The video presented below (and the transcript) is from a talk I gave for the Streaming Video Alliance entitled The Nine Events that Shook the Codec World on March 30, 2023. During the talk, I discussed the events occurring over the previous 12-18 months that impacted codec deployment and utility.
Not surprisingly, number 1 was Google Chrome starting to play HEVC. Number 8 was Meta announcing their own ASIC -based transcoder. Given that both Google and Meta are now using ASICs in their encoding workflows, it was an important signal that ASICs were now the preferred technology for high-volume streaming.
In this excerpt from the presentation, I discuss the history of ASIC-based encoding from the MPEG-2 days of satellite and cable TV to current-day deployments in cloud gaming and other high-volume live interactive video services. Spend about 4 minutes reading the transcript or watching the video and you’ll understand why ASICs have become the preferred technology for high-volume transcoding.
Here’s the transcript; the video is below. I will say that I heavily edited the transcript to remove the ums, ahs, and other miscues in the transcript.
Historically, you can look at ASIC usage in three phases. Back when digital video was primarily deployed on satellite and cable TV in a MPEG-2 format, almost all encoders were ASIC-based. And that was because the CPUs at the time weren’t powerful enough to produce MPEG-2 in real-time.
Then starting in around 2012 or so and ending around 2018, video processing started moving to the cloud. CPUs were powerful enough to support real-time encoding or transcoding of H.264, and ASIC usage decreased significantly.
Then starting in around 2012 or so, and ending around 2018, video processing started moving to the cloud. CPUs were powerful enough to support real-time encoding or transcoding of H.264, and ASIC usage decreased significantly.
At the time, I was writing for Streaming Media Magazine, Elemental came out and in 2012 or 2013, they really hyped the fact that they had compression-centric hardware appliances for encoding. Later on, discussing the same hardware, they transitioned to what they called software-defined video processing. And that’s how they got bought by AWS. AWS now does most of the encoding with Elemental products with their own Graviton CPUs.
ASICs - the latest phase
Now the latest phase. We’re seeing a lot of high-volume interactive use like gambling, auctions, high-volume UGC and other live videos, and cloud gaming.
Codecs are also getting more complex. As we move from H.264 to HEVC to AV1 and soon to VVC and perhaps LCEVC and EVC, GPUs and CPUs can’t keep up.
At the same time, power consumption and density are becoming critical factors. Everybody’s talking about cost of power, and power consumption in data centers, and using CPUs and GPUs is just very, very inefficient.
And this is where ASICs emerge as the best solution on a cost-per-stream, watts-per-stream, and density basis. Density means how many streams we can output from a single server.
And we saw this, “Google Replaces Millions of Intel’s CPUs With Its Own Homegrown Chips.” Those homegrown chips were encoding ASICs. And then we saw Meta.
ASICs - significance.
These deployments legitimize encoding ASICs as the preferred technology for high-volume transcoding, implicitly and explicitly.
“There are two types of companies in the video business. Those using Video Processing ASICs in their workflows, and those that will”.
– David Ronca
I say explicitly because of the following comments made by David Ronca, who was director of video encoding at Netflix and then moved to Meta, two or three years ago. Announcing Meta’s new ASIC, he said, “There are two types of companies in the video business. Those using Video Processing ASICs in their workflows, and those that will be.”
Usage by Google and Facebook, Meta, gives ASICs a lot more credibility than what you get from me saying it, as obviously, NETINT makes encoding ASICs. And these legitimize our technology. The technologies themselves are different. Meta made their own chips. Google made their own chips. We have our own chips. But the whole technology is legitimized by the usage of these premiere services.