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Review: Videon’s Shavano 4K HEVC Video Encoder

If you're looking to add the capabilities of HEVC to your live streams, I recommend giving the Videon Shavano a test drive.

Early in 2018, I received an email from the people on the Videon team letting me know that they were using the technique I’d outlined in an earlier H.264 hardware encoder article, and that they were keen to get my thoughts on their new 4K HEVC encoder, the Shavano (Figure 1, below). I had wanted to do more testing with HEVC encoders to see if the hype over compression quality over lower bitrates was justified.

Figure 1. The Videon Shavano

HEVC and 4K

For my webcasting business, the majority of broadcasts are done at 1280x720/30p between 2.5 and 5Mbps, downsampling from a video signal of 1920x1080/59.94p. As such, I’m not yet at a point where my clients (or their audiences) need 4K resolution for their live streams. However, the capability to use HEVC compression over slower networks (e.g., 3G/4G bonded solutions) is very appealing.

The difficulty with HEVC for webcasting is the lack of decoder availability across desktop web browsers and smartphones. While iOS 11 or higher devices have had HEVC decoding capabilities since the iPhone 7 or the 2017 iPad Pro, Android 5.0 and higher devices may not consistently support HEVC playback.

As such, my workflow would need to transcode one high-quality HEVC source stream to one or more H.264 streams for playback. For this task, I use Wowza Streaming Engine to transcode a live HEVC source to H.264 renditions. This process would give me the benefits of HEVC compression with a lower bandwidth requirement on site, and provide playable H.264 streams for all target audiences.

Overview of Shavano I/O

In order to meet the increased processing demands of HEVC, the Shavano utilizes a powerful Qualcomm SnapDragon 820 processor, and has the following inputs (Figure 2, below):

  • HDMI 1.4 input up to 2160p30: If you want to utilize 4K resolution, you will need to provide the input signal via HDMI.
  • 3G-SDI input up to 1080p60: You can use the SDI input for resolutions below 4K. While there is no pass-through output for the SDI input, there is an HDMI monitor out.
  • USB 3.0 interface for recording: Connect USB storage devices to record archives of live streams.
  • 3.5mm Analog Audio input: If the program audio isn’t being carried over HDMI or SDI, you can route analog audio through this input.
  • 10/100/1000 Ethernet (RJ-45), Power over Ethernet (PoE): One of my favorite features of the Shavano is the ability to power the unit from the Ethernet cable. You will need a network switch capable of supplying power from the Ethernet port. You can find reliable network switches with PoE for less than $100.
  • SD slot for recording: Located on the front of the unit, the SD slot can be used to also record locally (see Figure 1).

Figure 2. The back of the Shavano

For input resolutions, the Shavano supports the following:

  • 3840x2160p30, p25, p24
  • 1920x1080p60, p59.94, p30, p29.97, p25
  • 1280x720p60, p59.94, p50

For output resolutions in live streams, you can use the same input resolutions and frame rates listed earlier as well as these:

  • 960x540p
  • 720x380p
  • 640x360p
  • 480x270p
  • 320x180p

Note that if you’re still using an interlaced signal in your video production (e.g., 1080i59.94), the Shavano will not be able to directly process the input signal. You will need to use a separate deinterlacer/converter such as the Decimator Design MD-DUCC (Multi-Definition Down Up Cross Converter) to supply a progressive signal to the Shavano.

Managing the Shavano

You set up and modify the Shavano’s settings via a browser-based management GUI running directly on the Shavano. By default, the Shavano’s networking interface is using DHCP to automatically grab an IP address and DNS settings from the local network. The Shavano’s IP address can be located using the Videon Discovery desktop application that can be downloaded from videon-central.com/resources, under the Discovery Application heading. After you’ve installed and run the application, make sure your computer is connected to the same network as the Shavano. Any Shavano units on your network will appear (Figure 3, below).

Figure 3. The Shavano Discovery application

There is no security enabled on the Shavano with default factory settings. You can open a browser window for the Shavano directly from the Discovery application. The main screen of the Shavano, Encoder Control (Figure 4, below), shows you the current streaming and recording status. You can select the HDMI/SDI/audio input in the AV Input Type combo box. If there is a compatible video signal provided on the selected input, the Input Resolution will display the resolution and frame rate.

Figure 4. Encoder Control

Firmware Updates

Before configuring compression settings and output/recording destinations, I highly recommend navigating to the Advanced page and clicking the Check for Update button in the Firmware Update section (Figure 5, below). During 2018, several updates were released that added new features and fixed bugs.

Figure 5. Firmware Update section of the Advanced page