VITEC Aces HEVC

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“We chose to provide a real-time HEVC encoder for 1080p, not 4K,” said Eli Garten, VITEC’s vice president of product management. “The market demanding real-time, very low-latency encoding is still very much demanding 1080p content, but not yet ready for 4K as an acquisition resolution.”

Garten made this statement prior to the National Association of Broadcasters 2015 (NAB) show, during an onsite visit at the company’s Sunnyvale office in which Garten showcased the MGW ACE, a low-latency encoder with the same portable form factor as the company’s H.264-based Sprint encoder.

The conversation ranged from 4K to how the company approaches low-bitrate HEVC differently from high-bitrate HEVC.

“In the past, for H.264, our goal was to provide a single codec across all data rates,” said Garten, “from high- to low-bitrate scenarios. When it came to HEVC, though, we found that one codec did not fit all, so we made a conscious decision to use two codecs: one for content below 1.5Mbps and another for content above 1.5Mbps.”

The result, based on examples that Garten provided of content at bitrates ranging from 1Mbps up through 8 bps, offers a demonstrable improvement over H.264 in terms of detail. This is thanks, in large part, to the ability to change macroblock sizes, subdividing highly detailed areas into more granular macroblocks. This all comes at a computational price, however.

When asked about 4K, Garten said the company serves two major market verticals: medical and military. Neither one of these has moved to 4K acquisition, although Garten did say he expected 4K cameras in the medical field by the end of 2015. He pointed towards colonoscopy camera manufacturers as the potential leaders in the shift towards 4K.

“Cameras for that procedure would greatly benefit from the high resolution,” said Garten.

A few weeks later, at the NAB 2015 show, VITEC unveiled the ACE to its dealer network at a pre-event breakfast. I asked Garten after the breakfast what his dealers had said about this new low-latency HEVC encoder.

“They were attracted due to its size, power, and performance,” said Garten. “As a small form-factor standalone encoder, it opens the door to new applications for using HEVC that are not feasible or not practical to execute with bulky, power-hungry servers with software codec.”

“Regarding performance, ACE received a lot of attention throughout the show,” Garten added in an email after the show. “Performance to VITEC means it delivers H.265 streams with only 75 miliseconds of encoding delay. Being hardware-based guarantees the reliable operation needed for critical video services.”

“The robustness of an appliance is also important when taking it to the field, in flight cases or hauling it in a truck,” said Garten.

Streaming Media’s editors also found the ACE compelling, selecting it for a Best of NAB award.

One key to success, according to Garten, was the ability to showcase live encoding on the NAB show floor to potential ACE users who wanted to see HEVC in action.

“In terms of video performance we didn’t just settle with a pre-recorded clip,” said Garten. “While that might show how H.264 compares to HEVC, it isn’t enough. We also had a live demo with a unit that users were able to play with and configure to various data rates and we were able to show 30%-50% improvement in bandwidth utilization over H.264 within the standard 1080p HD domain.”

VITEC says these compression gains were very well received by NAB attendees, many of whom had “the main goal of cutting OPEX originating from satellite bills and/or fees for other types of dedicated pipes,” according to Garten.

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