The 'Greening' of Streaming: Is LESS Really More?

(Image credit: Getty)

When it comes to video quality and energy use, the answer to this paradox may actually be yes.

Meet Dom Robinson, founder of the Greening of Streaming organization. Robinson has an important message for the television and video streaming industry—even if on the surface it seems paradoxical. When it comes to video quality LESS is more.


Dom Robinson (Image credit: GS)

Robinson is proposing something he calls the LESS Accord, or “Low Energy Sustainable Streaming Accord.” He envisions a broad industry agreement that one day asks more of video quality than the traditional benchmarks associated with the art and science of encoding. 

“We’re starting a really taboo discussion,” he says. “We’re asking the industry, ‘Is there a minimum viable default quality that we can target?’”

In early February, Robinson took an initial public step at an IBC Accelerator Kickstart, seeking input from engineers and others on a project that in essence would upset the applecart that’s carried the industry for more than a half century.

“We've got an industry in telecoms and broadcast that chases the case, chases the megabits, chases the pixel ratios, chases the color density, [chases] all of these things,” he says. “We’re at a point where you need to run a computer that can give you a VMAF [Video Multimethod Assessment Fusion] score to understand what quality you’re getting. It’s beyond anything the consumer gets value from, and the problem is some of these incremental jumps are making huge energy differences.”

For example, using a simple handheld meter purchased on Amazon, Robinson found his 70-inch TCL television consumes between 75W and 85W when using the built-in DSP to watch a stream or broadcast. But when HDR content is decoded, that energy consumption jumps to 135W because the DSP doesn’t support HDR decoding. Rather, the set must rely on software and the built-in CPU to get the job done, he says.

Multiply the additional 50W by the millions upon millions of TV sets in use at any given time, and the potential additional strain HDR could place on the power grid becomes a bit clearer—and HDR is only one of many examples, he says.

Robinson is looking for input from all stakeholders on defining a minimum viable default quality—the exact opposite of the decades-long orientation of the broadcast industry, which can be summed up as a long march to ever greater quality.

The idea behind the LESS Accord addresses how energy efficiency might be added into the mix when determining what video quality is displayed. By default, the display may operate at a minimum –i.e. more energy efficient—quality but give viewers a way to demand the highest quality on demand. 

“If I have a crowd of people coming in [to a sports bar] who want to watch a sporting event, I press a gold button, not a green button, and it jumps that stream up to delivering that UHD, HDR, 120-frame-per-second experience,” he says.

Before broadcasters dismiss this, asking ‘What does this have to do with me?’ remember our industry is well down the path to nationwide deployment of an IP-based NextGen TV standard that’s both over-the-air and streamed. Seems to me like reason enough to get involved with Robinson’s efforts.

Phil Kurz

Phil Kurz is a contributing editor to TV Tech. He has written about TV and video technology for more than 30 years and served as editor of three leading industry magazines. He earned a Bachelor of Journalism and a Master’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.