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5 April 2018

Beamr affirms HEVC loyalty as rivals embrace AV1

The video codec scene has lit up pre-NAB, the first big trade show following the debut version 1.0 launch of disruptive royalty-free codec AV1 last week. Crucially, disruption will come from where vendor loyalties lie in the patent licensing pool divide, with one firm which perhaps doesn’t pull as much media attention as the encoding big hitters, Israeli compression specialist Beamr, releasing a new transcoder for HEVC streaming to HLS devices this week.

“AV1 is quite possibly for the future, but HEVC is today,” was the message from Beamr’s VP of Marketing Mark Donnigan, speaking to Faultline Online Reporter at Mobile World Congress.

Before we dive into the new Beamr Transcoder VoD’s specs, Beamr claims its framework can be readily applied to AV1, with employees it inherited from the acquisition of Vanguard Video experienced with working on Google’s VP9 codec, which forms the foundations of AV1. For now, the company is focused on HEVC due to it being supported by 1.5 billion devices – applying some 50 codec engineers to working on HEVC. Either way, the industry is preparing to embrace AV1, initially in desktop browsers later this year, then moving to games consoles and other streaming devices from the end of 2018 into early 2019.

Building on a technique Beamr pioneered called perceptual filtering, essentially a method for simplifying the compression process based on eliminating fine details the human eye cannot see, Beamr Transcoder VoD claims to offer the lowest total-cost-of-ownership in the market when running on Intel Xeon Scalable processors. “We are focused on optimizing HEVC for Intel because 99.5% of customers run Intel processors,” Donnigan told us. It’s worth noting Intel is a founding member of AV1 patent licensing pool the Alliance for Open Media, not rival body HEVC Advance, suggesting where Intel sees the future of codecs.

The new transcoder will officially roll out next month as a free version, including the Beamr 4, 5 and 5x codec SDKs for AVC and HEVC transcoding, followed by a paid version offering more transcoding time, ProRes file support, advanced Dolby audio codecs and dynamic ad insertion features. The 5x launched last year, claiming to support streams with 50% fewer bits for the same quality video. Beamr has also committed to include a live version of Beamr Transcoder from Q4 this year.

Increased customer demand for adding features such as support for ad insertion, the ability to plug in to any packager and working with any DRM is being primarily driven by mobile network operators, according to Donnigan. He noted most telcos are perfectly happy with HEVC today, which is all dandy for Beamr as it means no SDK tweaks are required. However, given AV1 looks likely to dominate mobile devices, with Apple a founding AOMedia member and Samsung reportedly arriving on the scene imminently, a fundamental inflection point of MNO’s codec concerns will occur as more mobile-first OTT video services launch.

“Answering the industry’s call to move off monolothic black boxes,” is a bold statement from 8-year old Beamr, reminding us of claims made by Donnigan at MWC about the industry pushing back against big systems from the likes of Harmonic, Ateme and AWS Elemental. These three companies continue to win big customer deployments on a regular basis, but Donnigan suggests major MSOs are planning for a future without reliance on such legacy systems where vendor lock-in is unavoidable – a feat which is apparently happening in its fledgling stage today but will be an arduous process.

French firm Ateme has been vocal about AV1 this week, as it prepares to showcase a production ready AV1 codec in its Titan video delivery product at NAB, while Harmonic execs will be discussing the AV1 versus HEVC debate in a NAB panel with the Ultra HD Alliance, which we will assess next week.

HEVC Advance has responded by recently eliminating some royalties, specifically for subscription and title-by-title content distribution. The licensing administrator added ACTi, EverFocus Electronics, Fraunhofer, GoPro, Hitachi Koki, Humax, KAIST, Korean Aerospace University, Korean Broadcast System, TechniSat Telestar and Western Digital to its list of licensors and licensees this week.

Targeted at OTT video service providers, Beamr Transcoder VoD automatically allocates the optimum number of threads to the video encoding function while reserving the minimum required for decoding, pipeline management, and network control.

Beamr founder and CEO Sharon Carmel said: “When we surveyed the market, it was clear that the old model of requiring customers to jump through hoops for an evaluation, does not work today. I am very proud of the technical achievement our team delivered with Beamr Transcoder VoD, and I want everyone to experience it. But I am equally proud of the business model we developed that will enable anyone who wants to use this amazing product, to click, download, encode, and put the file into production. We call it free to start.”