Monday, November 24, 2014

Defining Video Workflows In Software

As an addenda to an article on Software-Defined Video (SDV) by @TSiglin on @StreamingMedia today, the following provides a bit more insight into the concepts around SDN.

I asked Keith Wymbs, Chief Marketing Officer at Elemental Technologies, to expand a bit on the concept that Sam Blackman had referenced in the article, namely the idea of using general-purpose computing (GPP) in lieu of ASICs, DSPs, or FPGAs for video encoding and transcoding.

Traditionally, each codec that moves from hardware-based encoding to software-only encoding is, itself, replaced by another codec that requires additional complexities only manageable by hardware encoding. So I asked Keith how 4K / UHD, which are now most of the way down the software continuum, would move to software?

"For 4k/UHD we see demand across the spectrum and many of them large," said Wymbs. "Whether it is telco, satellite, cable, broadcast or OTT [Over the Top], are all buying and gearing up for early launches.

Wymbs said Elemental is powering multiple commercial services "right now" in addition to other customers kicking the tires.

"From our perspective, we see two things going on here," said Wymbs. "One is that the landscape is shifting too quickly for the industry to wait for maturation. Innovation cycles that used to be measured in years (some would say decades) are now shrinking to quarters.

"The second is that software is fast enough today to be first with high grade solutions," said Wymbs. "There are some gaps, but the majority of those are more decisions to not go after specific markets than a limitation of the software itself."

A chance encounter with several educators in San Antonio this last week also shone a light on the potential uses of software versus hardware.

"Sometimes our colleagues lack a certain set of equipment," said Marlotta Karianna, "so it would be useful to provide that in software. One might say that, if the hardware doesn't cut it, the software is a poor substitute, but we've found it's all about the right equipment at the right time."

Those gaps may be in the use of high frame rate (HFR) 4k or 5k, or even the use of 8K content, which still seems to reside in the land of specialized chipsets.

"The specs are by no means locked down," said Wymbs, in response to that comment, adding "but with software it can evolve. If 4k flops those assets can be reassigned to other SDV functions.  So it reduces the risk for the operator quite a bit."

When it comes to the difference between video and networking, comparing software to hardware in a 1G world versus a 10G world—although, granted, even 10G fabric switching can be performed in software—it seems some parts of the video world still require hardware.