June 2021 Article of the Month:
Secret ingredient? Video compression!

Sonja LondonSonja London

Co-chair, LESI High Tech Committee
Nokia Corporation
Espoo, Finland

Did you know that every single day people watch one billion hours of video on YouTube? And we’re not just watching. Every minute a staggering 500 hours of new content is being uploaded to YouTube. That’s 30,000 hours – almost 82 years – of new content uploaded in just one hour.

The global market of consumer electronics that use video is measured in billions of units per year. That means roughly over 180 million new smart TVs, 220 million set-top boxes, 265 million personal computers, 150 million tablets and 140 million new digital video cameras are shipped each year. On average, a U.S. household has 7 devices that use video.

And let’s not forget that it’s not just the number of devices and platforms that have gone up – we are also talking about a whole other level of quality. Watching television twenty years ago was a very different experience than enjoying the ultra-high-definition resolution of today’s smart TVs.

Consumer experiences brought by new technologies are one thing, but that’s not all there is. The transmission of large amounts of data requires high data rates and a lot of power and storage space. Without video compression we wouldn’t be able to enjoy high-quality video on multiple devices with reasonable data rates and power consumption. Platforms like YouTube wouldn’t exist.

Delivering high-quality video requires maximal compression efficiency

Today’s market-adopted video coding standards have been developed in response to the globally increasing demand for high-quality video.

In its time, the Advanced Video Coding (AVC/H.264) standard revolutionized practically every application that uses video. The AVC standard was a drastic performance improvement over previous video coding standards, as it delivers the same picture quality for high-definition video at a half of the data rate compared to preceding standards whilst drastically improving error resilience. Today, it has been in use for almost twenty years, and its market adoption is approaching 100% in all major product categories, including laptops, tablets, smart phones, digital video cameras, smart TVs and set-top boxes – among others. In the video streaming industry, the market adoption of AVC is over 90%.

The constantly growing demand for improved quality and more efficient compression led to the development of the High-Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC/H.265) standard. Compared to AVC, the HEVC standard enables the storage of twice as much video content in the same space with the same picture quality and halving the bit rate needed for sending ultra-high-definition, 4K video on a network. Today, the HEVC standard is implemented in practically all new TVs, laptops, most mobile handset devices and in around half of the set-top boxes shipped in 2020.

As 5G becomes mainstream, our appetite for video continues to grow. The unprecedently low end-to-end latency provided by 5G network technology opens a world of immersive experiences and new types of video services, including cloud gaming and 360-degree video streaming. But low delay won't be achieved unless video coding also enables it. That’s where another new standard comes in: The Versatile Video Coding standard (VVC/H.266), finalized in 2020, is a perfect match to 5G. On top of other unique features over previous codecs, VVC is superior in compression, dropping bitrate needs to half for emerging 8K video without reducing quality. Together 5G and VVC will enable a new era of video-based applications.

Nokia is a leader in video innovation

A recent episode of the Tech.eu Podcast started with the following questions: "What if I told you there is a European technology company whose products and patents are under the hood of most of today's streaming services and video platforms, from TikTok to Netflix, HBO, and Disney? What if I told you the same company has recently won an Emmy Award? What if I told you that this company is Nokia?"

Indeed, Nokia has been actively driving the development of global audio and video standards, including AVC/H.264, HEVC/H.265 and VVC/H.266, for over three decades. Our expertise in multimedia and video research is built on continuous investment in R&D and having some of the industry’s brightest minds and most recognized inventors as part of our team. As a result, we have built a leading portfolio of Standard Essential Patents and created over 1,200 fundamental multimedia inventions since 2000 – and continue to do so.

Today, we are among the most recognized and respected video coding patent licensors in the world. Furthermore, our technology licensing team works with device manufacturers, enabling them to incorporate our cutting-edge audio and visual technologies in their products. 

I’m proud of the impact of our contribution to multimedia standards. Almost every aspect of our life is somehow touched by video, whether it’s about work, education, entertainment or social contacts. Thanks to the work my colleagues in our R&D and standardization teams have done to shape video compression technologies, people around the world can stream movies, share videos in various social platforms and make video calls to their loved ones – with whole new immersive experiences just around the corner.

les Nouvelles