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LCEVC: Ready for Primetime

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V-Nova, the primary developer of the Low Complexity Enhancement Video Codec (LCEVC) codec, announced its royalty terms last month. We talked with V-Nova CEO and co-founder Guido Meardi to get a better sense of where LCEVC is at in terms of deployment, as well as to get more insight into the licensing structure.

Streaming Media: Give us the elevator pitch on LCEVC.

Guido Meardi: For anyone looking for the best end-consumer video experience right now, LCEVC enhances any codec producing higher resolutions, greater detail, and reduced buffering. With only a software upgrade, you can enhance any video delivery without waiting for new hardware in devices. LCEVC provides an immediate way to drive up user engagement and retention whilst considerably reducing compute and driving operating costs savings. Importantly, reduced compute results in considerable contribution to lower emissions. V-Nova is committed to making the "parabolic" growth in video streaming sustainable in the long run by minimizing the carbon impact of encoding servers.

So, where is LCEVC right now in terms of release? 

Our SDK already supports a very wide range of encoding and device environments. For encoding we have libraries optimised for CPUs (both Intel and ARM), GPUs and even FPGA. For decoding we have optimized libraries to cover the most popular platforms including Android, iOS, Windows, Mac, and scripted decoding for HTML5 capable browsers to deploy LCEVC avoiding the need for any plugins. 

To facilitate adoption, we have made available multiple reference integrations for a wide range of encoders and decoders including FFmpeg (with support for over 20 base encoders), ExoPlayer for Android, AVPlayer for iOS, Microsoft UWP for Windows, and web players like HLS.js, Shaka Player, video.js. We also have integrations at OS level, such as a patch for AOSP (Android Open Source Project) that makes LCEVC easily implementable in all AOSP-based systems. For both encoding and decoding we're adding more options all the time—including professional vendors—in conjunction with partners on active deployment projects.

What is the licensing structure?

The licensing terms were recently announced (20 May) and they aim to be simple and fair. The terms ensure that it is as easy as possible to deploy in the ecosystem, with those enabling the technology being able to integrate it without licensing fees. In particular, there are two licenses available: 

How is this different from existing licensing structures?

Traditionally, video codecs have been deployed in silicon on devices, and devices are the ones being charged for a license or a royalty for functionality they don't themselves benefit from. LCEVC is an enhancement that can be deployed today in software, directly by a service provider, also on devices that are already out there in the market. These can be general computing platforms (like mobile phones) or dedicated video streamers, but it would be unfair and counter-productive to go and charge them for retrofitting an additional bit of functionality. In modern software-as-a-service (SaaS) models, functionality is made available to the users, and they pay for it only when using and thus benefitting from it, immediately making money. The LCEVC model is simply a modern software model.

What's been the response, and do you have any customers who have accepted these terms?

The terms were designed following extensive consultation with service and industry partners. The feedback we received highlighted that it strikes the right balance, with business benefits far outweighing the small per-active-user costs. We have also been told that it is reassuring to get such clarity and transparency so early in the process.

What does this mean for developers? If I want to play your LCEVC on the Chrome browser, does Google need to deploy LCEVC? What about on a Samsung Smart TV?

LCEVC can be deployed at different levels in the software stack—in browsers and operating systems but also directly in service provider's players and apps.

Already today, services can deploy LCEVC-enhancement to browsers as software updates to their HTML5-based video player without requiring plugins. You can check http://player.v-nova.com  to enjoy LCEVC-enhanced streams on your browser right now. The same applies to apps. Search ‘LCEVC' in Android/iOS/Microsoft stores and you will be able to install an app that plays LCEVC on your device today. Importantly, those are not tech demos: they are deployable implementations, and while working on actual deployments with our Early Adopter Program, we have also engaged with professional testing companies to soak test and certify them across devices.

Whilst not a requirement, some further efficiency benefits will ultimately be available from ecosystem enablers like device, browser and operating system companies integrating the technology at lower level, especially for devices such as Smart TVs. The licensing terms and the ease of integration are designed to facilitate that process.

So, if I decide to deploy LCEVC next month, how soon can I get full playback support on browsers, mobile devices, and OTT/Smart TVs?

The quick answer is right away for a broad percentage of the audience. Being Low Complexity, playback support can happen at different levels in the software stack. Service providers can deploy LCEVC right away on mobiles, tablets, Android streamers, Apple TVs, Xboxes, and browsers as part of their application or even scripted inside an HTML5 player. LCEVC becomes just another "app feature" that can be downloaded with the next update.

With the V-Nova LCEVC fee structure, we expect ecosystem providers to take our optimised native libraries and start making LCEVC available natively in operating systems, browser and chipset drivers.

It's fair to say that companies in the Alliance for Open Media have been neutral to negative on MPEG codecs. Given that AOMedia members control so many critical platforms, what role will they play in LCEVC's acceptance?

LCEVC is, by design, a codec agnostic enhancer, and it was developed in very good terms with many of the key contributors to AOMedia. The role of LCEVC is to improve the efficiency of other codecs and to optimize the consumer video experience. This applies to AV1 as well. Actually, we feel that adding LCEVC enhancement to AV1 can significantly accelerate its adoption by enabling high-resolution playback in a host of devices without requiring the long cycle of dedicated hardware becoming available, whilst also reducing transcoding power requirements by >70% and decoding battery drain by up to 50%.

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