Breakthrough in Video Compression

Fraunhofer HHI, Europe’s largest research organization recently announced a new video codec, H.266, or Versatile Video Coding (VVC). This represents a huge breakthrough in video compression technology and promises to reduce the size of transmitted video by 50%. This is big news for ISPs since video drives a large percentage of network traffic.

Codec is an acronym for compressor/decompressor. Codec software is used to prepare videos for streaming over the Internet. Codec software compresses video signals at the sender’s end and is used at the viewer’s end to decompress video. The decompressed video file you watch on your TV, computer, or smartphone is much larger than the video file that is transmitted to you over the Internet.

Codec software is used to compress video signals of all types. It’s used by online video vendors like Netflix and YouTube TV. It’s used by networks like ESPN that broadcast live sports. It’s used by online video games. It’s used in online chat apps like Zoom. The codec is used to compress images from video cameras that are transmitted over the web. Any video you receive online has likely been compressed and decompressed by codec software. Fraunhofer claims its codec software is included in over 10 billion devices.

Reducing the size of video files will be a huge deal in the future. Sandvine reported in October of 2019 that video represented over 60% of all downloads on the web. We know the amount of streaming video has exploded during the pandemic, aided by massive cord-cutting. Cisco predicts that video could grow to be 82% of downloaded web traffic by the end of 2022.

The new H.266 codec standard will replace earlier codec software H.264 and H.265. Interestingly, the H.265 codec reduced the size of video files by 50% compared to the predecessor H.264 codec. Fraunhofer says the software is particularly well-suited for transmitting 4K and 8K streaming video for flat-screen TVs and for video with motion like high-resolution 360-degree video panoramics.

The new codec won’t be introduced immediately because it has to be designed and installed into the network gear that transmits video and into all of the devices we use to watch video. Hopefully, the new codec will hit the market sooner than its predecessor H.265. That codec software was announced on a similar press release by Fraunhofer in 2012 and has just recently been implemented across the network.

H.265 got embroiled by a number patent disputes. The new H.266 codec might encounter similar problems since the team working on the codec includes Apple, Ericsson, Intel, Huawei, Microsoft, Qualcomm, and Sony. Fraunhofer is trying to avoid disputes by implementing a uniform and transparent licensing model.

There also might be an eventual competitor for the new codec. The Alliance for Open Media announced a new codec in 2015 call AV1 which is a competitor of the current H.265 codec. This is open-source software and free and is supported by Google, Microsoft, Mozilla, and Cisco. (Note Microsoft is backing both sets of codec software). This group has been working on a forward-looking codec as well.

Even should everything go smoothly it’s unlikely to see the H.266 codec affecting consumer video for 3-4 years. Carriers could deploy the codec on network gear sooner than that.

New Technology – June 2016

The InternetThere is a lot of recent news of technological breakthroughs that ought to have some an on telecom and broadband.

Faster Microwave Radios. A collaboration of researchers working for ACCESS (Advanced E Band Satellite Link Studies) in Germany has created a long-range microwave link at 6 Gbps speeds. The technology uses the very high E band frequencies at 71 – 76 GHz and in testing were able to create a data path between radios that were 23 miles apart. It’s the very short length of the radio waves at this frequency that allow for the very fast data rates.

The radios rely on transistor technology from Fraunhofer IAF, a firm that has been involved in several recent high-bandwidth radio technologies. The transmitting radio broadcasts at a high-power of 1 watt while the receivers are designed to detect and reconstruct very weak signals.

When perfected this could provide a lower cost way to provide bandwidth links to remote locations like towns situated in rough terrain or cellular and other radio towers located on mountaintops. This is a significant speed breakthrough for point-to-point microwaves at almost six times the speed of other existing microwave technologies.

Smarter Chip Processing. A team at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory have developed a programming technique to make much better use of denser computer chips. In theory, a 64-core chip ought to be nearly 64 times faster than one with a single core, but in practice that has not been the case. Since most computer programs run sequentially (instructions and decision trees are examined one at a time, in order) most programs do not run much faster on denser chips.

The team created a new chip design they call Swarm that will speed up parallel processing and that will also make it easier to write the code for denser chips. In early tests, programs run on the swarm chip have been 3 to 18 times faster while also requiring as little as 10% of the code needed for normal processing.

1,000 Processor Chip. And speaking of denser chips, scientists at the University of California at Davis Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering have developed the first chip that contains over 1,000 separate processors. The chip has a maximum computation rate of 1.78 trillion instructions per second.

They are calling it the KiloCore chip and it’s both energy efficient and the highest clock rate chip ever developed. The chip uses IBM’s 32 nanometer technology. Each chip can run separate programming or they can be used in parallel. The scientists envision using a programming technique called the single-instruction-multiple-data approach that can break applications down into small discrete steps so that they can be processed simultaneously.

Faster Graphene Chips. Finally, US-Army funded researchers at MIT’s Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies have developed a technology that could theoretically make chips as much as 1 million times faster than today. The new technology uses graphene and relies on the phenomenon that graphene can be used to slow light below the speed of electrons. This slowed-down light emits ‘plasmons’ of intense light that create what the scientists called an optic boom (similar to a sonic boom in air).

These plasmons could be used to greatly speed up the transmission speeds within computer chips. They have found that the optic booms can push data through graphene at about 1/300th the speed of light, a big improvement over photons through silicon.

The researchers have been able to create and control the plasmon bursts and are hoping to have a working graphene chip using the technology within two or three years.