SVOD and pay TV services are now delivering Ultra HD video over the Internet. Unfortunately, because the format requires so much bandwidth, very few will actually be able to watch it. There are two ways to fix this: increase the bandwidth of connections or reduce the bandwidth of the video. Solutions from Faroudja and Sckipio take on the challenge.
For millions of DSL customers it is not possible to get enough bandwidth to receive streamed 4K video. DSL uses high frequencies to transmit the data over the twisted pair wires that come to a subscriber’s house. And higher frequencies travel much shorter distances over those wires. Many telco broadband customers are simply too far from the DSL connection equipment (called a DSL access multiplexer or DSLAM) to get high bandwidth connections.
One solution to this problem is to switch to fiber connections to the home, but replacing twisted pair wires is prohibitively expensive in many situations. A cheaper solution is to run the fiber to the next closest place to the home, where neighborhood twisted pair wires first come together (called the distribution point, or DP.) This is precisely what a new standard called G.fast is aimed at doing. And according to startup Sckipio, G.fast can deliver up to 1Gbps over those same twisted pair wires.
I talked with Michael Weissman, Co-founder and VP of Marketing at Sckipio, and he told me there are several key problems that G.fast solves to enable such high speeds over twisted pair wires. One of the biggest is when two pairs of wires are brought close together at the DP the signals on each interfere with each other (called crosstalk,) and reduce the bandwidth achievable in both. G.fast includes a technique called “vectoring” to dramatically reduce the impact of crosstalk.
Another problem is that the DP typically doesn’t have any power to run transmission equipment. G.fast defines a way for the modem in the customer’s home to provide this power. Since the twisted pair wires are much shorter in G.fast, much higher frequencies can be used for the transmission. Hence the dramatic increase in bandwidth achievable.
Mr. Weissman said that, unlike with other standards like G.hn, there is broad agreement between telcos over the G.fast standard, making it far more likely that it will be adopted. He also said that DSL can’t really compete with cable’s DOCSIS 3.0 and 3.1 standards, but G.fast can. For this reason he expects telcos to adopt G.fast very quickly.
One of the biggest problems with any new compression scheme is that shows and movies using it won’t play on the hundreds of millions of devices already in the market. To get around this problem, Faroudja Enterprises Inc (FEI) has come up with a new scheme that leverages existing standards like h.264 and VP9. The company’s F1 technology works by processing the video in two stages.
The pre-processing stage takes place before the video is compressed by the encoder. F1 applies various filters to separate the video into two delivery paths. The first path, or “Main Path” provides the core video information in the standard video format. The second path, or “Support Layer” contains the remainder of the video information. Both paths are compressed and combined into standard web video delivery format (MPEG transport.) According to Yves Faroudja, President of FEI, this allows the encoder to compress the video as much as 50% more than with compression alone, and there is no additional impact on the quality.
The real magic happens during the F1 post-processor step on the client. The support layer is used to restore the video to its original, unprocessed, uncompressed quality. I saw a 4K video demonstration video compressed with h.264 at 12.3 Mbps that was indistinguishable from an F1 version at 6.4 Mbps.
The F1 post-processing step even improves video not pre-processed with Faroudja F1. Bill Herz, COO of FEI, showed me a scene from Midnight in Paris heavily compressed to 1 Mbps that was on the edge of breaking down completely. F1 post-processing pulled this clip back from the brink, making it bearable to watch.
Since the Faroudja technology operates outside of the compression step it promises to help relieve bandwidth challenges and as codecs continue to evolve.
Why it matters
Many mainstream content providers are looking to deliver Ultra HD video to consumers over broadband connections in 2015.
Unfortunately, few people have sufficient bandwidth to stream Ultra HD.
New approaches to video processing from Faroudja Enterprises and telco broadband from Sckipio promise to boost the number of people able to receive 4K video over broadband.