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From CPU to Silicon – Video Transcoding Reaches a Tipping Point

Author: David Hopkins, Director of Product Marketing – Video Processing

In some ways, video transcoding for mobile delivery has grown a lot simpler of late. Thanks to lightweight video wrappers, we don’t need to create as many primary mobile streams as we once did. We can consolidate the heavy lifting part of the transcoding process, and leave the video wrapping to simple servers distributed around the edge of the delivery network. However, this shift in technology means we also need to re-evaluate our video transcoding tools. Instead of a CPU-based system, silicon increasingly makes more sense for the initial video transcoding process. Silicon is less flexible, but more robust than CPU-based transcoding. It’s also more cost-efficient.

To take a step back, video transcoding for mobile delivery has been tricky from the outset. Varying bandwidth limitations, screen resolutions, streaming protocols, and DRM requirements have made it difficult to reach a broad mobile audience with a quality video experience. A content provider might need one or two high-resolution streams, and 20 additional low-res versions just to deliver a single piece of source content to Smartphone and tablet audiences.

However, we are now at a tipping point. Because of new video wrappers, also called containers, we have begun to separate primary transcoding from the lighter-weight process of creating envelopes that make streams readable on different mobile devices. In other words, our one-step transcoding system is evolving into a two-step process. Instead of needing to transcode source video into dozens of different streams, we can now transcode it into only a handful of primary streams, which are then handled by wrappers at the network edge.

Here’s why the change is important. First, silicon can handle higher bit rates than a CPU-based system. As screen resolutions on mobile devices continue to improve, the ability to deliver HD streams grows more important. A CPU-based transcoder won’t be able to keep up. Second, silicon is becoming more cost efficient. As fewer primary streams are needed, silicon-based video transcoding can deliver a lower cost per stream than its CPU counterparts.

As operators look to compete with ­mobile video, they’re also looking for ways to make mobile delivery less expensive. Silicon promises to make video transcoding more efficient, and, in the process, it has the potential to make the mobile business model as a whole a lot easier to sustain.

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