June 23, 2010 – In a bid to outpace other providers of next-generation headends RGB Networks is leveraging a just-completed acquisition of RipCode, Inc. to combine the benefits of hardware- and software-based video processing technologies within a single three-screen platform.
The move is coming amid surging demand from service providers of all types for integrated headend solutions that do away with legacy silos by leveraging the power of IP technology to create a truly converged multi-screen service, says Jef Graham, CEO at RGB. "Service providers are recognizing that as you consolidate you require high levels of reliability and scalability and that you must go to IP video," Graham says.
By integrating RipCode's technology for converting live and on-demand video content to formats required for the mobile environment into RGB's carrier-class Video Multiprocessing Gateway (VMG), the company is offering a solution supporting transcoding, ad insertion and other capabilities across TV, PC and mobile access points, Graham notes. "This puts us in a unique category as the only carrier-class platform in the world to deliver to three screens," he adds.
RGB's chassis-based VMG delivers MPEG-2 and MPEG-4/H.264 stream processing quality and capacity for advanced video processing functions, including transcoding, ad insertion, transrating and grooming while meeting the rigorous NEBS (Network Equipment Building Systems) compliance and fault tolerance stipulations of carrier-class qualification. With the addition of mobile video delivery capabilities to this modular chassis, network operators will have the ability to perform any-to-any live and file video transcoding, adaptive delivery with Apple Live Streaming, Microsoft Silverlight, Adobe HTTP Streaming, and seamless multi-device ad insertion, Graham explains.
"In essence, this carrier-class piece of hardware (RGB's Video Multiprocessing Gateway) for IP processing plus highly scalable transcoding puts us in a unique position," Graham says. "Until we had this chassis and strategy, all we had was slightly better performance and price points than our competitors had. What we have now is a truly unique position with carrier class and density and scalability."
RipCode's technology, running on standard-issue Intel processors, will not only be used to add mobile service capabilities to the RGB's Video Multiprocessing Gateway; it will provide a means by which RGB can exploit the speed-to-market advantages of software-based processing to accommodate new codecs and formats more quickly than would be possible with a hardware-based platform, notes RipCode CEO Brendon Mills. "We can provide the speedy development capabilities that our software enables on Intel processors across the VMG platform when the situation calls for software-based acceleration," Mills says.
While software-based systems provide greater flexibility to respond quickly to market changes than do hardware systems like the VMG, which relies on a combination of FPGAs (field programmable gateway arrays) and ASICs (application-specific integrated circuits), hardware systems achieve a much higher level of "concurrency," Mills notes, meaning the dedicated hardware can pump out far more streams over a few codecs than is possible with the Intel-based system. "As you get to mobile and the PC where there's a much broader array of codecs and containers, you can easily assimilate those on the Intel platform," Mills adds. "So you get the best of both worlds with the integration into VMG."
As previously reported (see May, p. 34, and April, p. 21), software-based encoding/transcoding systems have been gaining market position as competitors or complements to hardware-based systems as the need for reaching mobile devices and routinely adjusting to new formats becomes central to service provider strategies. Indeed, RipCode, which will continue to serve its existing market base with standalone products, has been a part of those complementary arrangements, in some cases partnering with headend suppliers to create a full three-screen capability.
"This deal will probably disturb some of those relationships," Graham says.
The big difference between what RGB is doing with RipCode and what other hardware suppliers have been doing in partnerships with RipCode, Envivio and other software-based systems pertains to achieving a full integration that allows both systems to operate under one management system utilizing a single power supply with access to a high-density hardware transcoder, Graham explains. Referring to new partnerships between hardware and software system vendors, he says, "What they are doing is supplying an Intel-based platform to do the delivery to mobile devices. We add very dense transcoding and put the RipCode blade in our chassis. And in that single chassis we have multiple appslications, including ad insertion, stat muxing, transcoding, forward error correction, audio leveling, encryption, etc."
With a single management system to coordinate all applications across all streams service providers can take a lot of the complexity, power consumption and hardware stacking out of the headend scenario, he says. "The complexity of today's headends is where the costs are," he notes.
"One of the things you save on is power," he says. "The Intel platform consumers 100 Watts per stream; we're at three to four Watts per stream. And you need the powerful transcoding with 400 streams out of one chassis that we provide. There's no way any of the engines behind any other [software-based] vendors, including RipCode, can go to that level. To do a PC service you need to support 14 output streams from one stream of input. The transcoding scaling requirements are huge on the backend."
RGB first introduced the VMG four years ago with telephone companies as the primary target market, Graham notes. But today, he says, the market is much larger with the cable industry preparing for a transition to IP video as service expansion to PCs and mobile enters the MSO product portfolio, over-the-top players pursue multi-screen solutions and satellite providers turn to broadband for hybrid solutions.
Where cable is concerned, he adds, the first priority in the U.S. tends to be around bringing PC service to market, whereas elsewhere the priority is on converging mobile video with existing video services. "Whichever approach is the priority, the other one is right behind," he says. "We're seeing major trials getting underway right now."
The urgency for three-screen headend solutions drove RGB to an acquisition strategy to avoid spending time developing a software-based solution in house, Graham says. Upon hiring an expert in software-based video processing, former Envivio CTO Yuval Fisher, as its CTO, RGB set out to find the right solution."We examined several options before concluding that integrating RipCode's technology into our VMG would be the most effective way to complete a three-screen solution that would meet the challenges faced by cable, telco and mobile operators," Fisher says.
"We have built the VMG specifically to enable video service providers to seamlessly implement three-screen delivery, serving as the heart of a new generation of IP-centric headends."
The modular system is designed to sit in various segments of the network to perform tasks specific to those segments. "The chassis may be doing transcoding from MPEG-2 to MPEG-4 in one place and then elsewhere inserting ads or, in local markets, picking up local video content and ads," Graham says. "So the chassis comes in many sizes."
An interesting new function implemented by RipCode for the mobile market will be part of the new platform and could have implications for bandwidth management on the fixed side as well. The application as explained by Mills works with deep packet inspection technology to throttle down delivery of video to mobile users in a given locale when bandwidth requests threaten to overload the system and reduce performance for some users.
"This is different from adaptive rate deliver, which we also support," Mills said. "Where adaptive delivery is about optimizing a particular video session to fit the available bandwidth, our new video optimization technology is different. It's a global tool for carriers to use when they're having a bandwidth problem for a particular class of subscribers at a certain time of day. We enable them to implement a policy that automatically will throttle all those users down so there are no bandwidth constraints blocking service to individual users. The biggest pain point in this area is with mobile, the technology can be used in any kind of network that has capacity issues."