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Live frame rate conversion in the cloud, on a pay-per-use basis

Journal Article from InSync Technology

Fri 01, 10 2021

Paola Hobson
Managing Director, InSync Technology


Introduction

Broadcasters and media companies engaged in live international content distribution are familiar with the need for standards conversion. Multiple broadcast frame rates and formats are in use throughout the world; and with an ever-growing number of standards to support in mobile and streaming services, high quality, live, standards conversion is an essential part of many businesses.

OTT streaming service providers are no different. These delivery workflows provide localised broadcast grade streams to a myriad of devices globally. Typically, these workflows run fully in the public cloud, receiving mezzanine quality transport streams from playout; and inserting dynamic content to produce localized versions, where reformatting, transcoding, packaging, encrypting and delivering to CDN are entirely located in the cloud.

Moving the workflow to the cloud

M2A Media are innovators in cloud broadcast; they work with some of the biggest names in the industry by helping them to connect with new audiences, realise greater commercial benefit and reduce operational overhead. In 2020, M2A media delivered hundreds of thousands of live events to over 80 countries, streaming more than 1 billion hours to millions of concurrent viewers.

Typically, an OTT customer’s acquisition workflow might take live source content from events produced around the world and feed it into their playout service using IP transport in a public cloud. The customer will then want to deliver localized, broadcast grade streams to OTT devices globally. They would use a head end workflow running fully in the public cloud to receive the mezzanine quality transport streams, insert dynamic content to produce localized versions, reformat, transcode, package, encrypt and deliver to CDN with integration to a live ad insertion service. Both the acquisition and the head end workflows require frame rate conversion between 50 and 59Hz. 

Many of these services include live streaming of sporting events of international importance. Frame rate conversion (standards conversion) is therefore needed in order to manage the multiple delivery formats and frame rates for each region. For example, US Football acquired at 59Hz needs frame rate conversion to 50Hz for European viewers. When streaming live sports, very high quality frame rate conversion is essential to ensure all viewers obtain the best possible experience.

Event-based services

When provisioning services or investing in equipment, it's important to consider that sporting events might take place weekly for a specific season, or just for a two week period annually, or even for a short period every four years, etc. For such events, on-premise proprietary hardware represents a costly asset on the balance sheet which requires considerable effort and resources to be configured into the acquisition or head end workflows. Once in place it is costly to reconfigure hardware workflows so responding to last minute demands is typically not possible.

Broadcasters and media companies have shown a lot of interest in the integration of InSync Technology's FrameFormer motion compensated standards converter into M2A's cloud based services. This has created a unique service: where customers can access live frame rate conversion in a pay-per-use scenario and the service provider is orchestrating and gathering the end-to-end cloud resources needed to support thousands of live events each week.

The service also runs fully redundantly, with on demand capacity management, scaling and monitoring.  This is very beneficial for unexpected situations e.g. event starts which get delayed by bad weather or over-runs such as extra time in a football match.

This type of pay-per-use standards conversion service isn't exclusively aimed at sports providers. It's a great cost saver for any broadcaster or content owner that has occasional conversion requirements. In this case, they don't want to have the trouble and cost of buying their own dedicated converter, and having staff available to run and maintain it. It's also available globally so there's no need to transport physical assets to events.

If you're paying to have a converter available 24/7 but only use it at the weekends, you save a lot of money using a conversion service and will see a much higher return on investment. The unique part of M2A Connect’s FrameFormer integration is its status as the only live, cloud-based, pay-per-use conversion service currently available in the world.

For all of this to work, it has to be pure software, CPU-only.  It cannot be reliant on GPUs as M2A need to provision an instance to run on and take down afterwards, hundreds of times a day. Therefore, it has to be consistent.

The standards conversion must not add to the latency of the live stream, it has to be easy to deploy in a standard container, and start and stop quickly and cleanly. The service also has to run consistently and have monitoring hooks to ensure reliability and quality of service.

Customer feedback

M2A's customers address global markets so there's been a lot of curiosity about how they can use event-based frame rate conversion in the cloud, on a pay-per-use basis. 

In a typical sports production environment, international content is delivered to a local studio, where graphics, commentary and captions are added. The live source then continues its journey through playout where regionalisation, branding, accessibility and break signalling is added onto head ends for transcoding, encryption and packaging before final distribution through CDNs. Increasingly, broadcasters and sports rights holders are taking advantage of cloud-based pay-per-use services to support their operational needs and converging the playout and head end functions. With hundreds of events taking place around the world on a daily basis, there's an ever increasing need for frame rate conversion in the a cloud hosted workflow.

As a leading OTT sports provider, handling over 30,000 live events a year, DAZN was interested to learn more.  Being an early adopter of new technologies, their continuous innovation enables them to stay ahead in live and on-demand streaming, with a focus on delivering the best user experience.

DAZN’s channels reach millions of monthly users in multiple languages, so a finished program may be delivered to a single end point, or multiple destinations, where different formats and frame rates may be needed. For example, the UEFA Women's Champions League matches will be produced in 50Hz since it originates in Europe, but viewers in Japan or USA will need a 59Hz version.

With this array of variables in mind, DAZN agreed to evaluate frame rate conversion in the cloud. Since the majority of their workflows are cloud-based, FrameFormer by InSync Technology Ltd was an obvious choice for experimentation with a new workflow.

To exercise FrameFormer's temporal rate conversion, DAZN chose a variety of complex and fast moving content. Conversions between 50Hz and 59Hz were tested, on compressed material.  Motion compensated frame rate conversion, such as that provided by FrameFormer, is needed for the highest possible picture quality when sports content is converted.  Alternatives such as frame repeat/duplication or linear conversion lead to blurring, judder, and loss of resolution.

Conclusions

Pay-per-use standards conversion in the cloud brings important benefits to OTT broadcasters, especially those with event-driven workflows.

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