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Making the Unwatchable Watchable

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Sergio Grce discusses BitClear, an artificial intelligence based denoising technology.

Consider the life-cycle of a piece of “viral” media. It might be a rare insight into a news story, an unexpected artistic achievement, or just a funny animal. But it has spread around the media-sharing social sites.

Given the quality of cameras available today, even in phones, it may well have started with quite pristine video imagery. But each time it gets shared it gets re-encoded. At the point when it has the potential for viral success – and therefore valuable monetisation – the quality has often degraded significantly. We are all well aware of concatenated encoding (a.k.a. transcoding), like blurring, blocking and ringing.

For many, this poor quality makes it unwatchable, however interesting the content. It is a paradox: the more successful a video clip on social media, the fewer people will tolerate distortion and artifacts to watch it.

What is needed is a process that rolls back the effects of all those encodings and recovers quality as close as possible to that of the original video. Unfortunately, conventional wisdom is that video quality lost after each transcoding can never be recovered.

iSIZE specialises in the application of deep learning in video delivery, so we looked into this issue. The result is BitClear, an artificial intelligence based denoising technology that is specifically tuned to remove the effects of compression.

BitClear is a bespoke neural architecture that is trained to disentangle the noise from the data manifolds, i.e., to remove compression noise and artifacts, and retain or recover as much of the original content as possible. Unlike generic denoising technology that targets film grain or interlacing artifacts, BitClear targets the compression artifacts of typical MPEG or AOMedia encoders.

But while it learns the noise signature of the various common encoding standards, BitClear does not need to know the history of the specific asset. It can process any highly-compressed content and produce a much higher quality version at twice the resolution of the original input. That, in turn, improves the value of the asset. On an Intel Xeon CPU, the fastest BitClear models achieve processing speeds of 30 frames a second when producing content at 1080p resolution. That speed makes it applicable for a wide range of content in both live and VoD processing pipelines.

Its bespoke neural network architecture also means that it is readily scalable, up to very high volumes of parallel processing. Its architecture means it can be implemented in the cloud or on premise, and can run on CPUs, GPUs or custom hardware that supports neural network inference.

Taken together, this makes BitClear ideal for its primary target market, e.g. short-form content in social media networks, or when seeking to maximise the potential value from popular user-generated content or legacy-encoded content at lower resolution. At present, the solution is in evaluation trials with a number of major UGC distribution platforms.

The underlying AI principles of BitClear though, can potentially be applied to other applications which require the separation of image from noise and distortion. That could include cleaning archive content, for example. It would also be applicable where delivery bandwidth is limited by infrastructure, for example in broadcast contribution feeds over mobile streaming, or for gaming, live sports, entertainment and virtual reality. IoT applications like security start with very high image quality, at 1080p or higher, so it makes sense to preserve that content whatever the delivery bandwidth, especially when sent over mobile networks. There is broad scope for realtime or near-realtime image enhancement and de-noising across many industries.

There are many reasons why media businesses would want to reduce or eliminate the effects of multi-generation encoding and other distortions. It might be that the content has news, historical or cultural significance, or it could simply be the business view that the higher the quality, the greater the revenues.

In summary, BitClear achieves excellent results in removing artifacts without impacting the creative intent of the original content. It does it without user intervention or subjective decision-making: it is suitable for an entirely automated workflow. And it does it at speed and at scale, on readily available hardware, on-premise or in the cloud.


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