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28 April 2022

Start-ups stifled at NAB, but SSIMWave’s Disney deal prevails

Remember the Sprockit-sponsored start-up section at NAB 2019? Three years later, it is a distant memory, with NAB 2022’s new West Hall promoting opulence over innovation. Start-ups were therefore few and far between at the event, with chance encounters at social events your best bet for brushing shoulders with new faces, new ideas, and new money.

Funnily enough, perceptual quality analysis specialist SSIMWave was one of the companies cherrypicked for the Sprockit Innovation Pipeline at the last NAB show, before Covid struck, but now finds itself with its own mid-sized stand at the posh end of the exhibit, not far from the perpetually packed AWS arena that swallowed neighboring exhibitors whole.

We caught up with Chief Revenue Officer Carlos Hernandez in Las Vegas, who delivered his usual apology about SSIMWave still not being able to announce a single public customer, despite repeatedly reassuring us that some of the world’s largest media companies are using its perceptual quality video analysis.

Thankfully, the thing about being back at in-person affairs is that magical things happen. Faultline has caught wind of a customer unofficially announcing its love for the SSIMPlus technology in an online post. The culprit is Disney Streaming Services, the former BAMTech unit that forms the infrastructure behind Disney+. This is a big deal, with Disney Streaming Services declaring a strong collaboration with SSIMWave, which it describes as an industry pioneer with respect to quality assessment across a wide range of impairments and content characteristics.

SSIMWave being SSIMWave, Hernandez and the team are unable to elaborate on the nature of this relationship and specifically whether Disney+ is in the picture. We are certain it is, and will float the question again another day. Either way, having a customer name that we can associate with SSIMWave is music to our ears.

This is timely, because we have some concerns to voice SSIMWave’s way about certain encoding vendors adding perceptual quality analysis tools to their compression stacks. He doubts that they are in fact analyzing pixels and frames. Well, the ones we have seen claim to be analyzing pixels and frames. Some want to disrupt the way quality analysis has typically been done on a scene-by-scene basis, even taking that a layer deeper by analyzing things in scenes that are imperceptible by humans.

But this is the opposite of SSIMWave’s mantra, which is that anything imperceptible to the human eye is a waste of resources. He reiterates the unique nature of SSIMWave in this vein, using the structural similarity index measurement method for predicting perceived video quality by end users, pushing the idea of viewer experience automation as the next frontier.

Hernandez then makes an about-turn, saying that SSIMWave does indeed license SSIMPlus to encoding vendors, although the names that are first on everyone’s lips are almost certainly developing these tools in-house. It doesn’t make sense to compete with these companies, he claims. Well, they are clearly trying to compete with SSIMWave on some level, and being late to the party doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t steal some of the pie, given that SSIMWave appears to have more trials than contracts.

We observe that representatives from Google are just finishing up a briefing before our appointment at the SSIMWave stand.

A quick demo takes us through a side-by-side streaming comparison, showing a marked improvement of the SSIMPlus Video Score by running the analysis. Some 15 seconds of video quality degradation are rescued before reaching the end user.

As for the automation angle, Hernandez observes that this is not a simple plunge, but is a progressive journey for customers, and is one of the more obvious trends at the event.