V-Nova is pioneering a new approach to video compression with significant benefits claimed for efficiency. The recently launched company, based in London, says it has already integrated its Perseus video compression technology on the existing set-top box platform of a European television operator. The founders of V-Nova invited informitv to an exclusive demonstration to show their work in progress.
In Greek mythology, Perseus was a hero who slayed monsters. V-Nova, a start-up company that has been operating secretly for four years, hopes that its radical approach to video compression will transform the field through a consortium of partners.
V-Nova has integrated its Perseus video technology with the Frog Client middleware by Wyplay. This is an independent open source software solution for pay-TV operators, bringing together more than 80 partners across the entire value chain.
Separately, Wyplay has announced that Sky Italia is deploying its middleware in a broadband decoder in conjunction with Telecom Italia. The HTML 5 client allowed rapid development and deployment, in less than a year.
Telecom Italia will offer the full Sky TV service to their ‘ultra-broadband’ subscribers, allowing them to reach new customers without the need to install a satellite dish.
V-Nova says that it was able to integrate its Perseus technology with Wyplay in a matter of weeks, without the involvement of either the chipset vendor or the hardware manufacturer.
Sky Italia has already used V-Nova for stadium to studio contribution links in sport. There is so far no confirmation that they will use it for distribution but Sky Italia was present at the company launch in London.
Sky Italia is now a full subsidiary of Sky, which has over 20 million customers across Europe, making it one of the largest pay-television operators in the world.
There was some scepticism when V-Nova claimed that it could deliver twice the compression of current industry standards, while supporting backward compatibility with legacy approaches.
It may not have helped that the news from a previously unknown company was embargoed until a minute past midnight on the first of April and that very little technical detail was provided.
Following the launch, informitv spent some time with Guido Meardi and Eric Achtmann, the co-founders of V-Nova, to talk through the premises and principles of the pioneering approach.
Guido is a former partner at McKinsey and Company and has a masters degree in Computer Engineering. He describes the Perseus approach as being more like the way in which the human visual system processes information, although he concedes that we still do not really know how that operates. Nevertheless, V-Nova promotes its technology as “video as nature intended”.
While informitv has not yet had an opportunity to test or evaluate the technology independently, the claims for radical improvements in compression efficiency are more plausible than they might at first appear.
Without going into technical details, the apparent improvements in efficiency are based on discarding two decades of conventional industry wisdom about image compression that involve increasingly complex algorithms.
Instead, the power of modern processors is used to adopt a conceptually simpler approach to compression that is claimed to be far more efficient.
This can be implemented on existing processors, including chips that are currently deployed on set-top boxes. It can be deployed as a software upgrade, while maintaining support for existing industry standards such as H.264 AVC and H.265 HEVC.
In a demonstration on a familiar looking box, V-Nova showed video compressed using the Perseus technology at bit-rates considerably lower than industry norms. The result appeared slightly soft, but without the blocking or artefacts associated with traditional approaches at comparable bit rates.
However, informitv has also seen demonstrations at higher bitrates that appear visually lossless. Perseus has already been used as an alternative to JPEG2000 for contribution links in live football coverage.
The field of video compression is full of patents, many of which are essential to implementing existing industry standards. V-Nova believes that its approach, on which it also has patents, is sufficiently different that it does not impinge on current patent pools, although that remains to be tested.
Bringing an entirely different approach to video compression to market is not without its challenges, given an entire ecosystem based on existing industry standards.
Interestingly, V-Nova says that it can work in conjunction with streams compatible with existing decoders and enhance them with additional information.
This potentially allows a high-definition channel to be distributed alongside a standard-definition stream with comparatively little overhead.
There is also clearly potential for considerable compression efficiencies to be employed for ultra-high-definition channels, making distribution practical using existing infrastructure.
While it might be seen as an alternative to existing standards, and therefore a challenge to other vendors of compression systems, its role may be more complementary.
Applications extend beyond broadcasting and video entertainment to other professional and consumer uses of video.
It is certainly an exciting prospect, but it demands independent evaluation by industry experts to validate the claims.
Meanwhile, Jacques Bourgninaud, the chief executive of Wyplay, says Perseus has the potential to revolutionise television service delivery on all devices. “The seamless way in which V-Nova was able to integrate Perseus proves its compatibility with the wider TV ecosystem, and will enable faster time-to-market deployments for operators and system integrators.”
Interested parties will have their chance to find out more about V-Nova and Perseus at the TV Connect convention at ExCeL in London from 28-30 April.