Sky Takes Stake in V-Nova

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Sky has bought a minority stake in V-Nova, the London-based company behind the Perseus compression technology.

The investment of £4.5 million ($5.7 million) is being made through Sky subsidiary Sky Italia but complements previous tech and startup investments made by the group including in cross-platform network Whistle Sports, online video aggregator Pluto.TV, U.S. ad tech firm Sharethrough, and in Elemental Technologies nine months prior to the encoding firm's $500 million purchase by Amazon in 2015.

Sky Italia began working with V-Nova in 2015 and has used Perseus for contribution links during coverage of football matches and for IPTV delivery.

"This transaction is important for us given Sky's very successful record with companies like Roku and Elemental," said Guido Meardi, CEO of V-Nova. "Statistically speaking we hope for good things."

A stake in V-Nova will enable Sky "to look at Perseus in a deeper way and to look for additional use cases," said Meardi. "Our work with Sky Italia has not gone unnoticed in the group. We can't say more, other than that the whole Sky group is looking at Perseus for future service applications."

Eutelsat is another minority shareholder in V-Nova.

Perseus 2, the latest version of its flagship codec, launched in April. No deployments have been announced.

A key selling point is that Perseus 2 can be used in combination with other 'base' codecs including HEVC, VP9, and AV1.

Encoding/decoding processing power efficiency and visual quality are improved in Perseus 2 with 100Kbps necessary to deliver mobile video to all consumers, 1Mbps claimed as the benchmark for "monetizable full HD mobile video" and just 6Mbps, for "high quality UHD movie streaming and 4K 360/VR immersive experiences at scale," according to the company.

V-Nova also took take steps to integrate the codec into standard encoding/deployment technologies, including HTML5 playback and encoding with FFmpeg.

"Although PERSEUS Plus was original created for 14year-old chips using a mixture of hardware and software available in the device, we can run purely in software in current generation mobile phone chips and not consume any more power than the 'hardware' versions in the devices," says Fabio Murra, SVP product & marketing. "We can of course also still use hardware blocks to further reduce power consumption."

P-link, the firm's encoder and decoder for remote production and contribution, has been deployed by Mediapro (for use during an El Classico match 2015), by Eutelsat (to contribute UHD links of UEFA Euro 2016 matches to Rai customers), and by Sky.

"P-link is unique because it allows you to combine a lot of feeds with dynamic frame by frame multiplexing to makes exceptional use of bandwidth," says Murra. "For example, you can keep the programme feed at very high quality and all other camera feeds at a lower quality to make effective use of bandwidth.

"Even over 1 gigabit you can do remote production/contribution of UHD, which is science fiction with any other low-latency system. There are a lot of players very interested in this."

The company acquired the full global patent portfolio of video imaging experts Faroudja Enterprises in January this year.

While not part of any current deployment, Faroudja's pre-processor and post-processor technology will be fed into future use cases.

"This is a very important technology for our roadmap," says Meardi. "Faroudja's technology has already been demonstrated to provide a bitrate reduction of 35-50% over existing compression techniques."

Meardi says V-Nova is working with SMPTE to ensure P-link works with file formats IMF and MXF for nonlinear production workflows.

"Where productions shoot with multiple high-resolution cameras and require mathematically lossless quality, this can quickly build into expensive and cumbersome storage. P-link has a strong advantage in those contexts."

The company claims to complement rather than compete with established codecs HEVC, AVC, and H.264. It will also work with and encourage MPEG to build its next-gen codec for immersive media, MPEG-I.

"We are extremely supportive of ITU and MPEG," says Meardi. "Perseus can work as a standalone format especially for distribution applications where it works alongside other video encapsulation formats. We don't want to reinvent the wheel of encryption, audio, metadata management and watermarking or to create another transport stream. We want to focus on compression. Our focus is on Perseus to meet the needs of media today but we are not standing still. The work of MPEG is necessary for future applications such as 6Dof, for which HEVC will not be enough."

He adds, "People underestimate the amount of work necessary to really create a codec that can connect billions of users and can be integrated with other platforms. It requires a lot of cash."

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