There has been a continued trend to push more network functions, including video compression, into datacenters and virtual cloud environments. While there are clear advantages for the virtualization of many network functions, there are also certain cases where there may be a hindering cost or performance penalty.
Video compression systems are being used for a wide range of scenarios today. Some key use cases include:
- Different content: File-based (VOD) and Live
- Different clients: STB, connected TV, PCs, laptops, tablets, smartphones
- Different codecs: MPEG-2, AVC, HEVC, VP-9
- Different resolutions and formats: SD, HD, 4K, HDR
- Different sources: Encoding (baseband input) vs. Transcoding (compressed IP input)
- Different encoding devices: Broadcast encoders, consumer cameras, professional cameras
- Different environments: Datacenters, space or power constrained facilities
Video compression, with newer codecs such as HEVC and higher resolutions such as 4K (3840 x 2160 pixels), is very compute-intensive, particularly for live content.
To achieve reasonable power, space, cabling, and reliability requirements, hardware acceleration is often used. This can be in the form of dedicated ASICs, FPGAs, GPUs, or embedded encoding hardware inside Intel CPUs or integrated smartphone chipsets. Therefore, video compression systems often utilize one or several of these technologies to achieve the necessary performance. ARRIS is utilizing the latest ASIC compression chips in our new encoder/transcoder systems, the ME-7000 Converged Compression Platform. This platform is targeted for live encoding and transcoding applications for professional broadcast and distribution of full resolution TV programming.
The ME-7000 serves a wide range of consumer display devices, from smartphones to big-screen UHD displays. Currently, the platform is being used worldwide by operators such as Televisa Izzi in Mexico and Eastlink in Canada.
By combining advanced hardware compression with general purpose CPU computing, the ME-7000 offers advantages in power, space, reduced cabling, and improved long-term reliability while enabling flexibility and an easy-to-use software-only compression system. For example, in the HEVC HD live encoding/transcoding use case, the ME-7000 has 10x-15x better power and space usage than CPU-based compression systems.
For applications, a file-based compression or for live content with lower resolution video or simpler codecs, pure software-based implementations can offer acceptable performance in a virtual environment.
ARRIS works with a number of partners offering software or hybrid software-hardware solutions to match the best technology with these types of use cases to best meet the needs of our customers.
Asking whether software or hardware is better for video compression is the wrong question. Rather, one should ask, “What is the best technology to solve my video compression problem.” Depending on the use case, the choice of technology can differ.
What is important, is that the technology and the use cases are aligned for the best price and performance, both for initial CAPEX and on-going OPEX. ARRIS’s approach is to dedicate time to understanding our customers’ specific circumstances, business goals, and optimize solutions that map to their situation.