The PERSEUS compression codec has received arguably its most important endorsement yet, with Sky Italia using the technology to deliver its complete bouquet of content, covering linear channels and on-demand, to customers who take its streaming service on Telecom Italia broadband lines. This service, which is jointly branded and where customers have a dedicated â€˜My Skyâ€™ set-top box (and take separate subscriptions with Sky for their television and with Telecom Italia for their broadband and voice), uses adaptive bit rate streaming video (in HLS format) and means Sky Italia can target homes that do not want or are not allowed a satellite dish.
This is the first â€˜direct-to-homeâ€™ deployment for the PERSEUS compression technology, which is already used by Sky for studio-to-studio contribution links in Italy. This codec is also being used by Eutelsat and Italian broadcaster RAI for satellite contribution of Euro 2016 football that will be made available on RAIâ€™s UHD channel on TivÃ¹sat (more here) and by the Indian OTT service FastFilmz for distribution over 2G and 3G mobile networks (read story).
The Sky Italia implementation is the first that involves set-top boxes, thus proving the point that PERSEUS can be integrated into an existing Pay TV system (albeit one using streaming video as an alternative to broadcast spectrum).
The V-Nova PERSEUS SDK (software development kit) has been integrated with ViBE VS7000 encoders from Harmonic. An â€˜over-the-airâ€™ software download to the set-top boxes in Sky/Telecom Italia homes means they can decode the PERSEUS-optimised content. The legacy set-top box population is being upgraded, via the software downloads, over the next seven weeks. These Pace set-top boxes are running Wyplay middleware and use a widely deployed Broadcom chipset.
The video is being encoded in full HD, at 1080i with 50 frames per second. The use of the PERSEUS codec has halved the bit rate needed for HD content from 8Mbps to 4Mbps. The 4Mbps stream delivers the same quality or even better, according to Guido Meardi, CEO and Co-Founder at V-NOVA.
This is an outstanding achievement given that generational codec advances like the introduction of AVC/H.264 (after MPEG-2), and HEVC (after AVC) attempt to double coding efficiency (so halve bandwidth for the same quality video) for direct-to-home distribution. The business impact is dramatic. As Meardi points out, Sky can now deliver HD content to homes on ADSL networks when before this was only possible to households with FTTH.
Originally, the Sky streaming Pay TV service was made available (pre-PERSEUS) only to Telecom Italia homes with a FTTH connection. Once Sky knew it would be deploying PERSEUS it started marketing the service to Telecom Italia customers on ADSL, who could take the service in standard-definition in anticipation of an HD upgrade. Now these ADSL customers will be given the full HD experience.
â€œThe significance of the bandwidth reduction is that from now on, Sky can deliver full HD services to ADSL customers,â€ Meardi emphasizes. â€œThey have increased the potential market from 10% of the population to 85% of the population.â€
Massimo Bertolotti, Head of Innovation & Engineering at Sky Italia comments: “We upgraded our headend and set-top boxes with V-Nova PERSEUS compression to bring the average HD bitrate down from 8Mbps to 4Mbps. By halving the bandwidth requirement, V-Nova PERSEUS enables us to enhance the viewing experience for our customers and meet our IPTV business objectives much more quickly. We are thrilled with the outcome of this challenging project and hope to set an example for what is possible to achieve on deployed infrastructures through the use of new innovative technologies.â€
Guido Meardi adds: â€œWe are particularly proud about this deployment because we said that PERSEUS could be used to upgrade existing, legacy set-top boxes and now we have demonstrated that. If you want to address the highest ARPU component of the market today then you have to upgrade your existing infrastructure and set-top boxes to deliver the next-generation services.â€
Encoding density has also been improved as a result of using PERSEUS, and it also means DVRs will be able to store at least twice as much content, Meardi says.
Sky Italia is running three ABR bit rate options, the highest being the 4Mbps encode and the lowest at 2.5Mbps. The latter provides a full HD stream at slightly lower quality to ensure resilience if network connections falter.
This Sky Italia service to Telecom Italia homes was already a notable innovation, as an example of a major Pay TV operator replicating its complete service using OTT delivery. This delivery model now has greater reach and higher resilience thanks to the improved encoding efficiency.
Meardi believes the Sky Italia deployment proves the case for PERSEUS compression technology being applied to other direct-to-home (distribution) networks, like satellite, especially the way set-top boxes with widely deployed chipsets have been upgraded to cope with the new decode requirements. â€œThis implementation summarises the potential for all delivery scenarios. We have shown how you can achieve this upgrade in practice with software upgrades,â€ he explains.
Eric Achtmann, Executive Chairman and Co-Founder of V-Nova, says this deployment â€œis the coronation of the work we have done with Sky in Italy and our many industry partners such as Harmonic.â€ He adds: â€œWe are delighted with the results we have achieved together, when many told us it was simply not possible. Sky Italia’s IPTV platform is testament to the value of industry collaboration and the perfect example of why the market needs the step-change that V-Nova PERSEUS delivers.â€
Meardi summarises some of the key business benefits from using PERSEUS generally. These are CapEx savings (greater reach achieved by upgrading rather than replacing existing infrastructure); greater service reach (across lower bandwidth networks) and higher density encoding (more channels in the same space with reduced power/cooling) leading to lower OpEx.
The launch of V-Nova and its PERSEUS compression was one of the biggest stories of 2015. Massimo Bertolotti attended the press conference to explain why Sky Italia chose the new codec for video links between studios in Milan and Rome within an existing standards-based workflow and he made it clear then that he viewed this codec as a solution for distribution, too. It was one of the factors (along with an impressive list of existing partners like Intel and Hitachi, both of whom sent senior executives) that gave credibility to the incredible claims that V-Nova was making about improved coding efficiency.
Since then it has been obvious from its partnership developments that V-Nova has been making good progress in the market with PERSEUS, but we have been waiting for deployments for confirmation that it ticks all the right boxes for broadcasters and platform operators. The Eutelsat/RAI deal confirms this for contribution applications and this Sky Italia deployment does the same for the distribution market, albeit for OTT delivery, in terms of headend and STB integrations for premium Pay TV.