Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

H2020

Film265 Report Summary

Project ID: 645500
Funded under: H2020-EU.2.1.1.4.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - Film265 (Improving European VoD Creative Industry with High Efficiency Video Delivery)

Reporting period: 2015-01-01 to 2016-06-30

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

User demand for flexible access to video content and the abundant availability of bandwidth in the Internet have changed the main way in which video is being distributed. Traditional broadcasting models using dedicated networks, or post mail delivery methods have been surpassed by Video-on-Demand (VoD) using the Internet. This transition has been possible because of the increasing capacity (and decreasing cost) of storage, bandwidth, and computing resources, combined with the availability of advanced video codecs.

In recent years cloud computing has also emerged as a key technology that has allowed different type and size of VoD operators to have access to the necessary resources to distribute content to their audiences. As a result, VoD distribution has become the video distribution channel with the higher growth and market potential. It is currently reshaping the media industry, and, at the same time, it is changing the viewing habits and expectations of the audience.

In the early stages of Internet video streaming users were only able to access very low quality content, e.g.: very low resolution, reduced frame rates, low bitrate and corresponding compression artifacts, and constant buffering events. As VoD platforms become more popular and display technology has evolved, user expectation for high quality is constantly increasing. Users expect high quality content, with high resolution, adequate frame rates, smooth video playback, no buffering events, short joining times, and no noticeable compression artifacts. The combined effect of all these factors is called the Quality-of-Experience (QoE).

User engagement reduces when the QoE offered is not matching user expectation. VoD providers compete in the market for better QoE by adopting new technologies that can improve any of the factors that affects quality. New technologies are being introduced constantly and rapidly with the purpose of improving quality in different ways, and some of the recent advances include: dynamic adaptive streaming techniques, high efficiency video coding, advanced content distribution networks and caching systems, and advanced security and protection mechanisms. Among all the mentioned technologies the video codec plays a central role because it controls the quality and bitrate tradeoff. In several cases VoD providers are forced, due to codec, computations and network limitations, to tradeoff video quality for saving bitrate.

H.264/AVC, standardized in 2003, is the most widely used video codec for VoD and many other applications. High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC/H.265), ratified in 2013, and is a next generation video coding standard addressed towards higher quality and higher compression for Internet video and other applications. The new codec is capable of reducing the bitrate compared to H.264/AVC by 50%.

Introducing a new video codec in the VoD chain requires a complete update of the platform. First, an efficient encoder is needed in order to encode the content within a reasonable use of resources (computation and time) and good quality/bitrate level. Second, web video players must be updated to support the new codec without the need of external plugins or third party tools. Third, a good knowledge of the codec capabilities is needed to understand what kind of quality improvement is available for a concrete application scenario. For example, providers might decide to keep the bitrate constant and use the new codec capabilities to increase the resolution to High Definition (HD) or Ultra-HD (UHD), or they might decide to keep the quality constant and reduce the bitrate to save costs, or some intermediate solution. Fourth, and finally, after the codec upgrade, VoD providers must be able to measure the effect on the final user QoE. For this it is necessary to develop and integrate tools that can collect and analyze quality related metrics.

The Film265 project addresses the challenge of the codec upgrade for small European VoD providers. The project brings together an interdisciplinary consortium composed of a research institution with long term experience in video codecs (Technical University of Berlin), a provider of solutions for the VoD film industry (reelport), and two partners who run VoD platforms for the film industry: Cinando, the online Film database and VoD service of the Cannes Film Festival, and LevelK, a Danish film distributor that runs the Stream4pro service addressed to professionals in the film industry.

Overall, the main objectives of Film265 can be summarized as follows:

- To develop a video codec system for cloud-based VoD applications using the new video codec standard H.265. The use of the new codec has two main objectives: i) to make the VoD operations more efficient by reducing the bandwidth and storage required to transmit and store the video files, and ii) to improve the quality of the video content. The combined effect of the two objectives is to have a better QoE for the final user. Compared to state-of-the-art solutions using the H.264/AVC standard, the enhanced system will deliver video files 25% smaller and at the same or better subjective quality.

- To develop a quality assessment tool for VoD applications. This tool will allow the VoD content providers to understand how video quality affects user experience with web-based video delivery. For this purpose, the tool will collect quality related metrics such as join time, buffering ratio, average bitrate, dropped frames, etc. With this information a server side tool will estimate the most important metrics according to different application scenarios.

- To integrate the new video codec and the new quality assessment tool into a market-ready VoD delivery solution. The new video codec and the quality assessment tool will be integrated into a VoD delivery system based on the cloud.

By the end of the project, all of these objectives have been met.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

After the 18 months the Film265 consortium has completed an innovation project on new video codec technologies for online video delivery for the film industry. The EU funded project has resulted in several advances of video coding, helping European VoD providers to have the tools and information required to deploy a new generation of online video services with higher quality, lower bandwidth, and better understanding of the QoE effects of video codecs.

The results of the project provide major benefits to European businesses and customers in the online video delivery industry:

- A new implementation of the HEVC/H.265 video standard has been developed that is able to achieve higher quality and higher compression efficiency than previous and competing video codecs (x264, x265, and Google VP9). The new H.265 codec exhibits higher quality and compression especially for UHD video formats where bandwidth and quality are of paramount importance. Using the new video codec, it is possible to provide high quality HD, 4K and even 8K video using the internet. The optimized H.265 encoder achieved an average of 49% bitrate reductions at equal quality compared to the x264 encoder used in PicturePipe, the reelport’s end-to-end platform for VoD applications. When only considering long feature films the achieved compression gains went up to 58%.

- The new video codec has been integrated into PicturePipe, that is specially tailored for the needs of the film industry. Video uploading, transcoding to H.265, delivery using DASH, and playback have been integrated and validated.

- Although the challenges of video H.265 playback on the web still remain, the project has developed a promising solution for a plugin-less browser-agnostic solution using a JavaScript based H.265 decoder and media player.

- A QoE module for collecting video playback statistics has been developed and integrated into a complete VoD solution. The module consists of a player plugin that collects video playback statistics, send them to a server database, and a server module that can process the statistics to offer the video providers a consistent view of the playback experience for their clients.

- The project has conducted an informal subjective test for comparing the quality of H.264 and H.265 codecs for film content using a web-based test platform. Bitrate savings up to 60% have been observed for similar or even higher subjective quality when using film content and VoD real-life playback platforms.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

Progress beyond the state of the art

The main technical achievement of the project has been the development of a state-of-the-art H.265 video encoder. Compared to widely used encoders in the film industry (e.g. x264) and open source encoders (e.g. x265, and Google VP9) the developed encoder achieves higher compression and quality at the same encoding speed. In particular, an average of 54.50% bitrate reduction at equal subjective quality was achieved compared to the x264 encoder.

The developed encoder was also tested for next generation formats such as UHD-4K and UHD-8K with high quality configurations. When compared to the open source x265 encoder at the same encoding speed and objective quality the proposed encoder was able to achieve up to 55% bitrate reduction.

As a result, the proposed H.265 encoder is able to produce higher quality, higher compression, at similar compression speed than competing solutions for the target VoD applications.

Expected potential impact

Exploitation and use

The consortium partners have exploited the results of the project in different ways.

- TUB has created a spin-off called Spin Digital (www.spin-digital.com) that is commercializing the video codecs developed, partially, in the context of Film265. The company is addressing the high-end video domain with encoding, decoding, and media playback solutions for 4K, 8K and beyond video applications. The company was established in 2015, has been present at several international exhibitions, and has its first customers in Europe and Japan. In addition to the spin-off TUB has exploited the project results for academic use by conducting bachelor and master thesis, and by using the developed applications in other research projects.

- Reelport has updated its PicturePipe VoD platform with new features for file upload, H.265 transcoding, video delivery, playback, and statistics collection. This enhanced platform is already in use by film festivals and film markets across the world.

- Marché du film and LevelK have updated their VoD platforms (Cinando and Stream4pro respectively) for supporting H.265 encoding and the other enhancements included in PicturePipe. Due to limited platform support, however, a complete roll-out of the products has not been performed.

The project has also made public its findings on the subjective assessment of video codecs for VoD applications. These data can be used by VoD operators in order to define the best configurations of the new generation of video-over-the-internet systems.

Some deployment issues have not been solved at the end of the project such as the widespread platform support for H.265 in web environments and the security of video playback using HTML5. The project has addressed those challenges by developing promising solutions that are currently in the prototype state, this includes a H.265 video player that does not depend on codecs installed in the browser, and a fast transcoding watermarking solution. These prototypes can be used as the starting point of new products and projects.

Wider Socio-economic Impact

The socio economic impact of a new video codec doubtlessly has its limits. But Film265 is part of a larger movement in the film industry to deliver films in an constantly improving image quality while at the same time reducing transaction cost. By reducing cost and improving quality, the overall viewing experience of filmed content is improving.

The Film Industry is changing drastically today. There are more films, more distribution channels, more competition, less audience, then less money and even less margins. Therefore it’s essential for the chain of value stability to reduce as far as possible distribution costs. One element for that is to facilitate the B2B marketing between sellers, buyers and programmers. One key element is to be able to watch the film in good conditions and on a timely manner. Even if the experience of watching a film in a theater can’t be replaced, being able to screen it at home or at the office with a selection committee or the acquisitions colleague, is more an more a request from the whole industry. There are still many places in the world where bandwidth is limited, offering to everyone a good viewing experience while maintaining or reducing costs for the right owners is a big value proposition in the industry.

Related information

Follow us on: RSS Facebook Twitter YouTube Managed by the EU Publications Office Top