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H.265 (HEVC) Gets The Vidyo Scalability Treatment

October 4, 2012 | David S. Maldow, Esq.
Today, Vidyo is announcing, in cooperation with Samsung, their proposal for adding scaling extensions to the much anticipated H.265 video standard. I was able to speak with video scalability visionary, and Vidyo CEO, Ofer Shapiro, to get the lowdown on Vidyo's work with H.265. Those familiar with the value that Vidyo technology brought to H.264 will immediately understand the implications of this announcement. I will try to break it down for the rest, without going too deep into the technology. Much like a Vidyo AVL signal, there are many layers to this announcement. They key points are as follows:

  •     The H.264 video format (first ratified in 2003) has been the prevailing standard for videoconferencing signals for many years.

  •     H.264, in its basic form, does not work well over the public internet. For example, a small amount of packet loss will destroy a video meeting.

  •     An extension to H.264, called SVC (Scalable Video Coding) was ratified in 2007.

  •     SVC divides a videoconferencing signal into a "base" layer and numerous enhancement layers. If your internet is having bandwidth issues, or if your computer is lacking horsepower, your signal will be scaled down by removing some enhancement layers. The result is that each person in the meeting gets a solid, stable, video session, tailored to the quality level that their system and bandwidth can support at any given moment in time. In the real world, this allowed for business class, and even high definition, videoconferencing over the public internet, back when many competing solutions required the use of an expensive QoS network.

  •     Vidyo is not only a pioneer in the use of H.264 SVC, they were a major driving force (if not the absolute leader) in its development. Vidyo employees worked closely with standard development groups like the ITU-I, and even co-wrote/edited many of SVC's elements.

  •     While many industry players have adopted SVC in one form or another, Vidyo's implementation of SVC (which they call AVL, or Adaptive Video Layering), is the most advanced implementation of SVC on the market, with almost 700 patent claims filed. The details are a bit technical, but an extremely oversimplified explanation of the advantage of AVL is that Vidyo scales more aspects of the call then their competitors resulting in a higher quality experience. For example instead of only being able to drop resolution down when the internet gets slow, Vidyo can drop resolution a minor amount, along with dropping frame rate a minor amount, as well as various other minor quality adjustments. From a user's perspective, Vidyo's scaling is smoother and provides a better experience than a more limited implementation of SVC.

  •     A key element of Vidyo's SVC is that it was the one of the first videoconferencing solutions to be device agnostic. Since it can scale down to match the performance of whatever device is using it, a specialized piece of hardware is not necessary.

  •     Another key benefit of Vidyo's SVC implementation is that it eliminates the need for an expensive video bridge, which traditionally has the cumbersome role of massaging video signals from one VC system so that they can be sent to, and understood by, other VC systems during a group meeting. With Vidyo there is no massaging of signals, the VidyoRouter simply sends each stream (with the appropriate enhancement layers) along to each video system without having to process the signals. This results in a lower latency multipoint meeting.

  •     The ability to provide business quality VC over the internet, without requiring expensive hardware, has proven to be a formula for success, as evidenced by Vidyo's continual growth far above the industry average.

  •     H.265, the successor to H.264 is scheduled to be ready for ratification January 2013.

  •     The big buzz around H.265 is that it will require half the bandwidth of H.264.

  •     Vidyo, behind the scenes, has been extremely active in the development of the SVC extension for H.265, devoting even greater resources to the task then they were able to for H.264 (they currently have 19 patents pending on H.265 SVC).

  •     All of the benefits of SVC in the H.264 world will apply equally to the H.265 world.

OfferShapiro_HowardLichtman.jpgVidyo CEO Ofer Shapiro and Telepresence Options publisher Howard Lichtman stand in front of a nine-screen VidyoPanorama room with a participating iPad2 capturing the scene.

When people first got word of the fact that H.265 will require half the bandwidth of H.264, some falsely assumed that SVC would no longer be necessary. The thought was, that with all this extra bandwidth, there will be no need to scale a video signal in response to bandwidth limitations. This view is extremely shortsighted. If you give information workers more bandwidth, they will find a way to use it. If the implementation of H.265 results in more available bandwidth, workers will start using higher resolution videos, conducting more simultaneous video meetings, using other high bandwidth applications. If they can't use up all their extra bandwidth, they may simply reduce the amount of bandwidth they are currently purchasing.

The bottom line is that H.265 will not eliminate the bandwidth issues that SVC so elegantly addresses. Furthermore, bandwidth management is only one of the many advantages of SVC. As Ofer explained to me, "H.265 will have an SVC extension." Another way of looking at it is that H.265 suffers from nearly all of the same problems that made SVC such an attractive solution, it just does so using half the bandwidth.

I was particularly happy to hear that Ofer and team are working hard to make sure the transition will be smooth. We all know that everyone isn't going to throw out their H.264 systems and replace them with H.265 immediately. The two protocols must be able to co-exist during the transition phase and Vidyo has developed some intellectual property to ensure this will not be an issue. We expect that VidyoWay, their much anticipated cloud-based interop meeting room service, may play a role in their plans for calls between the two standards during this transition phase.

While some industry players may simply be waiting for H.265 to come and solve all the problems in the world, Vidyo is taking an active role to ensure that they will be ready to provide their own flavor of H.265, just as they did with H.264. For Vidyo customers, that means they will soon enjoy the benefits of H.265, without having to take a step backward and give up the scalability they are accustomed to. In an industry full of companies playing "catch up" it is refreshing to see how a forward looking company operates.

About the Author
David_Maldow, Esq.David Maldow, Esq. is a visual collaboration technologist and analyst with the Human Productivity Lab and an associate editor at Telepresence Options. David has extensive expertise in testing, evaluating, and explaining telepresence and other visual collaboration / rich media solutions. David is focused on providing third-party independent analysis and opinion of these technologies and helping end users better secure their telepresence, videoconferencing, and visual collaboration environments. You can follow David on Twitter and Google+.

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