Perseus politics leak out at NAB in wake of MPEG-5 revelation

Now the lid has officially been lifted on the involvement of V-Nova’s Perseus technology in the working draft of MPEG-5 part 2, Faultline did the rounds at NAB 2019 picking up various takes on the news, mostly via off the record comments, knowing full well that the London-based video compression firm is bathing in the glory of knowing former doubters are now fully fledged supporters.

Last week’s coverage dug deep into the technology and we will jump back in for a refresh shortly, but first it’s important to add a layer of politics to the story to understand the significance of this next step in the V-Nova saga. Remember, our cautious stance on V-Nova has generally been that clearly V-Nova has built a great product in Perseus but a variety of factors have kept its customer list at a minimum. One such factor we were given  insights into this week on the politics side involves the unnecessary bashing of Perseus by encoding vendors on the premise that Perseus was guilty of commoditizing encoders – and therefore posed an immediate threat to the business of AWS Elemental, Ateme, Harmonic etc. It’s true that if Perseus improves efficiency three-fold then it could in theory translate to a one-third reduction in encoder orders placed by a customer. Fast forward to today and Harmonic – a former doubter – is leading the charge for vendors embracing Perseus.

As for the customer issue, we now understand that some 62 Perseus pilot projects are underway at industry heavyweights including Facebook, Twitch and CNN – expecting at least 90% to emerge as eventual customers going by current feedback. But while V-Nova is visibly coming of age and is on the verge of landing some massive deployments, the company won’t put out a press release as it doesn’t want to appear a gloater. In that case, we’ll do the honors but without blowing its trumpet too much.

In a nut shell, companies which were once contenders of V-Nova have become protectors. Even Google, a core string puller around AV1, now supports V-Nova and a source said discussions for AV1 to embrace Perseus are underway – although AOMedia’s royalty free model would presumably mean not a penny would reach V-Nova should this happen.

We said earlier the lid has been officially lifted but in fact MPEG has not issued a formal press release, instead it was alluded to in the latest blog from Leonardo Chiariglione– although he avoided referencing V-Nova by name. Harmonic’s Video Strategist Thierry Fautier has at least confirmed Perseus was his recommendation to MPEG and in a press conference this week he swerved the opportunity to add some detail, simply saying “the technology is interesting, but the business case is even better.”

Chiariglione this week outlined the two parts of MPEG-5, where Part 1 Essential Video Coding (EVC) will have a base layer/profile which is expected to be Option 1 and a second layer/profile with a performance approximately 25% better than HEVC. It was also noted that licensing terms are expected to be published by patent holders within 2 years. Part 2 then is Low Complexity Enhancement Video Coding (LCEVC), which will be a two-layer video coding standard. The lower layer is not tied to any specific technology and can be any video codec; the higher layer is used to extend the capability of an existing video codec.

In summary and as a reminder, Perseus Plus then is the foundation of MPEG-5 part 2, at least in the working version ahead of final standardization later in 2019. The working group is in fact being co-chaired by Dolby alongside V-Nova, so it is unlikely now that Perseus Plus will fail to make the final version, although enhancements are anticipated from other MPEG participants. The latter may include Comcast as a shareholder in V-Nova through its acquisition of Sky, while Amazon and Technicolor are definitely involved.

Given the question marks raised around the MPEG-LA patent pool in recent years as the codec wars have heated up, the significance of MPEG-5 part 2 is that it can still sit on top of disruptive new codecs like AV1 – thus preserving the MPEG legacy.