V-Nova Perseus: A Progress Report
Hybrid Perseus is now using HEVC as the base layer, and V-Nova is working on adding inter-frame compression to the codec.
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It's been almost a year since we looked at V-Nova's technology and commercial progress. Since I was in London for the Streaming Forum, it was convenient to drop in to see what's happened since then and what's in the product hopper.
By way of background, V-Nova launched the Perseus codec in April 2015. There are two versions of the codec, pure and hybrid. Pure Perseus uses only the Perseus algorithm throughout, and it is used in V-Nova's contribution encoders. Hybrid Perseus, which is for distribution, combines Perseus with other compression technologies, such as H.264. This enables backwards compatibility with H.264 players, and easy integration into existing H.264 encoding and decoding products.
Pure Perseus has been used by Sky Italia for contribution since May 2015. In June and July 2016, European satellite provider Eutelsat Communications used pure Perseus to deliver live 4K lossless contribution during the UEFA Euro 2016 Championship, and in September, took a minority stake in V-Nova. In March 2017, V-Nova announced an updated contribution technology, which includes built-in support for HDR, and which the company claims lowers the cost per channel by up to 70%.
For distribution, V-Nova's most prominent early success came with a design-in from Sky Italia. As part of this rollout, Sky Italia integrated Perseus encoding into its Harmonic ViBE VS7000 encoders, and software decode into its existing set top boxes. This enabled Sky Italia to cut the data rate of its 1080p streams from 8Mbps to 4Mbps without buying additional hardware or software.
In our last article, we also reported that Perseus hybrid was being deployed in India by FastFilmz in a low-bandwidth service targeted primarily at mobile viewers. In February 2017, V-Nova demonstrated the ability to deliver UHDp50 sports videos over satellite to existing set-top boxes with Asian satellite operator Thaicom, with a view towards Thaicom offering this service both within Thailand and in neighboring countries.
The original Perseus codec is now on version 1.4. In our original tests published in June 2016, hybrid Perseus using H.264 as the base layer showed higher quality than H.264 through about 2Mbps, after which H.264 delivered higher quality. HEVC was superior at all tested data rates, though this isn't surprising given that H.264 was used for the Perseus base layer.
One of the advancements that I saw during my visit was hybrid Perseus using HEVC as the base layer. In addition, note that the original version of Perseus was intra-frame (spatial) only, and V-Nova is working on adding inter-frame (temporal) compression to the codec as well. The last major additions include commonly used techniques like luminance and contrast masking, which adjust the algorithm to correspond to how humans see noise and detail in a video.
Also on the development front, V-Nova acquired the video processing patents from Faroudja Enterprises in February 2017, which include technologies for bandwidth restoration, deblocking/debanding, upscaling, and noise reduction. Since V-Nova also plans to integrate these into Perseus at some point, it's not surprising that V-Nova didn't disclose the roadmap for the rollout of these new features.
Beyond improvements to the codec itself, V-Nova is also working to make encoding more accessible, and showed a working FFmpeg-based Perseus encoder. V-Nova is also expanding the range of decode options, with new modules for decoding on Windows devices, and as well as via ExoPlayer on Android devices.
It's tough to gauge the health and vitality of any company based upon a five-hour visit, but the company's London-based offices were bustling, and there are seven job openings listed on the V-Nova website. As during my last visit, all the people I met with were top notch and fully committed.
At the same time, the codec world itself is in kind of a lull. With 3% penetration according to Encoding.com's latest Global Media Format Report. HEVC hasn't achieved much of an uptake, most likely because of its well-publicized pricing issues. VP9 (11% in the Encoding.com report) has earned some integration success, but many companies appear to be waiting for the Alliance for Open Media's AV1 codec, now on track for delivery by the end of 2017. While MPEG is starting work on the next-generation video codec, any results are years off and largely irrelevant to streaming unless MPEG can address the pricing issues that hindered HEVC.
In short, H.264 is still the codec du jour (79% according to the report), with no anointed successor in site. This leaves plenty of room for new technologies, particularly those like Perseus that can be integrated into existing systems without additional CAPEX.
London-based V-Nova has made some impressive claims about Perseus, its compression technology. Streaming Media's preliminary testing shows that it lives up to some of them.