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The Quest for Greater Efficiency in Video Processing

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With more consumers choosing to upgrade their viewing experience by switching to 4K TVs and compatible streaming devices, there’s a growing demand for high quality 4K video content. High resolution 4K video content provides viewers with sharper images and greater clarity and detail, which enhances the overall viewing experience. Although 4K has really only just become the industry standard for TVs, 8K TVs are already available, and consumers can even get a taste of what 16K ultra-high definition is like at music and entertainment venues such as the Sphere in Las Vegas. The consumer transition to higher-resolution content seems inevitable.

However, as content resolution increases, so do file sizes, and this is creating some challenges for media providers. Firstly, as files increase in size, they take up more storage space. Next, the bigger the video file, the more bandwidth is needed to transport it. Additionally, more time and processing power is needed for tasks such as encoding and rendering. There are of course operational and cost implications arising from each of these issues, so it’s not surprising that media companies are looking for ways to mitigate operational challenges, and reduce additional costs, by improving efficiency in video processing. Technological developments in video compression techniques will undoubtedly play a key role in this endeavor. 

Improving Video Compression Efficiency

The rising demand for higher resolution video has simultaneously created a need for more efficient ways to compress data. As a result, video compression technology has come a long way in recent years, enabling media companies to compress video files to a much more manageable size, without loss of quality.

A prime example is the codec HEVC/H.265 (High-Efficiency Video Coding), which was developed largely in response to the demand for ultra-high-definition 4K and 8K content. With much more advanced algorithms than traditional compression standards, HEVC allows for 4K and 8K content to be compressed extremely efficiently. It is 25-50% more efficient at compressing data than its predecessor, AVC/H.264 (Advanced Video Coding), which is generally considered to be the leading standard for video compression. The result of encoding with HEVC is smaller files with lower bitrates, which helps to reduce storage costs and lower bandwidth requirements, all while achieving the best possible quality.

Even more advanced again is VVC/H.266 (Versatile Video Coding) which provides better compression efficiency than HEVC, while maximizing visual quality. Encoding with VVC reduces file sizes more than HEVC which helps to further reduce storage requirements. It also reduces bitrate requirements by 50%, so an 8K video with a bitrate of 80 Mbps can be encoded in VVC and reduced to 40 Mbps. As such, it’s particularly well suited to live streaming high-resolution 8K and still even4K today, while being well-positioned for 16K video content in the future. Although still in its infancy, VVC is expected to begin to move into commercial workflows over the coming year. By adopting more efficient compression standards, media companies can compress high-resolution content into much smaller files without loss of quality, which goes a long way toward mitigating the challenges posed by escalating file sizes.

Leveraging the Cloud and AI-based Technology

Although these advanced codecs can deliver much more efficient compression than established standards, they do require substantially more processing power and time for the encoding process to complete. This matters more in some use cases than others. Unlike on-demand content where encoding speed is less of an issue, with live programming such as sports or news broadcasting, the speed of the compression process is a vital consideration. In order to deliver content to viewers in near real-time, broadcasters and content providers need efficient live encoding, which again takes up vast amounts of computing power. For maximum operational efficiency, media companies need the ability to scale up computing power as and when needed. The cloud can provide the required scalability so it’s therefore worth utilizing it where it makes sense to.

Alongside adopting cloud-based workflows, many companies are starting to attach AI descriptions to their offerings. As the technology develops, there’s little doubt that true AI and Machine Learning will enter the market to enable more efficient video processing and higher levels of automation throughout the entire workflow. A number of technology companies are already exploring AI-based video compression, and it’s likely that we’ll see AI making some major waves in video compression over the coming years.

4K, 8K and Beyond

The gradual evolution of consumer preferences towards higher resolution content is undoubtedly fueling the need for more efficient video processing. As consumers embrace 4K, 8K, and beyond, media companies will need to leverage developments in video compression technology, as well as cloud tools and services, to mitigate the challenges posed by escalating file sizes, and to enable video to be processed more efficiently. And as AI-based technology develops, that too will likely allow media companies to make further efficiency gains. Video compression is an integral part of the broadcast workflow, and technological developments in this area have paved the way for the broadcast industry to produce and distribute high-quality content to viewers worldwide. Video compression techniques are continually evolving and improving, it’ll be exciting to see what comes next.

[Editor's note: This is a contributed article from MainConcept. Streaming Media accepts vendor bylines based solely on their value to our readers.]

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