Meet the Minds Inventing the Future of Video: Nikolay Tverdokhleb

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In our blog series Meet the Minds Inventing the Future of Video, we’ve been going behind the scenes to find out more about some of Ateme’s brightest minds and what they’ve been working on.

In part three of the series, we introduce Research and Development Engineer in Innovation Nikolay Tverdokhleb. He spoke to us about the ins and outs of the latest video compression standard Versatile Video Coding (VVC).

What is your role at Ateme?

I’m currently working as a research and development engineer in Ateme’s research and innovation team. My role is to improve the performance of our encoding tools and develop solutions for new applications. Moreover, it is also my goal to contribute to the industry through collaborative and standardization projects.

What in particular have you been working on at Ateme?

Lately, I’ve been developing Ateme’s implementation of new Versatile Video Coding (VVC) tools while researching different ways of optimizing the encoding process plus solutions for newly appearing use cases. Once the solutions are found, I create the demo to explain its real-life application. In addition, I am part of the Joint Video Exploration Team (JVET) as a member of the French Standardization Association (AFNOR).

What is Versatile Video Coding (VVC)?

VVC is the most recent video compression standard by ITU-T/ISO, released in 2020. As with each new generation of compression standards, it aims to be twice as performant as its predecessor (in this case, HEVC) with respect to specific metrics. As its name implies, it is designed to be the most versatile standard ever. Furthermore, it’s goal is to support the latest (and as yet developing) types of video (screen content, gaming, virtual reality, etc.). It includes many tools presented in HEVC and introduces a wide set of modern instruments to achieve better performance.

What industry challenges does Versatile Video Coding address?

There are always challenges to overcome. For example, heavy network traffic during peak viewing times can degrade the Quality of Experience for viewers. In turn, this forces service providers to increase their infrastructure to meet peak viewing requirements, which translates to increased costs.

It is easier to create a better, more efficient algorithm (software) than to enlarge the bandwidth (hardware). VVC addresses this challenge since it compresses more efficiently, resulting in smaller bitrates for the same video quality.

What have you achieved in this field at Ateme?

Enabling our customers to use VVC in its full potential within a live distribution chain is also an immense challenge. This is because VVC is a recent and complex codec with very few implementations of it. Standards are not just plug and play. Once a standard is defined, it must be properly implemented. This involves designing software for both the server and the user side, in order to enable compression. In turn, along with diffusion instruments, this facilitates transmission.

At Ateme, we have achieved several world-first live VVC services showcased the past few years via various delivery support (satellite, OTT, mobile broadcast). This was most recently demonstrated in the context of TV3.0 trials in Brazil for the World Cup coverage by Globo.

The Versatile Video Coding tools I’ve implemented use software and hardware optimizations. This allows our encoders to achieve significant quality gains while maintaining the same bitrate and still performing in real time. It is always challenging to find a new tool to implement, and the integration process is tricky. What’s more, it is very important to fine-tune to keep the right trade-off between rate-distortion optimization and the computational complexity of the task.

This year, I worked for the demo we created jointly with Fraunhofer HHI and Telecom Paris for IEEE ICIP 2022 (IEEE International Conference of Image Processing). The goal was to show the potential of VVC for further increasing both QoE and efficiency through end-to-end low-latency multicast streaming. It was a pleasure to discuss technical details with colleagues from the broadcasting industry and debate solution choices with researchers!

What does Versatile Video Coding change for viewers?

Nowadays, with the technical progress of cameras and televisions, we have more tools to capture and play top-quality video. Yet while demand for that sort of content is high, delivering video — especially high-quality content, which takes more space — is still difficult. Conscious of internet bandwidth restrictions, each coding standard tries to compress video as much as possible to reduce consumption while preserving the best quality possible.

Developing new coding standards and implementing and integrating them into the infrastructure is a way to resolve that. Having a standard that respects modern video resolutions is crucial to properly compress them. And each standard becomes more robust than its ancestor, which allows a smoother viewing experience.

Having an efficient implementation of VVC allows us to produce target bitrates with the minimum possible loss of information. For viewers, this means less bandwidth is needed to achieve high-quality video experiences — for example, watching personalized high-res content — even during peak viewing times.