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Multiple codecs improve HD encoding performance, Broadcast International says

Trade shows are a terrific venue for witnessing both small incremental changes to the way things get done in an industry and dramatic advances with repercussions for years to come.

This week at IBC2007, Broadcast International and IBM will introduce CodecSys, a new H.264 encoder capable of producing what the company claims is a 3Mb/s HD stream that looks just as good as a full 19.4Mb/s HD channel.

What makes CodecSys tick is a series of individual “expert” codecs running on the IBM Cell blade processor. Each codec is tuned to respond to specific conditions of the video in a given group of frames. Together these “idiot savant” codecs can produce remarkable results, the company says.

HD Technology Update caught up with Broadcast International VP of sales and marketing Rob Chipman prior to the opening of the convention to learn more.

HD Technology Update: What’s the background of Broadcast International and what are you bringing to the market that’s unique in the world of video compression?

Rob Chipman: Broadcast International is actually a 23-year-old company that’s been doing private networks in the enterprise industry for the past several years. Our clients include Safeway, Staples and Caterpillar Corp., and along the way we’ve learned that our clients never ask for the opportunity to use more bandwidth. They always want to use less.

So, we went out and acquired this new technology that we’ve trademarked CodecSys. CodecSys is a system of expert codecs that does compression rather than a single codec.

HD Technology Update: In what ways are these multiple codecs compression “experts?”

Rob Chipman: Where a single codec is trying to be the best codec it possibly can, Broadcast International has an expert codec optimized for specific, unique opportunities based on characteristics of the frames being compressed. This allows us the opportunity to compress video content down farther than it’s been before.

These expert codecs, sometimes called “idiot savant codecs,” are highly tuned for specific conditions. One does nothing more than dark content with slow motion, and another dark content with fast motion. Others are devoted to bright content slow motion, bright content with fast motion and all different types of unique variables that tend to show up in video content.

HD Technology Update: How efficient is this approach to compression?

Rob Chipman: To give you an idea how far, we will be showing at IBC (this week in Amsterdam) in the IBM booth HD content at less than 3Mb/s. That 3Mb/s HD content is better than what broadcast, satellite and cable operators are using today at 19.4 Mb/s.

HD Technology Update: Is this a proprietary encoding scheme that requires a Broadcast International decoder?

Rob Chipman: No, the output can be played back with an H.264-compatible device. So, anybody’s H.264 player is the target device.

HD Technology Update: Because you are running multiple proprietary codecs, does that add significantly to the price?

Rob Chipman: It doesn’t because most of these codecs are owned by Broadcast International. Again, these are codecs that are optimized and built for our specific need. These are not codecs that you would ever use for any other single purpose.

Going from 19.4 Mb/s down to less than 3 Mb/s is certainly giving any type of a broadcaster — whether it’s for cable, satellite or Internet broadcasting — a significant opportunity.

From our perspective, many of these multiple codecs were created right here in house, allowing us to have ownership, and it’s just part of that license that any one organization purchasing our product gets as included in the price.

HD Technology Update: What is the price?

Rob Chipman: The price is still to be determined, but these encoders we are building with IBM are going to be well in line with just about any other commercially produced HD encoder in the field today.

HD Technology Update: What is the form factor of the product? Will it run on a workstation and laptop, or will it be packaged as a rack-mountable device?

Rob Chipman: IBM created the new Cell blade processor chip. What we are using right now is the Cell blade processor chip to create HD encoders with IBM that include our compression technology. So, these will be IBM encoders that will be black devices that say IBM on them and will be able to handle inbound HD content, and provide live HD encoding and 3Mb/s.

HD Technology Update: Does the use of these multiple codecs add to the latency involved with encoding when compared to conventional MPEG-4 AVC encoders?

Rob Chipman: No, the latency with this will be no more than the other commercially produced devices today because of the processing power of the IBM chip.

HD Technology Update: What niche markets within the broadcast industry have you identified for the CodecSys?

Rob Chipman: Certainly because Broadcast International has 23 years of doing enterprise, Web and satellite networks, there will be a great opportunity for us to deploy them there, but we are talking with several sports and national broadcasters who are interested in using this technology for several applications.

Being able to take full-motion, full-screen SD televison and be able to play that over a 500k IPTV network is a great opportunity for us.

HD Technology Update: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Rob Chipman: We anticipate having the HD live encoding capability next year down to 1.5Mb/s for delivery of HD content over the Web. We are just getting started with the technology now. We’ve been working on it for several years and have received a patent on this codec switching capability just last week here in the United States.

What we are doing is expanding our engineering opportunities to include several different types of encoders and players that will actually allow us to get down to 1.5Mb/s.

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