As demand for video streaming skyrockets worldwide, content providers are continually examining new compression methods to ensure consumer expectations for a high-quality viewing experience are met. With more devices, platforms, and standards than ever, there are multiple optimization points to carefully consider for delivering video at a level of quality and relevant bitrate. Choosing the right encoding strategy can be make-or-break for streaming platforms looking to mark their territory in the competitive media industry. And it’s an area MediaKind is proud to be leading the industry on.
Of course, when it comes to codecs (i.e., standards), we should consider how codecs ultimately define the syntax and required operation of the decoder. Every decoder produces an identical output for a given bitstream. Encoders are specific implementations of a codec or standard and, in most cases, are free to choose any way it wishes to encode (if the output is compliant). Increasing expertise and compute power means building more efficient encoders while retaining compatibility with existing decoders.
Why does this matter? Because when we’re trying to evaluate a codec, we’re essentially comparing encoders. The encoders may or may not reflect the performance possible with a given codec in another implementation. And the variation between different implementations in terms of coding efficiency can easily be much larger than between codecs – so it’s essential to consider the actual implementations used, along with their configurations.
Choosing the right codec
MediaKind has deep expertise and heritage in codec development, and we’ve recently broken new ground in live streaming UHD OTT content through significant investment into the latest industry codec, Versatile Video Codec (VVC).
MediaKind spends a significant portion of its R&D focus on codec development, and we are noticing growing levels of VVC adoption amongst leading industry bodies and organizations. We are one of the few companies in the industry enabling live UHD OTT VVC streaming on a public cloud through our Aquila Streaming solution. This is no small achievement. Live UHD streaming remains one of the perennial challenges facing our industry due to the network capacity required to cope with reliable large event delivery at scale. This makes compression efficiency a pertinent topic for the entire media industry, and MediaKind’s use of VVC in this environment is a milestone moment.
It’s a topic that was covered at length by my colleague, Carl Furgusson, during a recent Faultline panel webinar on the future of codecs, which you can watch here. Carl will also be discussing his thoughts on the subject in an upcoming blog post.
Putting VVC to the test
Last summer 2022, MediaKind successfully deployed and validated a live OTT UHD channel leveraging VVC, using our Aquila Streaming as-a-service platform, running entirely on Microsoft’s Azure public-cloud platform. The OTT channel set-up used Aquila Streaming with live OTT UHD delivery using the following configuration:
- Input: UHD HEVC Main10, 50/59.94 fps
- MediaKind Live Encoding VVC ABR encoding (with transcode from H264 or HEVC) using the Live Encoding “split encoding” feature. This uses two processing instances: one for the UHD profile and one for the remaining profiles. The encoding profiles included:
- UHD (3840×2160) p 50/59.94fps, VVC Main, 10bit
- 1920×1080 p 50/59.94fps VVC Main, 10bit
- 1280×720 p 50/59.94fps, VVC Main
- 960×540 p 50/59.94fps, VVC Main
- MediaKind Packaging with full output support of HLS, DASH over CMAF, and optional low-latency
- Playback: VVC software playback using a modified VLC and FFmpeg plugin, which integrates the optimized VVC decoding library from Fraunhofer HHI
Compression benefits with VVC
With our current VVC real-time software encoding implementation, we can achieve 15% average bitrate savings (up to 30%) for the same video quality compared to our live UHD OTT HEVC solution running in Azure. The compute cost overhead for the VVC encoding versus HEVC is about 36%.
Table 1 reports the average and best bitrate savings for the same video quality scores achieved by our current Live VVC UHD solution running in Azure. The data results were measured over a test set of 15 UHD video content covering a large variety of encoding complexity.
Table 2 indicates the different Azure instance types used for encoding the UHD HEVC profile and UHD VVC profile in real-time and their public prices used for determining the relative VVC compute cost overhead.
|Bitrate saving (%) for same quality||Average||Best|
|Live UHD HEVC||Live UHD VVC|
|Azure Instance type||Standard_F72s_v2||Standard_D96as_v5|
|Public price (USD / hour)||3.0450||4.1280|
|Compute cost overhead (%)||0%||35.6%|
While HEVC still provides an efficient way to deploy UHD, VVC will open numerous doors for broadcasters to achieve significant spectrum efficiencies, lower streaming costs, and enable greater connectivity. And ultimately, much wider adoption of 4K and 8K content.
These achievements have only been made possible thanks to the great work of MediaKind’s video codec and delivery teams.
If you’re interested in hearing more about our achievements in the world of UHD OTT VVC live streaming, come and find us at this week’s SCTE Cable Tech Expo, September 19-22 in Philadelphia!