V-Nova Can Enhance Existing Streams

We missed the first launch of V-Nova and its new codec (More Details of V-Nova Perseus Emerge), so we were pleased to catch up with the firm at TV Connect, especially as we had a long discussion with the firm’s CEO, Guido Meardi.

For those that haven’t picked up on V-Nova’s technology, the company claims a “game-changing” level of improvement in compression efficiency, while still working on existing video chips by using different transforms and exploiting some of the hardware that exists already. Codecs typically are single-threading, while a parallel approach allows much better performance. The company is still very coy about details of its approach but said that it exploits better “correlation and prediction” than the traditional block and wavelet approaches previously used in the MPEG & HEVC codecs.

Intriguing news that we hadn’t heard before is that the Perseus technology can be used in a “stacking” way, with a core stream base layer and then “enhancement layers” which contain more detail and information. We were surprised when Meardi told us that the base layer could be a stream based on MPEG standards, while the enhancement layers are based on Perseus. That would mean a single stream could provide backward compatibility and performance enhancement from a single broadcast stream. There was a lot of interest in the enhancement layer concept (which was part of, for example, JPEG2000) in the past, but the reality of making it work turned out to be tricky. If Perseus can deliver this, it could be very popular with service providers.

One of the key points of the technology is that it can use a number of the mathematical transforms that are already built into MPEG decoding chips. Meardi told us that one of its engineers has been in the chip design business for many years and has shown how the transforms in the hardware can be accessed, even where chip suppliers (such as Broadcomm, which the company is working with) initially thought that this was not possible.

Meardi showed us (on an anonymous smartphone – said to be a mid-range device) a sample video of an action movie in 720P at (and we double checked this number with him) at 280Kbps. An SD version of the file was demonstrated at 125kbps. This is important because, although there is a lot of talk of high bit rates from broadband, the reality is that much of the world is running at not much more than 2 Mbps.

The firm believes that even if the world moves to full Super Hi-Vision levels of 8K resolution with HDR and high frame rates, it will still be able to deliver content over existing broadcast channels. On the evening before, Ericsson had told us that the overhead of moving to high frame rates using HEVC were likely to be much higher than some have speculated in the past, making a bigger barrier than forecast. However, V-Nova believes that its better way of “crunching space and time”, as Meardi described it, can cope with the higher frame rate without a big overhead.

Meardi said that the biggest barrier to Super Hi-Vision is probably getting the raw sensor data off of the sensor chips in cameras, rather than in transmission once you have the data.

Finally, we talked about standards. Meardi said that the company is open to standardisation, although to get to market a non-standard start is essential.

Analyst Comment

We have no way of checking the bit rate of the demonstrations that we saw, but V-Nova has a number of very conservative collaborators and we’re sure that they wouldn’t associate their names with V-Nova, if there was a major “gotcha”. However, if the content really was running at these bit-rates, the demonstration was very impressive indeed.

The difference between V-Nova and the MPEG approach reminds me of the development of 3D. Most of the development of 3D graphics chips was based on, crudely, throwing silicon at the problem to accelerate things. Along came Imagination Technology, with a new and tile-based approach. Many thought this was not the way to go at the time, but once power consumption became critical, the tiled approach came into its own and Imagination went from strength to strength. (BR)