Monday, June 7, 2010

Andy Beach explains, "What the heck is H.264 SVC?"

Last month at Streaming Media East 2010, I caught up with Andy Beach, Chief Evangelist at Seawell Networks and author of Real World Video Compression, and asked him to explain, "What the heck is H.264 SVC?" Andy was at Streaming Media East to promote the release of Seawell Networks' Lumen 1000, a turnkey appliance for encoding H.264 scalable video coding (SVC) streaming video across multiple platforms. This was SeaWell's first product announcement following a $7 million in Series A funding announcement earlier in the year.

Scalable Video Coding (SVC) is a new extension of the H.264/MPEG-4 AVC video compression standard that enables multi-platform and adaptive streaming from a single file. Andy explained that existing adaptive bit rate technologies creates multiple files that enhances the viewing experience. Yet it puts a real burden on the infrastructure, and increases the workload and cost of content creation, storage and delivery. But with SVC, instead of producing separate streams, the SVC encoder converts the source into layers in an "encode once serve many" model. The SVC stream is comprised of 3 dimensions – clarity, spatial, and temporal layers and each layer adds information to the lower layers, rather than just duplicating information into multiple bit rates.

According to Andy,
"This allows big content producers creating a wide range of content to deploy more content out on network, because you can spend less time creating each individual file that you want to deliver."

The Lumen 1000 is a transcoding appliance that converts the source video into layers, starting with a base layer that contains the lowest level of quality, and is backwards compatible with existing H.264 players. In addition to the base layer, the encoder also creates enhancement layers that contain video quality, size/resolution, and frame-rate information. This allows multiple bit rates to be derived from a single file with a little headroom of only 10 to 20% larger than the highest bit rate required. SeaWell says that content owners encoding with the Lumen 1000 will see a 50-70% reduction in storage needs over current multi-bitrate encoding solutions.

Andy says we're in the early days of SVC adoption. It's a new standard that is just starting to come into its own this year, but we'll hear a lot more about later in the year and it's really going to blow out next year. Current SVC deployments can be found primarily in the videoconferencing space powering products like Google video chat and Cisco TelePresence. While the media and entertainment world has not yet embraced SVC as a playback option – they are paying attention.

Glenn Goldstein, vice president media technology strategy, MTV Networks had this to say:
"With the rise in demand for premium content to be available across multiple platforms, the industry needs an approach that can efficiently target appropriate quality to a range of devices with a wide variety of computing capabilities, and be able to adapt smoothly to variable network conditions. SVC’s scalable single-encode approach looks promising for addressing these problems in a more efficient manner than the current multi-bitrate multi-encode technique used by much of the industry.”
SeaWell will continue to bring more new SVC products to market and some may even have a software component. For now though, the company is excited to be launching the first SVC video streaming solution.

About SeaWell Networks
SeaWell Networks Inc. is a provider of Internet video delivery products designed for use by content producers and their content delivery partner organizations. SeaWell combines video compression standards and network level intelligence to uniquely create and deliver a high-quality viewing experience online while significantly reducing the cost of distribution. For more information see