Expertise Zone

Elemental: Software-defined video as an infrastructure-agnostic solution

Keith Wymbs,  Chief Marketing Officer,  Elemental

Keith Wymbs,
Chief Marketing Officer,

Guest post by Keith Wymbs, Chief Marketing Officer, Elemental

Gone are the days when video providers could dictate to consumers what type of devices they needed to use to view video. Now consumers tell video providers the screens they access their favourite content from. Tablets, smartphones, web browsers, gaming consoles and smart TVs are providing consumers with more options for viewing video while Internet technology is expanding access to content exponentially.

Keeping pace with these rapid changes in technology and consumer demand is a significant challenge to video providers. Relying on traditional video processing infrastructure is becoming increasingly difficult and costly, yet video distributors simply do not have the option of ignoring demand for multiscreen video services as they risk permanent loss of customers to Internet-based OTT alternatives. For video processing tasks and broadcast workflows, video providers need to evolve their systems from dedicated hardware based on ASICS, FPGAs and other custom chips to software-defined video solutions running on standard off-the-shelf hardware.

Software-defined video (SDV) solutions offer a way around the tradeoff between the need for long-term investments in technology for video delivery and the expectation of short-term return on investment. Thanks to Moore’s law, software running on general purpose processors can now surpass task-specific video processing equipment in terms of both picture quality and performance while simultaneously adapting to market change.

Software-defined video is an infrastructure agnostic approach to implementing flexible, scalable and easily upgradable video architectures. Unlike legacy solutions, this advancement allows video providers to deploy software across an optimal combination of dedicated and virtualized resources in both private and public data centers. A software-defined approach frees video providers from the constraints of dedicated equipment by allowing for the best architecture and processor combination to be used for a particular application, even if that application changes over time. Support for new services and video formats can be integrated seamlessly through simple software upgrades.

With the flexibility inherent to software, video providers can immediately respond to changes in consumer demand. Support for new features and standards can be added through upgrades and API integration of third party software. Broadcasters and pay-TV operators who choose software-defined video solutions don’t have to wait for new custom video chips to be released to market, they can continually update and enhance their platform in line with increased consumer demand and technology advancements to create new revenue generating video services.

Driving Innovation with Software

In the increasingly competitive video landscape, video providers have to continually innovate and enhance the customer viewing experience by supporting new standards such as 4K UHD TV. Software-defined video systems used to process MPEG-2 video can offer a more seamless migration path to H.264 and HEVC than dedicated hardware equipment.

For example, Elemental software-defined video solutions currently offer full frame rate 4K Ultra HD video encoding using the HEVC codec, ensuring that customers will be able to continually support new video compression standards as they are adopted. In some cases, advances developed for newer codecs such as HEVC can also be applied to previous codec generations. These may include de-interlacing, scalar processing, color correction, noise filtering and other special purpose effects such as scene change detection, transition detection, and complexity measurements.

Leveraging Ground and Cloud Resources

Because software-defined video relies on general purpose processors, specific video processing functions can be virtualized or reside in cloud-based infrastructures. Integrated cloud platforms can ramp resources up and down depending on demand, preventing overinvestment in infrastructure.

By using both ground and cloud-based resources, video providers can fine-tune the balance between CAPEX and OPEX in deploying video processing capabilities. In many cases, providers may keep core video processing and delivery in an appliance-based deployment with cloud-based resources handling spikes in demand, testing of new services and providing system redundancy. Virtual machines can be allocated for video processing and delivery tasks alongside other business applications like CRM and BSS/OSS. As processing and storage capacities of cloud infrastructures improve, video processing can benefit from increased performance while legacy hardware can then be repurposed for less computationally intensive applications.

Software-defined video solutions minimize system downtime as upgrading or enhancing a codec or feature involves a simple software update or upgrade. Underlying hardware does not need to switched out and software instances can be re-assigned to standby units or cloud-based resources to assure continual service. For example, the manner in which software-defined H.264 and HEVC video processing can share off-the-shelf and cloud-based processor resources can greatly mitigate the risks associated with a new service launch.

Adding New Multiscreen Capabilities

As the number of consumer viewing devices and video formats continue to multiply, video providers need to keep costs under control and streamline management of their broadcast workflows by consolidating their video processing and delivery systems. On the content delivery side, whether over cable, satellite or the Internet, this means moving to IP-based video technology including HTML video and adaptive bitrate streaming formats such as HLS and MPEG-DASH, allowing for universal support across multiple types of devices such as smart TVs. IP networking enables distributed storage for greater levels of content backup and redundancy, over internal infrastructure as well as commercial cloud services. The IP standard also allows for more efficient transport of video from broadcast studios, to head-ends, and local edge servers for just-in-time packaging of VOD content.

With software defined-video, live-to-VOD features such as nPVR and catch-up TV can be integrated at any time, allowing for even more flexibility and scalability. In dedicated hardware environments, trying to integrate third-party ad messaging or forensic watermarking capabilities means enabling communication with legacy video processing equipment. With its ability to support third party integrations, a software platform allows all sorts of advanced features and capabilities to be fully integrated into a single unified system.

Software-defined Video Processing and the Way Forward

Software-defined video frees broadcasters and pay-TV operators from the constraints of dedicated equipment by allowing for the best architecture and processor combination to be used for a particular application. This approach to video processing enables media enterprises to lead and manage the transition to new video codecs such as HEVC, advanced audio codecs, advanced color spaces, increased color bit depth, object-oriented audio specifications, forensic watermarking and new display formats such as 4K Ultra HD.

Elemental’s software-defined video solutions are leading the way across ground and cloud infrastructures. With more than 400 customers around the world, including most of the leading media brands, Elemental understands that video providers want the same thing as their customers: more choice. As new software features continue to be introduced in line with changes in consumer habits and technology, the benefits of adopting a software-defined approach will become even greater.

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