Cisco, THX Introduce New Video Quality Optimization Solutions to Ensure Enhanced End-User Experiences

Erik Keith - Principal Analyst, Fixed Access Infrastructure
Erik Keith – Principal Analyst, Fixed Access Infrastructure

Summary Bullets:

  • Cisco debuted its Infinite Video Platform (IVP) Labs at CES 2017, confirming the trend of top-tier systems vendors in developing comprehensive video quality measurement solutions.
  • THX has teamed with Conviva to deliver an audio and video streaming quality certification program, with the goal of establishing a “universal standard for quality in the streaming world that consumers can trust,” but the prospects for industry-wide acceptance remain uncertain.

With the USD 400 billion global pay-TV/video market as a revenue foundation, and an increasing percentage of pay-TV/video content being delivered in a non-linear fashion, video quality optimization is becoming an increasingly critical issue for both operators and their system vendor suppliers. Optimizing end-user satisfaction – or, more accurately, quality of experience (QoE) and therefore ongoing revenue potential – is the prime directive.

While video quality and corollary standards have always been integral elements of the TV and movie industries, the transition from broadcast-delivered (and therefore, broadcast-quality) TV/video to IP-based content delivery has spurred the need for new video quality measurement and optimization tools. The need for new video service optimization capabilities, and standards, will be even more acute with the advent of mass-market adoption of 4K/UHD TV/video consumption by end users.

Back in 2015, Huawei introduced its own video quality measurement solution, the User video Mean Opinion Score (UvMOS), although this solution differs from the Cisco and THX propositions because UvMOS is designed to be used by anyone in the video consumption ‘food chain.’ Notably, this includes the end users, who can download the UvMOS app to their smartphones and other devices to conduct their own video quality tests.

Getting back to the new Cisco solution, the focus of IVP Labs is to provide operators with a test bed for evaluating new elements of video service delivery, including the user interfaces (e.g., electronic program guides, recommendation engines). Cisco asserts that IVP Labs utilizes an “agile development approach” enabling operators to leverage a common code base and de facto pooled resources to accelerate both video service delivery optimization and advances in the consumer’s QoE.

IVP Labs is part of Cisco’s ‘Video Quality Everywhere’ mantra, utilizing smart adaptive bit rate (ABR) and ABR QoE to optimize streaming quality and drive down streaming latency. For example, with ABR QoE, Cisco has revealed that a reduction of multicast ABR latency from 30 seconds to less than 6 seconds is achievable, e.g., for live-streamed multicast events such as Twitter’s live streaming of NFL games (where latency ranges from 30 seconds to over 90 seconds). Cisco did win a notable pay-TV operator endorsement for the IVP Labs launch, with Israeli satellite TV operator YES being its first customer reference.

Coming into the streaming game from another corner of the entertainment ecosystem is THX, Ltd., founded by Star Wars creator George Lucas in 1983. THX was acquired by Razer, a major player in the electronic gaming industry, in 2016. THX has formed a partnership with Conviva to develop a new audio and video streaming quality certification standard, pushing for industry adoption of the standard. Conviva’s role will be to collect the requisite data needed for comprehensive video streaming quality analysis, which will then be combined with THX’s knowledge base for optimizing picture quality, including encoding and compression solutions, as well as content packaging.

THX and Conviva are already connected with the TV and movie/entertainment business, including both content providers and broadcasters. We believe their combined resources and customer bases provide a rich vein of experience and expertise which can be tapped to further their goal of delivering a new streaming standard. And when combined with the efforts of major networking vendors such as Cisco, Huawei and others, the future of streaming – specifically, optimizing the end user’s QoE – looks broadcast-quality bright. However, Cisco, Huawei and THX must prove they can smooth out their differences and advance streaming standards on an industry-wide basis. This includes coordination with existing streaming protocol initiatives (e.g., RTSP, RTP) to avoid fragmentation of the standards regime.

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