By Fabio Murra, SVP Product & Marketing.
As we approach the end of 2019 – and before we all get caught up in Christmas festivities, it is a great time to stop and review the myriad of different topics the industry has been debating this year, including cloud transformation, low-latency streaming, 5G connectivity, 4K and 8K. Still, I believe the key topic remains: How to give consumers a broadcast-like experience but using IP and the convenience it offers.
Where traditionally broadcast Pay TV was drawing the large crowds around events (and is built for it), we’re now seeing a shift. Broadcasters offer companion apps that are used more and more by their customers outside of the home during live events, pure OTT streaming services like Amazon and Facebook are buying the rights to premium sports and large scale events like E-sports are born on the internet. What consumers demand from these services is a high-quality, low-latency broadcast-like experience. Certainly not rebuffering at key moments, poor video quality and 30+ seconds of latency.
During a live event, the challenge that broadcasters and service providers face, is that everything has to be sufficiently dimensioned to a point where latencies are low and stream delivery is robust. At V-Nova, as experts in compression technologies, we take this challenge and embrace it. We know video compression plays a crucial role in premium delivery and are constantly working with clients trying to solve the problem of delivering content at bitrates that are manageable but give a premium experience on any device whilst massively reducing rebuffering incidents. We know, for example, that delivering a high-quality HD picture to mobile devices on a mobile network with legacy compression technologies is impossible. Broadcasters need to embrace new compression technologies, although deciding which one to deploy in a sea of available acronyms such as HEVC, VVC, AV1, LCEVC, VP9, is anything but easy. That’s why I recommend our customers simplify things as much as possible, and take the decision based on three elements:
- How well does it compress? Or, how much is to going to save me or make me by reaching more customers…
- Computationally, how intense is it going to be? Or, how much more is it going to cost me to deploy and operate…
- Is the device compatibility already out there? Or, how many people actually have the devices needed to enjoy my new, improved, service?
We have witnessed the transition over the past years from compression relying on dedicated hardware to more software-based solutions. On the encoding side, I’d like to say this transition is almost complete. Good software solutions for live transcoding are now pervasive; whether you want it in your own head-end, data centre or process the content in the cloud. The challenge remains on the decoding side, as codecs are traditionally embedded within a device. For someone who wants to deploy a new generation of compression technology like HEVC or VP9 which have always relied on hardware been embedded on the device, the challenge is the need to wait for a meaningful addressable market of enabled devices. Without it, switching on that extra additional workflow, and the cost that incurs does not make sense.
To decide, you really need to look at who you are targeting, the devices you are targeting, the type of service you want to offer and the technologies out there. This year, at IBC 2019, we presented the first software libraries for a new standard from MPEG called MPEG-5 Part 2 Low Complexity Enhancement Video Coding (LCEVC). It represents a very new approach to video delivery for the industry. A combination of multiple compression techniques to create a codec-agnostic extension to enhance all other codecs; improving codec efficiency and readily deployable via software with sustainable power consumption. The presence of the enhancement stream improves compression, or video quality at any given bit rate, while reducing processing power consumed compared to the same stream encoded with the native approach. LCEVC truly has the potential to positively affect all the dimensions above, accelerating new service deployments and massively improving their reach and quality of experience.
I also heard a lot of discussion around 4K and 8K and whether these higher resolution technologies will continue to drive consumer demand. Personally, I love 4K and 8K because I see the appeal of more immersive realistic experiences, but also because I know that deploying such a service does not mean changing everything in the same way we did for HD. Compression technology such as LCEVC is fantastically amenable to these high resolutions.
LCEVC specifies a data stream structure defined by two component streams: stream 1 is a ‘base’ (typically at a lower resolution than the final output signal) compressed with any codec which is decodable by an existing hardware decoder. Stream 2 is the enhancement layer, compressed with a codec that can be decoded via light software processing, and even via scripted decoding in an HTML5 browser. This means that the vast majority of devices and browsers on the planet can already support next-generation video experiences. Therefore, I trust we will see more people deploying 4K or higher resolution services by leveraging these new techniques.
We are moving to a new era of compression. An era with more choices and more possibilities. The ultimate beneficiary of this is the consumer, who will be able to receive better services, with less buffering at low-latency and enjoy video everywhere. At V-Nova we feel very proud to be part of such a creative and inspiring industry and make our own contribution to help shape the future!