Elemental looks to HEVC future

Following the recent ITU first-stage consent to the new HEVC codec, which promises roughly 50% bandwidth savings over H.264 out of the gate, Elemental Technologies was one of the first companies to release a software upgrade to its products to handle the new spec.

As the company put it in a statement: “To achieve this level of efficiency, the HEVC/H.265 codec requires up to 10x more processing power for encoding compared to H.264 and relies on software capable of more complex decisions and tradeoffs across a wider array of decision points.”

The company says it has deep experience developing video codecs from open specifications to full implementation using general-purpose programmable architectures which puts it in good stead to deal with all this. “Easing the transition to H.265 within legacy MPEG-2 and H.264 infrastructures, software-upgradeable solutions from Elemental can incorporate new compression approaches much more quickly than existing fixed hardware encoding and decoding platforms, such as ASICs and DSPs,” it goes on to say.

Indeed, the arrival of HEVC, H.265 or whatever you want to term the new codec comes at a good time for the company, which has come on in leaps and bounds in the past couple of years, particularly in the sports space. Sports customers using its multiscreen content products include ESPN, the NBA, MLB Advanced Media, and a host of the usual suspects that like to fly under the radar. Broadcasters using its tech out of London 2012, meanwhile, included the BBC, Terra, NHK, CTV and Eurosport.

“When Cisco acquired Inlet in February 2011 we made a conscious decision to go after the live streaming space and obviously sports is very integral to that,” explains Keith Wymbs, VP marketing at Elemental. “We started off small, then grew it into larger and larger scales. The Rugby World Cup and PanAmerican Games gave us a proving ground to showcase what we could do, and that in turn led us on to all that we did for the Olympics.

“Our timing was good and from a competitive standpoint there was a bit of a vacancy that we filled pretty aggressively,” he adds.

Wymb says that at the Olympics the company saw three different production models evolve. The first saw content all owned and processed in one country; the second added a regional element in that distribution feeds went into territories such as Latin America where they were then customised for each individual country. “And then there were the global feeds through our partnership with deltatre where sources were provided into areas that maybe didn’t have as robust a broadcast infrastructure, maybe what you can describe as more of a wholesale operation. And we were pivotal in all three of them.”

He attributes a lot of the company’s success to the fact that it has built its entire software stack in-house. “Sports is always on the leading edge and you have to be able to make adjustments as you go along and we can react quickly,” he says.

HEVC, with its new demands, is very much a case in point. “I think HEVC will become increasingly important over time,” he says. “There will be a bit of paper excitement over the next 12 to 18 months, but over the next five years it will become a pervasive standard. The transition to 265 will be relatively fast as the consumer devices now decoding video have a shorter shelf life than five or six years ago. Set-top boxes and TVs didn’t get swapped out by the consumer that often, maybe every seven years or so, but with smartphones, tablets and other devices, the churn on those is much higher. 265 will pick up speed and once it hits the critical point of having solid decoder devices out there, it’s going to ramp very quickly.”

Wymb sees 4k as a real driver too and for the sports market in particular, especially given how close the codec already is to compressing 4k down to current satellite bandwidths. “People really enjoy that larger screen experience, and HEVC is going to enable the delivery of that content to the home.

“I think the next two years is going to be focussed on how you monetise the second screen,” he continues. “You could do things early on as an experiment, but you need to get a positive return on that investment, especially as the experiments get larger. I think there will be commercial deployments of HEVC, while the tracking, watermarking and protection of content will ramp up too. Making the streaming world more robust in all the areas that protect and monetise the content is going to be an important focus.”

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