By iSIZE staff | iSIZE technologies | Published 29th April 2020
Enhanced video streaming start-up iSIZE Technologies has today announced the appointment of Paul Massara, Ex-CEO of Npower, and Maria Ingold, Ex-CTO of Disney-Sony joint venture FilmFlex Movies, to its Executive Board.
Massara brings over two decades of experience in the energy sector to the role, after various executive positions at Centrica plc, Northstar Solar and Habitat Energy, before becoming CEO at energy giant Npower. With a similarly impressive track record, Ingold joins the Board with extensive technical experience, having helped innovate the beginnings of audio and video on PCs at IBM and early 3D PC computer gaming at Ocean, before becoming a Senior Technical Executive in streaming, including a 5-year tenure as CTO at Disney-Sony joint venture FilmFlex Movies, which produced one of the most successful on demand film services in Europe.
Commenting on his appointment, Massara said: “I am very excited to join iSIZE Technologies, a start-up which is shaking up the streaming industry. Having dedicated much of my career to furthering the environmental cause, I am very much looking forwards to taking iSIZE low-carbon, sustainable technology solutions to new heights in 2020.”
Speaking about the role, Ingold commented: “I’m thrilled to be part of iSIZE at such a relevant time. With nearly 30 years of technical expertise in the entertainment and media industry, I am well-placed to see the potential iSIZE has to revolutionise the sector and am delighted to be part of its future.”
Sergio Grce, CEO at iSIZE Technologies, added: “We are very pleased to have both Paul and Maria on board here at iSIZE. With years of commercial and technical experience under their belts, these appointments demonstrate our accelerated growth trajectory as we continue to expand our corporate horizons in 2020.
With Paul’s impressive business acumen and Maria’s technical credentials on side, we are confident that iSIZE will continue to flourish as we look to make our mark in the streaming sector in 2020.”
iSIZE Technologies, a London-based provider of intelligent video coding and delivery technology, launched its pioneering AI-powered encoding platform in 2016. Last year, the innovative start-up was awarded a special merit prize at The Digital Media World awards for its proprietary BitSave software, a cloud transcoding technology which, by compressing vast quantities of data, significantly reduces the energy input required to stream videos.
By Maria Ingold | iSize Technologies | Published 21st April 2020
I grew up off-grid in a cabin in the New Mexico mountains. That was isolation. By contrast, isolation in the time of coronavirus is incredibly connected. While working, socialising and relaxing from home have impacted that connectivity, new patterns are emerging as well as opportunities for the future.
What is the scope of the impact?
Akamai, a content delivery network (CDN), saw global internet traffic increase by 30% in March, an entire year’s growth, and without live sports streaming. Comcast saw a 32% increase in peak USA traffic over March, with plateaus in early lockdown markets.
Even before COVID-19 video was 60% of downstream internet traffic. When Conviva analysed three weeks in mid-March they discovered that video streaming viewing hours jumped more than 20% globally in that last week, up 27% in the USA. By the end of March, Comcast saw a 38% USA increase.
Although Internet service providers (ISPs) and CDNs are engineered to deal with peak changes, when usage spiked, the European Commissioner asked streamers to switch to Standard Definition (SD) when High Definition (HD) wasn’t necessary. The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) then issued recommendations for adapting streaming quality during times of crisis.
Assuaging one concern, Conviva discovered that daytime viewing jumped nearly 40%, spreading peak load, but that still leaves lots of bits flowing across the internet.
Netflix and Google’s YouTube agreed to reduce bitrates in Europe for 30 days, with Netflix dropping by 25% and YouTube moving to SD as a default globally. Both were crucial, because while Netflix usually has the largest percentage of video traffic, YouTube is currently generating almost twice the traffic of Netflix. Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+ and Walt Disney’s Disney+ soon followed.
Consumers were concerned. They were paying for HD but would get SD. Netflix explained that customers would still get the SD, HD and Ultra-High Definition (UHD) resolutions they paid for, just no longer the highest quality from a “bitrate ladder” of low to high bitrates and resolutions.
What are the long-term opportunities?
Netflix’s total energy consumption for 2019–451,000 megawatt-hours — could power 40,000 average American homes for a year, at an 84% increase over 2018, compared to 20% user growth.
Netflix has 167m subscribers. Disney+ has 50m, with 226m subs predicted by 2024. Reducing bits creates a more sustainable energy-consumption to user-growth ratio and helps companies meet their environmental impact objectives.
During the 30-days of COVID-19-inspired bitrate reduction, streamers will have saved money by reducing storage, distribution and energy costs. If one million people watch one hour per day, at 1 GB of data per hour (somewhere between SD and 720p HD), and it costs .0025 USD to stream 1 GB to one person, that’s nearly $1 million per year ($912,500). YouTubers watch one billion hours per day. That’s nearly $1 billion per year. A 25% savings is $228 million.
While these short-term actions enabled quick bitrate reductions and increased margins, they don’t preserve quality. Consumers won’t tolerate that indefinitely.
How to cut costs and maintain customer satisfaction
A codec encodes (usually in hardware) the moving image source and decodes (usually in software) on a device to display it. It reduces bitrate as much as possible while attempting to maintain fidelity. Codecs range from older, widely supported but higher bitrate like MPEG-4 AVC (H.264) to newer, less supported, time and power-hungry but lower bitrate ones.
Per-title encoding is a bitrate reduction tactic pioneered in 2015 by Netflix. To measure fidelity, Netflix used quality metric PSNR (Peak Signal-To-Noise Ratio), but it doesn’t always measure how it looks to a person. Neither does SSIM (structural similarity), designed to improve on PSNR. So, Netflix co-created VMAF (Video Multi-Method Assessment Fusion), a perceptual quality metric.
Machine learning (ML) can reverse engineer perceptual metrics to make encoding more effective. When this precedes encoding — precoding — it works with any codec, encoder and decoder. There are trade-offs between the sharpness of VMAF, which can look artificial, the naturalness of PSNR and SSIM, and the blurriness and lack of fidelity caused by reducing bitrate.
I advise iSIZE, a machine learning precoder that claims 20%-40% bitrate savings (up to 60%) without changing the resolution and typically improving VMAF. Latency is one frame. I asked expert reviewer Jan Ozer to independently test iSIZE’s BitSave product. He tested using the MPEG AVC (H.264) codec.
Jan confirmed that “BitSave is a legitimate processing technology and not a [VMAF] hack”. Ultimately, “[a]fter many hours of testing, [Jan] found that BitSave’s technology is valid and valuable” though he recommends subjective testing. I agree and recommend testing various bitrate savings and metric balances. Regardless of the solution you choose, remember to balance long-term sustainability and cost-cutting with perceived customer experience.
By Adrian Pennington | IBC 365 | Published 27th April 2020
The traditional means of optimising video streaming workflows have run their course. Future advances will be made in software automated by AI.
Online video providers have never been under so much pressure. Excess demand has caused Netflix, YouTube and Disney+ to tune down their bitrates and ease bandwidth consumption for everyone, in the process deliberately compromising the ultimate quality of their service.
Even once the crisis has subsided operators will have to equate scaling growth with the cost of technical investment and bandwidth efficiency. Even in a world with universal 5G, bandwidth is not a finite resource.
For example, how can an esports streaming operator grow from 100,000 to a million simultaneous live channels and simultaneously transition to UHD?
“Companies with planet scale steaming services like YouTube and Netflix have started to talk about hitting the tech walls,” says Sergio Grce, CEO at codec developer iSize Technologies. “Their content is generating millions and millions of views but they cannot adopt a new codec or build new data centres fast enough to cope with such an increase in streaming demand.”
By iSIZE | edie.net | Published 19th June 2020
Episode 87 of the edie’s Sustainable Business Covered podcast focuses on the energy impact of streaming and digitization and features interviews with iSIZE CTO and UCL professor, Yiannis Andreopoulos along with former NPower Chief Executive, Paul Massara, who was recently appointed to iSIZE’s executive board.
Andreopoulos and Massara discuss the need to balance the environmental benefits of switching meetings to online platforms with the energy intensity of data centres and the online services we access.
By Maria Ingold | Isize Technologies | Published 1st July 2020
Fifty years ago, back when my father built our cabin off-grid by hand, sustainability was called environmentalism and considered hippy, not hip. In that time global energy consumption has increased 173%, in an ever-upward trend – until COVID-19. As of the 28th of April, 54% of the global population was in some form of lockdown. Global energy demand declined 3.8% in Q1 2020, with full-lockdown countries experiencing an average 25% decline in energy demand per week, and those in partial lockdown 18%.
Paul Massara, former CEO of npower and fellow Board Advisor to iSIZE, who deliver machine learning bitrate and energy reduction and perceptual quality enhancement for video, notes that, “At the same time, global carbon use has reduced around 5% as economies have slowed and airplanes have remained grounded. And yet if we are to hit our net zero targets and keep global temperature rises to less than 2%, we require a 7% year on year reduction in carbon, year in year out. The challenge is to achieve such carbon reductions without a crashing of the world economy.”
IMPACT OF VIDEO STREAMING ON SUSTAINABILITY
Changes during lockdown could result in a new way of working. MIT discovered that 48.7% of US workers worked from home after COVID-19 (14.6% had already been working from home.) Global Workplace Analytics noted that globally 77% of white collar workers were now working from home full time (compared to 9% before.) The percentage of those who would like to work from home at least 1 day a week increased from 31% to 77%. Indeed, companies like Twitter have already approved permanent remote working, which will result in a very different use of transport and need for office space, as well as work-life balance and use of bandwidth.
With COVID-19, all the internet traffic usually across enterprise, education, consumer, public WiFi and, to a lesser extent, mobile and satellite, was suddenly consolidated to a consumer network, monitorable by Sandvine. Sandvine analysed 1 February to 19 April under these unique circumstances. They discovered that globally traffic grew by 38%, with upstream increasing by 121% and then plateauing, and downstream by 23% and rising. It makes sense that upstream grew to accommodate home workers, but steady downstream growth says they’re consuming more. Video is still almost 60% of traffic, but Sandvine predicts it could have reached 70% if the major streamers hadn’t reduced bitrates as requested by the European Commissioner.
Some customers noticed the reduction in bitrates, especially for AppleTV+ which reduced resolutions to 670 pixels high and compressed heavily with blocky artefacts. Netflix and AppleTV have mostly returned to normal, and YouTube was supposed to stop defaulting to SD after a month.
For an idea of Netflix’s typical data usage, Standard Definition (SD) is 0.7 GB per hour (1.6 Mbps), High Definition (HD) is up to 3 GB (6.7 Mbps) and Ultra High Definition (UHD) is 7 GB per hour (15.6 Mbps). Netflix is currently taking up 11.42% of global traffic, which, while a slight decline in share, is still an increase in global traffic. To cope with the overall rise in traffic, Netflix added four times the normal capacity in Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in April.
In 2017 when Netflix had 117.58 million subscribers, its users streamed 140 million hours per day, or 1 hour 11 minutes per day per user. In 2019, 167 million subscribers watched an average of 2 hours per day. As of Q1 2020 Netflix has 182.86 million paid subscribers. 182.86 million people watching two hours per day at 3 GB per hour is 400 exabytes of data per year.
By the beginning of May, mobile video traffic for Disney+ across North America and Europe reached 7 exabytes per month, representing 1.2%-2.2% of all mobile video traffic. Netflix is at 7%-15% which is in the region of 40 exabytes per month. That’s 480 exabytes per year just for mobile in North American and Europe.
Given that, 400 exabytes of data per year is low. Perhaps we really are at 3.2 hours of viewing per day as has been projected due to COVID-19. That’s 640 exabytes per year, which still seems low.
YouTube uses 1.1Mbps for 480p SD, 2.5Mbps for 720p HD, 5Mbps for 1080p HD and 20Mbps for UHD. YouTubers watch 1 billion hours per day, nearly twice the 585 million hours (at 3.2 hours per day) that Netflix users watch.
And UHD isn’t the end of the story. YouTube’s traffic, at 15.94%, is now more than Netflix. YouTube will also be the first major streaming provider to offer 8K on 8K TVs which support Alliance for Open Media’s AV1 hardware decoding. 8K, or UHDTV-2, is 7680 x 4320 pixels.
Netflix used 451,000 megawatt hours (MWh) in 2019, an 84% increase over 2018, compared to a 20% user growth. 94,000 MWh are direct energy use and composed of their offices, studios and telecoms that form their Content Delivery Network (CDN). 357,000 MWh are indirect energy use which includes partnerships such as Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud and the caching servers they put into ISPs. This will have increased with the quadrupling of capacity in ISPs in April.
The exact sustainability hit of streaming video is under debate, however, with the July 2019 The Shift Project’s “Climate Crisis: The Unsustainable Use of Online Video” results being contested by George Kamiya, a digital/energy analyst from the International Energy Agency (IEA) whose article came out in March 2020, a month after Netflix’s impact report. He says The Shift Project’s figures imply that Netflix streaming consumes 370 terawatt hours (TWh) per year, 800 times higher than what Netflix confirmed above. He further notes The Shift Project’s numbers show 1.6Kg CO2e per half-hour of Netflix content, which IEA estimates to be closer to 0.028-0.057Kg CO2e. He says they overestimate bitrate, CDNs and data transmission networks, but underestimate energy consumption of devices.
CONTRIBUTORS TO STREAMING VIDEO ENERGY CONSUMPTION
Source content is normally encoded into a high-resolution master format and transcoded into variants. Variants are tailored for the device and service level of the consumer, and typically use “bitrate ladders” of low to high bitrates and resolutions. This could range from SD for a mobile on 3G to UHD for a TV on WiFi.
Video is compressed by an encoder (usually hardware) and decompressed by a decoder (usually software but hardware can be used to optimise). Codecs trade-off between ubiquity, compression (or bits saved) and the time and power required to encode. To further reduce the bitrate and increase perceptual quality, a precoder, like iSIZE’s BitSave, may be inserted before the encoder.
Videos are usually stored, and archived, with technical metadata in a Media Asset Management (MAM) system. Metadata, such as title, synopsis, trailers and images are added to a Content Management System (CMS). The MAM and CMS can be combined alongside workflow management and other tools as a Software as a Service (SaaS) with content assets stored in the cloud.
Content is usually delivered to a CDN and pushed to its edge servers. Akamai, one of the leading CDNs, has 250,000 edge servers deployed in thousands of locations to cache content at one network hop from 90% of the world’s users. All of these servers sit in data centres. In 2018 data centres used about 200TWh, or 1% of global electricity.
Because of the volume of its traffic, Netflix created thousands of Open Connect caches to sit within Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to increase efficiency and reduce the overall demand on upstream network capacity.
Transmission networks, which transmit the bits of data, used about 260 TWh, or 1.1 of global electricity in 2018. Two-thirds of that was mobile networks.
The Cisco Annual Internet Report (2018-2023) noted that there will be 29.3 billion networked devices by 2023, up from 18.4 billion in 2018, with 50% being Machine-To-Machine (M2M) connections, growing at 19% CAGR. Smartphones will grow second fastest at 7% CAGR, then Connected TVs and related devices at just under 6% CAGR. PCS continue to decline at 2%.
While smartphones make up the biggest percentage of consumer devices, mobile isn’t where all video traffic is consumed. On Netflix, by month six, 70% of viewers watch on TV, 15% on laptops, 10% on mobile phones and 5% on tablets. With over 100 pay TV partnership deals and access to over 300 million global pay TV homes, TV is likely to continue to be important to Netflix.
SOLUTIONS TO STREAM VIDEO SUSTAINABLY
Encoding, transcoding, storing and distributing fewer bits helps reduce energy use and costs. When the Competition Commission asked for help reducing internet traffic, Netflix stopped using the top rung of each encoding bitrate ladder set up for SD, HD and UHD. YouTube changed its default from HD to SD. AppleTV+ used a highly compressed lower resolution. While these reduced bits, they also reduced quality and some viewers complained.
Keeping the perceptual quality the same or better, while reducing bits, can be achieved in a variety of ways. One is with better codecs. While an older codec like AVC (H.264) has the best availability across devices and platforms, HEVC (H.265) offers a 25-50% bitrate reduction on H.264. AV1 is even newer. It provides a 17% bitrate reduction on H.265 across entire bitrate ladders, but up to 30% for 1080p HD and 43% for UHDTV-1. It’s slated to be a gamechanger for 8K encoding. The problem is the speed and power usage. AV1 is said to be 50-3000 times slower than HEVC and requires more powerful hardware to encode. That’s being addressed, including with multi-dimensional parallelism (using many CPU cores simultaneously to process multiple parts of the encode). New codecs can take a while, so some improvement methods work with existing codecs. One way is during encoding, as in per-title encoding as created by Netflix in 2015.
Another way is by perceptually optimising the bits before they get to the encoder – precoding. I’m a Board Advisor for iSIZE, who have a codec-independent machine learning precoder called BitSave. iSIZE’s precoding provides fewer bits to be encoded, which look perceptually the same, or in some cases better. iSIZE’s BitSave combines two key things to reduce complexity, save bits and save energy: preprocessing and dynamic resolution selection. BitSave’s consumer version, available as a SaaS service and API, both on bitsave.tech, includes preprocessing, which saves about 30% bitrate on average. The enterprise version, available on a trial basis for B2B users, includes both, so also enables up to a 5-fold (500%) reduction in the energy required by a video encoder.
I explain how BitSave preprocessing works in a previous article on opportunities for video streaming, including an independent analysis by streaming expert Jan Ozer, who finds the technology ‘valid and valuable’. In summary, machine learning enhances areas in the frame that are important to the viewer and blurs areas that aren’t. This reduces bitrate and improves perceptual metrics like VMAF, while balancing with fidelity metrics like PSNR and SSIM. For Full HD and UHD across a range of encoders – AVC (H.264), HEVC (2.65) and Google’s VP9 – iSIZE BitSave preprocessing saves between 8% to 52% (an average of 30%) of the bitrate, and therefore an average of 30% of the energy to store and stream that piece of content.
Dynamic resolution scaling is used on top of preprocessing in the enterprise version. This intelligently downscales the pixel footprint going into any encoder. Some frames don’t lose significant information when they are downscaled and then upscaled by a client. While iSIZE do provide an optional upscaler, players already automatically upscale based on the resolution and bitrate information presented in the DASH or HLS manifest file, so existing upscaling can be used with no change to the client.
If the aspect ratio is kept the same but the video’s horizontal and vertical resolution is cut in half, then the new frame will only take up a quarter of the pixels. For instance, Full HD is a quarter the size of UHD. A quarter of the original size would result in significant reduction in the CPU cycles and energy consumption required, typically between a 2-fold to 3-fold reduction. And, at the same bitrate, more bits of data would represent each pixel, so quality loss could be mitigated.
To choose the best resolution, each frame is scaled to several resolutions and analysed to determine which one provides the best quality result. Netflix does this, but with two key differences: one, they use a ‘brute force’ approach to select the resolution, and two, they use linear filters to produce the actual resolution. iSIZE uses neural net filters to produce the optimal resolution, and finds that optimal resolution via a process it calls ‘footprinting’. Footprinting does a potentially real time check on the rate and distortion of a set of resolutions, then selects the best using a mathematical optimisation approach. The energy required for footprinting is low and constant, and tests show iSIZE can achieve up to a 5-fold (500%) reduction in encoding time and its associated energy use.
iSIZE’s preprocessing and dynamic resolution scaling are explained in detail in iSIZE’s peer reviewed journal article, which will appear shortly in the IEEE Transactions on Circuits and Systems for Video Technology (arXiv preprint link).
Consumers also have a role to play in reducing their energy consumption. Consuming consciously means using energy-efficient devices, efficient transmissions and reducing electronic waste.
A 50-inch LED television currently consumes five times as much electricity as a laptop and 100 times more than a smartphone. The type of display also effects efficiency. LED-backlit LCD TVs are more energy efficient then plasma TVs. OLED is more efficient than LCD, and microLED is more efficient than OLED. It also depends how old your TV is. Consumer Technology Association (CTA) showed that LCD TVs in 2015 consumed 76% less energy (per screen area) than in 2003. Furthermore, the CTA’s sustainability work has reduced American set top box (STB) consumption by 39% since 2012, saving 29 million metric tons of CO2 emissions.
How content gets to the device also has an impact. Wireless and mobile are expected to make up more than 70% of Internet Protocol (IP) traffic in 2022, up from 50% in 2018. Streaming through 4G mobile networks consumes about four times as much electricity as WiFi, but 4G can be more than 50 times as energy efficient as 2G.
Newer devices are generally more energy efficient. The CTA notes that even with a 21% increase of electronic devices in homes there is a 25% reduction in home energy consumption. Production, however, still has an impact. Apple has taken significant steps to make energy-efficient products with renewable or recycled materials and renewable energy, but the production of an iPhone 11 contributes to 79% of its carbon emissions. Use contributes to 17%, transport to 3% and end-of-life processing for less than 1%. Electronic waste is a growing problem too with 50 million tonnes produced each year, amounting to $62.5 billion in valuable materials lost globally. Harvesting would generate fewer CO2 emissions than mining.
As a result of COVID-19, coal, oil, gas and electricity demand have all dropped, with electricity demand decreasing by 20% or more during full lockdown. Increases in residential demand are strongly outweighed by the reduction of commercial and industrial operations. The impact enabled Britain to shut down its four remaining coal-fired plants in April. Renewables is the most resilient and the only one to see growth in demand – a 1.5% increase across all sectors (up 3% in electricity generation to a nearly 28% share) year-on-year in Q1 2020.
Renewables are likely to remain the only growth area, up 1% across all sectors and 5% in electricity generation in 2020. More wind, hydropower and solar projects are underway, with low operating costs, priority in the grid, and they don’t have to adjust output to match demand. So if electricity demand decreases, renewables end up with a higher share in the electricity generation mix. As a result, global CO2 emissions are expected to decline throughout 2020 by 8% to 2010 levels. Unfortunately, recovery from every previous crisis has immediately rebounded CO2 emissions, including the highest ever year-on-year increase in 2010.
Luckily, many large digital companies are reducing their energy and carbon footprints. CDN, Limelight Networks, announced in May 2020 that even with a 50% traffic increase over the last year, it had increased the average amount of data delivered per Mbps per watt by almost 80%. It did this by switching to next-generation server hardware and software that uses less energy. Streaming Media’s ‘Greening of Streaming’ initiative also notes that Limelight is proactively selecting data centres based on access to renewable energy.
Netflix ensured that 100% of its estimated direct and indirect non-renewable power use was matched with renewable energy certificates and carbon offsets in 2019. Furthermore, Google matched 100% of its electricity consumption with purchases of renewable energy and Microsoft intends to be carbon negative by 2030 and remove its entire impact by 2050. The good news is these aren’t the only large companies to reduce their energy and carbon footprint, but individual corporate effort is only part of global structural change.
Demand for data will only grow. Videos, games and social sharing already account for 80% of internet traffic. The challenge will be to find new technologies that can help us grow the economy and also reduce energy and carbon. Ultimately we need many more solutions such as iSIZE’s if we are to reduce carbon emissions and bring climate change under control.
By Sergio Grce | Data Economy | Published 26th June 2020
Around the world, the advice surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic is that people should, wherever possible, work from home. Thanks to the ubiquity of high-speed broadband, that seems on the face of it a reasonable request for most people.
It seems reasonable because our use of the internet has grown far beyond emails and messaging. Even before the current crisis, video conferencing was rapidly replacing face-to-face meetings as a way of saving time and reducing carbon footprint.
In today’s unusual circumstances, online meetings are very popular. But it is not just workers who are confined to the home. Schools are also closed, so children are turning to the internet for educational material. Online fitness classes are booming. And, of course, people of all ages confined to the home are turning to streaming video services and online gaming for entertainment.
Before the crisis erupted, Cisco predicted that global internet traffic would reach 4.8 zetabytes a year (that’s 48 followed by 20 zeros). The significant point, though, is that video – in all its forms – represents at least 80% of that total.
And if we are consuming more video over the internet, whether conferencing or binge watching, then the impact on the network will increase. Openreach, which provides most of the broadband infrastructure in the UK, has seen traffic increases of between 35 and 60% over equivalent times in “normal” weeks. Vodafone says mobile broadband demand has increased by 50%.
EU Commissioner Thierry Breton commented recently that he is concerned that the digital infrastructure could collapse at any time. “Streaming platforms, telecom operators and users, we all have a joint responsibility to take steps to ensure the smooth functioning of the internet during the battle against Coronavirus,” he said.
The nature of digital video is that it is fiercely demanding of bandwidth. The native data rate for HD television is 1.5 gigabits a second; Ultra HD is at least four times that. It is also deterministic: if your television display does not get a new picture every 40 milliseconds you see it all too clearly. Drops and freezes may be acceptable in complex video conferences, but not when you’re watching Narcos or Stranger Things.
Video streams are compressed heavily before passing through either the broadcast or broadband pipe to get to you: a premium HD channel might be four or five megabits a second to your home. That is extremely effective, but the sheer mass of traffic still makes it a challenge for the internet infrastructure.
The codecs used to encode the video signals are, of course, tightly standardized – they have to be for the whole thing to work. Any changes to these standards take years to develop and ratify. Updating the codecs to reduce bandwidth requirements is not an option.
There is the suggestion that users might accept standard definition video streams rather than HD or Ultra HD. Netflix chairman and CEO Reed Hastings tweeted “To secure internet access for all, let’s #SwitchtoStandard definition when HD is not necessary”.
That, though, must be seen as a huge commercial risk. First, consumers have got used to seeing HD quality on the large screens now found in every living room. SD will be seen as very inferior. Longer term, it deeply undermines the push for Ultra HD which the streaming businesses have advocated as giving them a clear advantage over broadcasters.
It also does nothing to limit the boom in video conferencing. Most users have no idea of the resolution of the camera built into their computers, let alone how to modify its parameters. Video conferencing will continue to grab all the bandwidth available because there is no practical means of throttling it.
With a need to maintain perceived quality and no significant reductions in bandwidth from codec developments in sight, the only solution is to pre-process the video before it reaches the encoder. Perceptually optimized video files when given to the encoder should result in smaller streams out.
For a moment, let us look back 25 years. The challenge then was to stream audio, which required a sustained data rate of 1 – 2 Mb/s. The engineers and mathematicians developing the first MPEG standard applied psychoacoustics to the understanding of human perception of sound. Although purists remain critical, the level 3 audio coding within MPEG-1 – known as MP3 for short – has become universally accepted and used.
What MP3 does is eliminate those parts of the audio signal which most listeners would not miss. It allows the data rate to be slashed down to 64kb/s.
Our work at iSIZE Technologies has found that the same principles can be applied to video. If you determine what people actually see, then you can remove from the video stream those pixels which are not important. This is a pre-processing stage, prior to encoding into one of the video delivery standards, but with less data in so less data out.
There is extensive academic work on measuring the effectiveness of such video pre-processing. The most widely used is VMAF, for video multi-method assessment fusion. Driven by Netflix – which has a big interest in efficient video streaming – VMAF was developed by the University of Southern California and the University of Texas.
Through VMAF we have reliable metrics for human visual perception, and therefore a solid foundation on which to develop machine-learning processes to identify the less important parts of the image and to reduce their significance in the video flow. We are already seeing bitrate reductions of between 20 and 40% and no compromise to the visual quality – in fact in some instances we even improve visual quality as measured by VMAF and other high-level perceptual metrics.
In the long term, saving 30% of the 80% of the internet that is video traffic could result in data savings close to 25%. In the short term, proven video pre-processing algorithms are ready to roll, and could keep the internet alive during a period of unprecedented threat.
By Digital Innovation Staff | Digital Innovation | Published July 2020 Edition
iSIZE Technologies was interviewed by Digital Innovation to talk about its “New Phase of Growth” with two new members recently joining its executive board: Paul Massara, ex-CEO of NPower, and Maria Ingold, ex-CTO of Disney-Sony joint venture, FilmFlex Movies.
iSIZE is quickly gaining traction with several of the giant technology companies, social media companies, telecom companies and cloud providers, all currently evaluating BitSave precoding technology to be licensed and used within their streaming services or that of their clients. Today, the technology is available on iSIZE’s SaaS platform bitsave.tech, but they are in the process of getting it to cloud marketplace, making the products more readily available to the wider streaming community.
In addition, iSIZE’s BitSave, BitClient and BitMind products have huge potential to revolutionize the way that video streaming content can be interpreted, processed and viewed in a sustainable and energy-efficient way on any device anywhere in the world. Part of the BitClient technology solves the problem of being able to view content seamlessly and without loss of quality while the device is in the power saving mode, allowing for further bitrate saving and quality optimization. The first demos and pilots have already been delivered to clients, with the product expected to hit the market later this year.
Having gone from strength to strength since its launch four years ago, iSIZE Technologies aims to break new ground in 2020, hence the appointment of two new, highly experienced members to its executive board. Commenting on the news, Sergio Grce, CEO at iSIZE Technologies, said, “We are very pleased to have both Paul and Maria on board here at iSIZE. With years of commercial and technical experience under their belts, these appointments demonstrate our accelerated growth trajectory as we continue to expand our corporate horizons in 2020.
“With Paul’s impressive business acumen and Maria’s technical credentials on side, we are confident that iSIZE will continue to flourish as we look to make our mark in the streaming sector in 2020.”
By Digital Innovation Staff | Digital Innovation | Published July 2020 Edition
iSIZE Technologies was interviewed by Digital Innovation to talk about its “New Phase of Growth” with two new members recently joining its executive board: Paul Massara, ex-CEO of NPower, and Maria Ingold, ex-CTO of Disney-Sony joint venture, FilmFlex Movies. Here Paul Massara talks about what attracted him to join the iSIZE team.
What is it about iSIZE that first attracted you?
I invest in companies that I feel can play a role in the transition to a low carbon economy, and iSIZE clearly meets that criteria. In addition, the deep tech has the potential to create a number of innovative products that can reduce bandwidth, which is an ever increasing challenge, and something that has only grown due to Covid-19, with more people working from home.
How is your previous experience proving valuable in your new role?
Having invested in a number of energy-tech businesses, I have seen many of the challenges that start-ups experience; from developing a clear digital roadmap, to winning that first contract, to hiring a sales team and financing. What all start-ups share is that they need to focus, focus, focus! They are all short of time and money, and those issues are linked, so they need to focus on traction on a commercial product ASAP. In addition to bringing that experience, I have also helped to open doors with C-suite executives, which often speeds up the sales process.
How has the Covid-19 pandemic impacted on the business?
In reality, it has had both a positive and negative impact. In the short term, it has been more difficult to get people’s attention to look at something new, when they are focused on getting their core business stable. However, Covid-19 has led to a significant increase in video conferencing, streaming of games, socal media and videos. These are all likely to lead to a long-term sustained increase in demand of bandwidth. iSIZE solutions have never been more relevant than today.
How important is sustainability for iSIZE Technologies?
Sustainability is critically important to the company for many reasons. We recognize that demand for data and streaming is likely to increase, and so being able to play a part in companies reaching Net Zero is critical. All the big digital companies – Microsoft, Amazon, Netflix, Google – are committing to plans to reduce their carbon footprint, and we are approaching all of them.
Sustainability is also important in attracting and retaining the best team possible. There are many people looking at AI and ML, but often go into either fintech or mediatech, where they struggle to see the direct impact they are having on addressing one of the biggest societal challenges that we face, i.e. climate change.
Any final thoughts?
I am very excited to join iSIZE Technologies. Having dedicated much of my career to furthering the environmental cause, I am very much looking forwards to taking iSIZE low-carbon, sustainable technology solutions to new heights in 2020.
By Digital Innovation Staff | Digital Innovation | Published July 2020 Edition
iSIZE Technologies was interviewed by Digital Innovation to talk about its “New Phase of Growth” with two new members recently joining its executive board: Paul Massara, ex-CEO of NPower, and Maria Ingold, ex-CTO of Disney-Sony joint venture, FilmFlex Movies. Here Maria Ingold explains her reasons for accepting this role and the potential she sees in iSIZE.
What is it about iSIZE that first attracted you?
A number of years ago, I started evaluating bitrate reduction as a solution for OTT delivery for the lower living standards measure in South Africa. At the time, there were minimal fixed line broadband connections and mobile phones were predominantly used for viewing. Downloading video via BitTorrent was the most popular consumption method until the data rate got high enough to make streaming possible, then YouTube dominated. We needed to figure out how to keep data rates low and quality high.
At the time, there were limited options, but I’ve kept track of innovation in this space. I was impressed with iSIZE’s openness, including (what they said in ) their 2019 talk and paper on how they achieve bitrate reduction while increasing perceptual quality.
How is your previous experience proving valuable in your new role?
As a recognized expert in the VOD and OTT space, I’ve shared how iSIZE’s bitrate reduction can help with the increase in traffic we’ve seen since Covid-19. I was part of the panel for the DTG Webinar: Covid-19 – Transforming the TV Industry: The Resiliency of the Internet. I’ve also written an article on Covid-19 and Beyond: Opportunities for Video Streaming. I explain the impact Covid-19 has had on traffic and video streaming, the long-term opportunities, and how to cut costs but maintain customer satisfaction using a bitrate reduction product like iSIZE, which I had independently vetted by streaming expert, Jan Ozer.
How has the Covid-19 pandemic impacted on the business?
Covid-19 has impacted the entire industry and iSIZE’s BitSave product is more relevant now than ever. Akamai, a leading content delivery network (CDN), saw global internet traffic increase by 30 per cent in March. that’s an entire year’s growth in a few weeks. Sandvine, who regularly analyses this space, discovered home consumer traffic grew by 38 per cent globally. Video still took up about 60 per cent of that traffic, but Sandvine predicted it would have taken up 70 per cent if the major streaming providers hadn’t taken steps to reduce bitrate by about 25 per cent. Netflix stopped using the highest ‘bitrate ladder’ combination of bitrate and resolution for a given tier like Standard Definition (SD), High Definition (HD) or Ultra High Definition (UHD). YouTube set its defaults to SD. Users really noticed with AppleTV reduced resolutions and heavy compression introduced blocky artefacts.
While they’ve mostly returned to normal quality, this means they also returned to normal streaming costs. They could keep lower streaming costs and give customers the same quality perceptual experience by using bitrate reduction that also increases perceptual quality metrics, like iSIZE’s BitSave.
(Read more in Maria’s article Learnings from Lockdown: Sustainable Streaming)
How important is sustainability for iSIZE Technologies?
Sustainability is the vision for iSIZE: “Enable sustainable online entertainment by leading video AI technology”. Sustainability is essential to the video streaming industry. Netflix’s 2018 environmental impact noted that they used 451,000 megawatt hours (MWh), an 84 per cent increase over 2018, compared to a 20 per cent user growth. While Netflix is using some renewable energy and matching non-renewable power with renewable energy certificates and carbon offsets, expending less energy in encoding or during distribution would save the energy from being used in the first place.
Any final thoughts?
I’m thrilled to be part of iSIZE at such a relevant time. With nearly 30 years of technical expertise in the entertainment and media industry, I am well-placed to see the potential iSIZE has to revolutionize the sector, and I am delighted to be part of its future.
London, UK, 14 May 2020: Deep-tech company iSIZE Technologies has today announced the closure of its first seed funding round, raising a total of £740k from figures including Patrick Pichette, partner at Inovia Capital and ex- Google CFO; TD Veen AS, a notable Norwegian family office; and a number of other CDL investors. This round brings iSize total funding to date to over £1.3m.
The round was led by some of the leading tech investors of the inaugural Creative Destruction Lab programme at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School. iSIZE graduates the accelerator programme this month alongside only nine others, from over 250 applications, after an intensive nine-month programme.
iSIZE specialises in deep learning for video delivery and has developed a deep perceptual 'precoder' - a software solution that uses AI-trained to optimise visual quality in order to save video bitrate during encoding. Its flagship product, BitSave, available both as a SaaS platform at bitsave.tech and for on-premise use, reduces encoding bitrates by up to 40%, while at the same time enhancing video perceptual quality. This results in substantial data, energy and cost savings for both the company hosting the video and the end consumer.
Speaking after the round closed Pichette said: “Video capacity needs are exploding worldwide, with no end in sight for years to come. Managing capacity and costs are now becoming a strategic issue for many bandwidth providers, and iSIZE addresses this problem head on, with an innovative, amazingly elegant, platform agnostic solution. The results speak for themselves.”
CEO of iSIZE Technologies, Sergio Grce, added: “We are thrilled to have graduated from the CDL-Oxford and closed this seed funding round; our thanks to all our investors who see the potential of our technology to transform the world of streaming. Data centres contribute more global emissions than the aviation industry, and with lockdowns across the globe ever more people are turning to video content for entertainment or remote working. We are proud to be working with household names in the sector to reduce the strain on already-overburdened networks and cut the ballooning costs of the data centre and streaming industries.”
Board Advisor Paul Massara, ex-CEO of Npower, agreed with Grce: “I am very excited about the difference iSIZE can make to reducing both the cost and carbon associated with streaming, and glad to be involved on the Board. It is essential that we leverage advanced AI techniques to move to a low carbon economy, and the big data users should take note from a corporate social responsibility perspective.”
A leading investor in the round, CEO of TD Veen AS, Kjell Skappel concluded, “We often assume the internet is a solely virtual entity, but it has its roots in a very real chain of data centres, with very real energy and emissions costs. iSIZE’s solution is easy for tech giants to apply and brings significant benefits, so we are delighted to be part of bringing BitSave to a wider market.”
iSIZE now has its sights set on helping the giants of video streaming meet the challenges of an ever-increasing demand for high-quality video content; reducing the data cost of streaming video while simultaneously improving visual quality.