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Intel central to Live AV1 France Télévisions broadcasting tests during Roland Garros 2020

A long history of innovation

 

France Télévisions and Roland Garros have woven long-term ties to foster technological innovation at the RG Labs.  After the 16:9 (in the 1990s and early 2000s), HD (2010), Full HD (2015), 4K HDR (2015-2017), VR (2016-2017), and the 8K format those past two years, Vincent Nalpas, Director of Product Innovation and Services, France Télévisions, details this years’ main focus.

“Every year, France Télévisions hold those RG Labs sessions as part of a partnership with the FFT (French Tennis Federation) and a bunch of French and foreign Technology partners.  Their aim is to develop and demonstrate tech solutions or functions that will enable and trigger TV and digital services of the future.  Each time, previews or world premieres allowed us to test technologies which eventually often made it to the production phase.  This year, augmented tennis is the main focus of the RG Labs 2020 edition.”

This topic includes several areas of focus :

  • Increase interactivity: ability to choose at a glance a shot on a mobile and TV set from three different source cameras.
  •  Increase speed: 5G tests are being carried out using a network deployed by Orange – a partner – at the Roland Garros stadium.  A video shot by a mobile France Télévisions camera is transmitted in 5G, using a modem with two 5G SIM cards performing at 20 Mbits/s.  Those tests were successful – a live set was made possible.  This was the first time a live flow was transmitted using 5G.
  • 5G : broadcasting tests of a 360° flow shot on 8K cameras at the Suzanne Lenglen tennis court.  This flow sent images to Oppo Find X2 Pro smartphones (the Chinese smartphone maker is one of the partners), and allowed to get a live 360° view of the Suzanne Lenglen court, conveyed using 5G.
  • Another test involved experimenting a 9:16 Player in portrait mode.  It allowed to navigate vertically within a 16:9 image.  This test meant to adjust and stick to young people’s uses.  One could hence travel within the picture using their smartphone gyroscope.
  • Increase the transmission and broadcasting quality.

This last specific topic caught our attention.  To find out more, we met with Jean-Paul Chevreux, Creative Technologist Engineer, Direction of innovation and prospective, France Télévisions.

What is the ‘’Increase quality’’ topic all about?

For the ‘’Increase quality’’ topic, we focused on two techs: AV1 and upscaling.  As far as upscaling is concerned, the idea was to be able to watch a content of quality on our TVs.  All TVs now have Ultra HD (UHD) whereas UHD broadcasting has not entered yet the production stage.

There is another issue explaining why UHD is not there yet: the network bandwidth is not large enough to support the flows this quality requires, since content is massively encoded in H.264.  Improving networks is one of the solutions, as well as optimising video compression using stronger algorithms.  The objective is to reduce the bandwidth needed while keeping the same quality, like the AV compression standard which offers a real increase in coding efficiency – about +50 % compared to H.264.

Using this technology, the bandwidth required for the video broadcasting is halved.  This is huge considering that in France, the average bandwidth for ADSL ranges between 5 and 8 Megs, and that a UHD media needs 25 Megs in H.264 to deliver a pristine quality.  Cutting it by 50% allows us to reach a lot more people using these new AV1 technologies.

There are other technologies such as H.265. Why choosing AV1 ?

Firstly, AV1 is performing well, with a higher compression rate   ̶  on average +30% to +40 % – than VP9 and H.265/HEVC, and 50% higher than that of H.264, which is the most popular video codec for streaming nowadays.  Secondly, this technology being Open Source ensures its wide availability, being free of any commercial licence.  This open-sourcedness makes it even more interesting for the tech world of video transmission as it is royalty-free.

For the time being, most content are UHD content, but tomorrow they will be in 8K, 16K… We need to focus on the efficiency of video compression, otherwise bandwidth requirements may be boundless…

Who created this open source technology?

This technology is being developed by the Alliance for Open Media (AOMedia).  Tech giants such as Amazon, Cisco, Google, Intel, Microsoft, Mozilla Foundation and Netflix…are part of this alliance as its founding members.

AV1 is massively supported by Tech groups, bringing on board their technical support. It will be quickly adopted undoubtedly, especially by all leading video streaming platforms.

What are its requirements, both for coding and decoding?

This matter applies to every new codec.  Today, from a commercial standpoint, there is no specific hardware nor chips specific for AV1 coding/decoding.  There are no devices, no smartphones capable of reading easily the AV1 format.  All available PCs are drained out when assigned this task.  Encoding is less sensitive because we are capable of using solutions with a lot of CPUs, or very powerful models.  It is only a matter of scale, and this is well mastered.  Intel has demonstrated this at one of the RG Labs.

Decoding is an entirely different matter:  it is a huge issue which is going to hamper the adoption of AV1 as long as there are no chips designed to decode this flow format.  This year at the RG Labs, Intel showcased its Intel® processors (11th generation) for portable PCs with Intel Iris® Xe graphics (codenamed Tiger Lake) which include in their hardware the AV1 decoding.  This decoding is carried out at the GPU level, which is not overburdened by this task.  While an AV1 flow is being read, the CPU can process other tasks.

Intel, with its Mobile chips Intel® Core® (11th generation), is able to decode an AV1 flow quite easily and without monopolising the GPU resources and none of the CPU resources.  As a result, the power required by the device onboarding those next generation chips is rather low.  This is a critical matter for the autonomy of devices, portable computers and smartphones.

How was this showcase at the RG Labs made possible?

This encoding was processed in real time using the flow filmed by France Télévisions.  An 1080p image at 50p was sent to the Intel server (Dual Xeon 8280). Being encoded live in AV1, its flow was then sent using Wi-Fi to the portable PC (including Intel® Core® 11th generation mobile chips) which decodes in real time too, Live.  A real ultrabook was used, not a Gaming PC.  This is a pre-series computer since the new Intel platform has just been announced.  But mass production series are around the corner.  This means that a basic portable PC is now able to read an AV1 flow.

What about the software needed to read the AV1 flow? Are there applications already available for that purpose?

We are using a basic popular player:  VLC.  More specifically, a beta version of VLC in which the AV1 codec was implemented.  VideoLAN, the VLC editor, had to rewire VLC to enable it to process the hardware decoding part of the AV1 flow by Intel’s GPU.  VLC simply had to be optimised ahead since it is originally meant to read almost all formats available.  When those new CPUs will be on the market, we know that VLC will be able to read AV1 files.



Quotes

From Intel
“Intel is thrilled to see this real-world use of an exciting new feature in our just-released 11th Gen Intel Core processors with Intel Iris Xe graphics. Native AV1 playback support in consumer laptops is a game changer in terms of visual quality and bandwidth optimization, soon ramping to millions of PC users. Thanks to VLC to be the first to provide live hardware AV1 decode software ”, said John Webb, director of Intel graphics and AI marketing.

From VideoLAN
AV1 and royalty-free codecs are the future of the video streaming on the Internet. VLC has been the first major player to read AV1 in software, with a very fast open source decoder we developed. In order to be successful and more power efficient, we needed to have hardware decoder. Which we finally do with the new Intel Iris X Graphics, and we’re thrilled to be able to use this hardware in the most efficient way. » said Jean-Baptiste Kempf Président de VideoLAN.


RG Labs AV1 workflow

 


Intel technology used

Server 8280 Intel Xeon Platinum

Ordinateur portable à base Processeur Intel® de 11e génération pour PC portables avec graphiques Intel Iris® Xe

Core i71185G7, 16 Go de RAM, SSD 512 Go

Sujet réalisé en collaboration avec Intel

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