in AV, rather than imagining some seamless 5G meshnet world, it’s more likely that initially 5G will be a specialty option, for select situations, narrow problem-solving and novelty. The main takeaway is that as BYOD devices become more powerful, they will continue to drive people’s expectations of what a networked AV and virtual experience should be.

3. JPEG XS is meant for 5G cellular and WiFi streaming

In April the Joint Photographic Experts Group announced JPEG XS, a new “low-energy” video compression standard designed to stream lossless video, VR and games. Reportedly it’s available for computers now as a software update but smaller devices will require next-gen hardware. The format doesn’t go for maximum compression (no more than a factor of 6) but assumes users will be on a 5G cell or WiFi network, and focuses on delivering ultra low latency and energy efficiency. Here’s a quote from the group’s statement: “The aim is to stream the files instead of storing them in smartphones or other devices with limited memory.” Critically for our industry, they envision portable devices wirelessly sharing high-definition content instantly with larger displays, including stereoscopic VR streaming content. This type of screen-sharing and content serving may be the most concrete thing we will initially see from 5G.

JPEG XS is open source and contains a universal HDR coding format that does not require transcoding. SMPTE is already looking at it for video editing and JPEG says in the near term the format is expected to be primarily used for professional applications and gear, going consumer (BYOD) later, including for projectors.

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