Rethinking Infrastructure Implementation: Brazil’s Next-Generation Digital TV System
Authors: Elena Burdiel and Adrian Murtaza, from Fraunhofer IIS
With a rigidly evaluation-based selection model for the country’s TV infrastructure, the TV 3.0 project in Brazil sets the benchmark for technology selection and evaluation.
Brazil is currently implementing a major technological upgrade of its digital TV system. The country is looking to move to the technologically most advanced solutions available today in order to provide the best possible experience to their viewers for decades to come. Recognizing the massive scale of such an undertaking for all stakeholders, the project lead was taken over by the SBTVD (Sistema Brasileiro de Televisão Digital/ Brazilian Digital Television System) Forum, which “was created by the Brazilian Presidential Decree […]to advise the Brazilian Government regarding policies and technical issues related to the approval of technical innovations, specifications, development, and implementation of the Brazilian Digital Terrestrial Television System (SBTVD). The SBTVD Forum is composed of representatives of the broadcasting, academia, transmission, reception, and software industry sectors, and has the participation of Brazilian Government representatives as non-voting members.” (https://forumsbtvd.org.br/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/SBTVDTV-3-0-CfP.pdf)
The SBTVD Forum determined that the best way to achieve a smooth changeover was to increase the life span of the existing system through a backward-compatible evolution (a project called “TV 2.5”) Parallel to the running TV 2.5 project, the TV 3.0 project, that is, the development of the next-generation Digital Terrestrial Television system was started. It includes the introduction of cutting-edge video and audio technologies as well as even more advanced options to benefit audience, broadcasters, and producers alike.
After issuing a Call for Proposals for next generation technologies in 2020, the SBTVD Forum selected the most advanced technologies from the submitted proposals. The decision for each technology selected for TV 3.0 was based on the results of very strict and transparent testing and evaluation conducted by multiple independent laboratories involving about 70 researchers from seven Brazilian Universities. With the Brazilian Ministry of Communications’ approval, the SBTVD Forum published the results of their selection in January 2022.
For the audio component of TV 3.0, three audio technologies were proposed and all of them were evaluated with the same test procedure by the audio experts from the test lab in charge of the audio component. The test used an end-to-end production and broadcast chain and only the MPEG-H Audio system met all mandatory requirements defined in the TV 3.0 Call for Proposals, demonstrating its maturity and un-matched capabilities. Accordingly, MPEG-H Audio was selected as the sole mandatory audio codec for the future TV 3.0 broadcast and broadband applications.
What a Future-Proof Audio System Needs to Deliver
In their Call for Proposals, the SBTVD Forum had specified several technology requirements an Audio System had to deliver on to become part of the new broadcast system. These included immersive or 3D Audio as well as personalization options. The latter make for a customized experience of programs like sports events, documentaries, and concerts. But they also ensure a higher degree of accessibility for people with visual and hearing impairments, allow the easy choice between several languages, and ensure a comfortable listening experience with dialog enhancement options. Such advanced accessibility options are indispensable for modern and inclusive broadcast systems that have to meet the demands of a diverse audience. Fraunhofer IIS has previously demonstrated the capabilities of the MPEG-H Audio system on several occasions around the world and in Brazil: The technology enables content creators and broadcasters to deliver a broad range of easy-to-use customization options to their audiences in a single data stream and at the same time ensures that the creative vision as well as the optimum sound delivery frame are maintained.
During the technical evaluation of all proposed audio systems, MPEG-H Audio stood also out due to its capabilities to handle metadata in live production and live broadcast. Metadata is essential for offering these new interactivity features to the audience and it has to be created on the fly during live events. Additionally, during advertisement breaks, the audio format usually changes from an immersive and interactive representation to an ad with only stereo audio and back. The MPEG-H Audio system proved during the test phase that it contained the richest metadata set, thus ensuring that the broadcaster has full control over all features. It was also the only NGA system capable of handling such configuration changes in an existing live broadcast infrastructure. These advantages are expected to contribute significantly to an improved quality of experience, to its realism, and to the audiences’ feeling of immersion into the content.
The Bigger Picture: What Can be Learned from the Brazilian Model?
The TV 3.0 project could have an impact across Brazil’s borders. As the largest economy in South America, the country often plays a leading role in the adoption of new technologies and standards: In 2006, it was in the front line of adopting ISDB-T and several South American countries followed the lead (Chile, Argentina, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Peru, to name just a few). Adopting the same broadcast technology again now could have several benefits for them: First of all, using Brazil as a Best Practice example and deciding for systems that were thoroughly tested for TV 3.0 saves resources during the costly implementation of a new infrastructure. The production and exchange of content also becomes much easier, faster, and more cost-efficient and border regions do not suffer from lack of service due to incompatible systems – a case in point is the comparable situation at the Canadian and Mexican borders to the USA.
Looking at Brazil’s approach to implementing a new TV infrastructure from a more general point of view, some aspects of the selection process are worth noting for replication in similar projects. The importance of appointing a central managing body responsible for the definition and implementation of the entire process seems so obvious that it hardly needs mentioning – nevertheless, it is a key success factor of TV 3.0 that is not in place in every market.
The next point that needs to be mentioned is the structured definition of the requirements for the entire TV system and the creation of detailed “spec sheets” for all technologies needed. Based on this, the SBTVD Forum was able to create a transparent selection process that considered all relevant stakeholders including the audience and government. For the testing itself, independent test labs were assigned and financed by the Brazilian Ministry of Communications. Such measures serve to choose the best possible technologies based on their evaluation and to build trust in the choice as well as support from all stakeholders.
A highly relevant aspect of the new infrastructure chosen for Brazil was the inclusion of advanced accessibility and personalization options into the Call for Proposals. These features are crucial to enable media access for people that are at a disadvantage either due to a disability, their age, language barriers, or other factors. New technologies make it possible to create an inclusive broadcast landscape and countries that are interested in the implementation of such features could benefit from Brazils testing of mature systems that truly deliver on such points.
In many countries, several of them in Europe, there is a significant demand for accessible, interactive, and immersive sound on TV. Broadcasters and content creators are looking to provide content that meets this demand. In many cases they are slowed down by infrastructure that does not support such formats or by unclear responsibilities and schedules of upgrade projects. One example for this is Spain, where entertainment industry itself has taken the lead in updating the TV infrastructure: In 2021, the broadcast community and major stakeholders created the UHD Spain forum in order to achieve an orchestrated adoption of UHD technology. The group’s goal is to create the most useful pool of knowledge about UHD and all relevant technologies as well as a network to share and advance this knowledge. In 2022, the group focuses on audio technologies and the learnings from Brazil’s TV 3.0 project can help them advance their plans in an efficient manner.
All in all, the Brazilian TV 3.0 project can serve other countries that plan to make changes in their infrastructure as a blueprint for a transparent process and implementation that involves all relevant stakeholders and makes decisions based on technological maturity and suitability.