Agile Digital Platform Simplifies Multi-Screen Service Migration

September 16 – RGB Networks has come up with a way to ease the pain of delivering video services to multiple screens by providing network operators the flexibility to configure transcoding and other essential functions however they wish within the same modular platform.

"Service providers are seeking solutions to cost effectively scale their media processing infrastructure without compromising video quality," says Yoav Schreiber, senior analyst for digital media infrastructure at Current Analysis.  "RGB has evolved its video processing platform to reduce the operational complexity of meeting these emerging service provider requirements."

The real-time multi-functionality processing support that RGB has built into the high-density Video Multiprocessing Gateway (VMG) is paying off, according to Nabil Kanaan, director of product marketing at RGB.  Previously introduced as the Modular Video Processor primarily to support transcoding of linear content for multi-screen distribution, the VMG now simultaneously performs a variety of video processing functions beyond content repurposing, including content aggregation, grooming of channel line-ups, transrating of programs to enable the delivery of more programming without impacting picture quality and delivery of advanced advertising solutions. 

"Transcoding is the key element we've introduced to support a highly efficient, scalable approach to content repurposing," Kanaan says. "But it's the multi-application set that's turning the most heads."

For example, new telco customers for the VMG initially are deploying the platform to fulfill advertising insertion and local programming substitution requirements, leaving latent for now the transcoding application. "Telcos are relatively new to the video services industry, and so they need the capabilities that will help them to monetize large screen," he says.

"On the cable side," he adds, "a lot of the initial application activity we're seeing with the VMG is along the lines of what they're already doing in digital media processing, where they attain much greater density and a lot more redundancy for things like statistical multiplexing."

But it's the payoff of having a platform performing these types of applications that can also handle multi-screen transcoding requirements at high densities across multiple inputs and outputs that is the underlying driver to the appeal of the VMG, Kanaan says. "Operators will be going into trials with content repurposing applications very soon," he notes.

Asked specifically about the appeal of the unit to MSOs participating in Clearwire and other mobile strategies who may want to offer their content on mobile devices, Kanaan replies, "It's not that far into the future. There's anecdotal evidence that operators are using pizza box encoders designed for delivering compressed picture-in-picture streams as a way to support content repurposing trials with mobile devices. Obviously these aren't the right products for this application, but there's a real need to get trials underway, so they're using what's available."

Operators can implement transcoding and the other functionalities incrementally on the VMG. "All these functions are available but the operator isn't obligated to use them all," Kanaan says.

"Say you're doing a lot of ad insertion and need to add more capacity," he explains. "Maybe you're doing 90 percent of your ad insertion with other equipment, but over time you can cut over more of that functionality onto the VMG platform.

"And to make it even more granular with less cash outlay at the outset we have a licensed-based approach where you wouldn't need to pay for a full blade. You can light up licenses on that blade and then turn on more capacity. And then, as you exhaust capacity on that blade, you can procure more blades. This approach leverages the ultra-high density of the platform without requiring the customer to pay for that capacity right out of the chute."

To illustrate what he means by ultra-high density, Kanaan says that if an operator implemented the full capacity of the VMG strictly for transcoding "with all the licenses turned on, we're talking about the capacity to do transcoding on 144 HD or 432 SD channels, which translates to 10 HDs or 30 SDs per rack unit." He also notes RGB maximizes efficiency with respect to all the supported functionalities by utilizing whatever types of processors are best suited for different applications, whether they be FPGAs (field programmable gate arrays), ASICs (application-specific integrated circuits) or multi-core software processors.

The design flexibility also extends to how operators set up their input and output configurations. "We're giving you a basket of resources, each of which corresponds to a given application, and any incoming signal can have these various resources applied to it," Kanaan says. "So you don't have to redo your network architecture as you obtain the rights to apply different applications on different content streams."

Similarly, output resources can be allocated as needs change. "One of the unknowns as customer contemplate their approaches to repurposing is figuring out how many outputs they'll need over time," Kanaan remarks. "We're saying you don't have to worry about that. You can adjust your outputs as needed."

Facilitating the flexible approach to allocating in and out configurations is the use of 10 gigabit Ethernet as the aggregating physical layer. "One of the challenges today with pizza box products is you have gigabit Ethernet in and out and a lot of wires connecting across all the applications," Kanaan says. "We're leveraging 10gigE with many ins and outs, so that there's one central processing module in the bottom of the frame that accepts input on behalf of the whole frame. We have two 10gigE input ports and all decisions on the multiple streams coming in over those ports are performed internally."

RGB is also stressing its provision of N+N redundancy, where there's more than one unit that can be used as a standby in the case of failure. "Internal signal distribution is critical to ensuring modular redundancy in the chassis without requiring switching," Kanaan says.

"With pizza box encoders you need a network management system to not only manage a population of devices, but also to manage standby devices and to switch to different devices through interconnecting routers in case of failure," he adds. "That's much more operationally complex than having a single chassis where the redundant backup resides without requiring any wires or third-party devices to support switching to backup devices." This internal backup extends to power supplies and all the control modules as well as to the applications themselves, he notes.

While RGB is focusing on marketing the VMG for real-time processing on linear content, the unit also can be used to perform transcoding on content that is to be stored for on-demand applications, Kanaan says. In this application the content is processed through the platform and the individual output streams are sent to different servers for streaming to different types of devices.