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NAB 2018: Beamr's Tom Vaughan Talks Emerging Codec Uptake

At NAB, Jan Ozer met with about a dozen companies with stakes in HEVC and/or AV1. This is another in a series of video interviews he conducted with them.

Jan Ozer: Jan Ozer here at the Beamr booth at NAB. I'm here with Tom Vaughan, VP of strategy from Beamr. Hey Tom, how are you?

Tom Vaughan: Good, Jan, how are you doing?

Jan Ozer: Good. So, tell us what you've been doing the last three or four years. I know you're new to Beamr, what did you do before?

Tom Vaughan: Before that I worked for a small startup called MulticoreWare. I kicked off the x265 project and managed the video business there.

Jan Ozer: Okay. So, in June, Apple announced HEVC and HLS. What have you seen as the uptake from then until now and what do you expect to have the next 12 to 18 months?

Tom Vaughan: The uptick has been strong. It took companies a month or two to digest the news and readjust their plans, but certainly all the top-tier video streaming services have understood that now there's a very, very large installed base of devices, TVs, PCs, smart phones, not just all the Apple iPhones from the iPhone 6 onward, but the premium Android smart phones all support HEVC, the Samsung Galaxy S7, S8, S9, and all the other premium smart phones. So, it's on the roadmap of all the top video streaming services, except for one.

Jan Ozer: Which is the one? YouTube?

Tom Vaughan: Well, two, actually.

Jan Ozer: YouTube and ...

Tom Vaughan: YouTube and Netflix are pretty much strongly behind VP9 and AV1. That's where they're placing their bets.

Jan Ozer: How much work have you done with AV1 so far?

Tom Vaughan: We've taken a good look at it. It was announced as being final but it's really not quite final. But it's nearing being a final standard. So, our engineers have, of course, taken a very close look at the code. Our core technology is pure video encoding optimization technology and knowing how to build the most performance, high efficiency video encoders, regardless of the standard. 

So, it's applicable to different standards, and will AV1 happen? Sure. AV1 will happen to some degree, and it's still a couple years off to be, you know, really practical in production until there's some devices with hardware decoders out there. But the question is, what will its market share be over time versus the other options. And if there's a business opportunity for us to bring our technology to another standard, we'll take a good look at that.

Jan Ozer: And you're talking about optimizations because you're actually in two businesses, now three, but you're in the encoding business, you're in the optimization business, and now you're in the transcoder business.

Tom Vaughan: Well, that's three different ways of getting a core set of capabilities, right? Some people might just need some optimization module that plugs into an existing workflow, some people want the full SDK that does the encoding with optimization, and we've had customers approach us that say, "Rather than just inputting uncompressed video and outputting a raw, elementary video bitstream, I need a little bit more." And so that's where our new transcoder product comes in.

Jan Ozer: Okay. Have you made any initial quality or encoding time or playback characteristics about AV1 yet or are you still far away from that?

Tom Vaughan: I've run some tests, and it's, you know, if you just take the clone, the Alliance for Open Media, AOM repository (and) build the AOM encoder, run some tests using kind of the standard settings, it's glacially slow. It's mind-blowing how slow it is. It's more than 10 times slower than the reference encoder for HEVC and I wasn't even getting to the highest quality setting yet. I was still a couple of notches away from the highest quality setting. 

So, it's in the very early phases. Of course, you wouldn't expect much different, I guess, at this point. There's tons of things that companies like ours do to then make encoders run fast.

Jan Ozer: Okay. And tell me about the Beamr Transcoder.

Tom Vaughan: So, the Beamr Transcoder is for companies who want to build their own video workflow from, you know, core technology SDKs, but want to be able to have their technology provider handle all the different standard input formats that they have, produce the different output formats right through to muxing and packaging.

So, we support all the types of inputs you might have. H264, ProRes, MPEG-2, and so forth, all the different audio formats can be transcoded, and then we can output with various files types or packaging standards, transport streams, fragmented MP4, MP4, HLS Dash.

Jan Ozer: And I should say this is a cloud service you just introduced. What's the elevator pitch versus existing services that are out there?

Tom Vaughan: Well, we don't operate a cloud service. We provide a core SDK to companies who might operate a cloud service, right? But it's an SDK that's very, very cloud friendly. It can run in Docker containers, and it's kind of headless SDK. Then there’s a product called Beamr Manager that's a web-based control platform that can manage a cluster of nodes that are running our optimizer product or our transcoder product, so it's designed in a very, very web-friendly, scalable way for any video service operator to integrate.

Jan Ozer: Thanks for taking the time. Have a great show.

Tom Vaughan: Thanks, Jan. You too.

Jan Ozer: Take care.


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