Future of video: 4K, DASH, HEVC
I must admit, I’m feeling very guilty. This is the only new post in more than 1 year. 2013 has been wonderful from a professional point of view and I have had very few moments, if any, to dedicate to the blog. But for 2014 there are too many interesting trends that I can’t neglect anymore and so I want to return speaking about video encoding, streaming and OTT technologies.
Infact, you know that there are three magic “words” that are outlining the future of video: 4K, HEVC and DASH.
So, as a 2014 new year resolution, I’m planning to speak about ideas and optimizations related to the “magic trio”.
4K or not 4K ?
The first trend is rapidly gaining its momentum. “4K” is on every insiders’ lips and the effort of Youtube, Netflix and others to offer quickly 4K content is also opening new opportunities for selling 4K TVs and Monitors.
I’m focusing part of my researches in finding specific optimizations for H.264 encoding of 4K content. Infact I think that apart from marketing buzz, 4K will be served first using the well known H.264.
There are sereval optimizations to explore for 4K: for example custom quantization matrix, bias toward the use of 8×8 transform, changes in psyco visual optimizations, to name a few. 4K also pushes the limit of H.264 for motion compensation and estimation (too long MVs) creating several efficiency problems. But if is useful to optimized an HD and FullHD stream, it is much more crucial to super optimize a 4K stream because the level of bitrate that we are speaking about is difficult to have in Internet or to have consistently.
ABR streaming can help here but not as usual. Who can accept to watch a 2.5Mbit/s 720p rendition on a 80” 4K display because of low bandwidth on peak times ? (it is the same experience as watching a 360p video on a 40” screen from 1.5 mt of distance, try and tell me) Who buy a 4K wants 4K, no compromise. Further more, as Dan Rayburn underlined, there are few economic reasons to offer 4K because 4K delivery costs 3-4 times Full-HD. This is why I think that optimization is now more important than ever.
HEVC has been finally ratified. Like in 2003, when H.264 was ratified, now the encoders are very raw and inefficient and a lot of work is to be done, but the potentialities are all there. Theoretically HEVC is said to be from 30 to 50% more efficient than H.264 (higher efficiency at higher resolutions). So it is not a mistery that 4K and H.265 are seen as the winning couple. But the increase in pixel to be processed (8x passing from 1080p25/30 to 2160p50/60) and the complexity of the new codec (approx. 10x during encoding compared to H.264) do not draw a simple scenario with increses in required processing power up to a 80x factor. But hey…we are now like in 2003, we have maybe 10 years ahead to squeeze the max out of H.265, and this is very exciting. In thee while, H.264 still have some room for improvements and for at least a couple years will continue to be the king on the hill.
I have started to play with HEVC and probably the amount of time I’ll dedicate to experiment will increase steadily during 2014. By now I have collected interesting results. The bigger Block Transforms (not only 4×4 and 8×8 like in H.264 but also 16×16 and 32×32) plus some advanced deblocking and adaptive filtering are able to produce a much “smoother degradation” of quality when decreasing the bitrate, especially for high complexity scenes. On the other hand, the different handling of fine details is producing now less details retantion than H.264 and new approaches to psycovisual optimizations are all to be invented.
And VP9 ? Interesting technology, good potentiality. Will be successful? Hard to tell, until then I will continue to keep it under observation.
Last but not least there’s the new MPEG standard for ABR streaming MPEG DASH (Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP). HLS is spreading over various devices but at the same time the implementations are frequently bugged and without control. DASH on the other hand provides plenty of control and it is possible to change heuristic. This is very important to achieve an Higher-as-possible QoE (or QoS), a key factor in the future where CDNs’ cost per GB is flattening while viewers’ number and stream size/quality is increasing .
So stay tuned.