In the latest interview of our series, we talked with Dr. Abdul Rehman, CEO and co-founder of SSIMWAVE, about the various stages of digital video delivery.
Q: Who are you and what does SSIMWAVE do?
A: We are an entrepreneurial group of scientists, software engineers and business professionals who are fascinated with perfecting digital video delivery. We develop software solutions to help studios, content providers, streaming services, broadcasters and MVPDs reliably deliver video quality levels that subscribers expect, while preserving the artistic intent. We mapped the human visual system and made complex science easy and practical to use – providing in real-time the one score that really matters – what the actual viewer, sitting in their living room, perceives in terms of their viewer experience on the viewing device. We call it the SSIMPLUS Viewer Score and it’s based on a linear scale of 0-100, from bad to excellent.
Knowing this score empowers our customers to: ensure that every asset they receive from partners will achieve the desired Viewer Experience level. They also use it as the main KPI with their vendors to perform to the agreed SLAs. It also allows them to tune video quality up or down, using only the necessary amount of resources, such as video bitrate. This way they become more efficient in delivering video and optimizing workflows. This ensures that external partners are delivering the expected quality and most importantly keeping subscribers happy.
Q: What was the problem that brought the company into existence? What is the story of the company?
A: Video content goes through many stages before it reaches the viewer. An average two-hour movie can be several terabytes before it enters post-production and emerges as just a few gigabytes on your device, compressed by a thousand times. A lot of things can happen from the studio to your living room. It is impossible to accurately know how video looks by the time it reaches the subscriber without tracking the journey of content from creation to consumption. SSIMWAVE eliminates this guesswork; our virtual probes can be used at any point in the video chain to tell you exactly what your subscribers would be seeing if you were to deliver this stream to them. We can also pinpoint where quality degrades and alert you to common subscriber frustrations like banding, macroblocking, A/V sync, latency, video freeze and many others.
Another issue the industry is experiencing is that all other “Quality of Experience” (QoE) mostly rely on content packaging and not the actual video content in the form consumed by viewers. Relying on the health of packaging using various content delivery formats is often incomplete or simply misleading. Without putting the viewer first and measuring their experience there is no way to understand how your technology decisions are affecting subscribers’ satisfaction on desired viewer experience.
One of our very first customers needed a solution such as this – how to pick the best partner for one of their key video technologies.
Q: Content in 4K and HDR has become more common, especially in OTT platforms. What technology delivers the highest marginal increase in quality based on your experience?
A: As video experience becomes more and more important as a differentiator, content owners, delivery, and service providers need to ensure that their viewers are receiving the premium HDR viewer experience they expect, and deserve. The two end points of the delivery chain are looking at 4K HDR content as means to deliver the next generation of viewer experiences. The video trucks at sporting events are already equipped with mastering HDR content and the majority of titles are being shot in HDR. Consumer electronics manufacturers are doing a lot to educate the market and are catching up on the required capabilities in a display to deliver 4K HDR content as intended. What needs to drastically improve is the middle part of the delivery chain – from post-production to the viewer device.
Some of our customers are already working on having best-in-class HDR processes. The ones who start early and do it well will be able to get ahead in terms of brand recognition for delivering premium viewer experiences. There is no panacea or magic wand for this. Having the proper solution to measure the HDR Viewer Experience and how well you are doing vs. the source file, that represents the creative intent, should become an ingrained part of the HDR delivery. We are constantly improving our HDR solutions and just received certification from Dolby Vision(™) for our ability to properly decode their content.
Q: A video workflow, live or on-demand, has many moving pieces. Which steps, that have an important impact on the quality, should one not overlook?
A: Video content goes through multiple stages of video transformations ranging from changes in resolution, frame-rate, dynamic range, bitrate, delivery formats and network protocols. As you can imagine, many things can go wrong at any point in such a complicated delivery chain. The best way to keep an eye on so many moving pieces is to deploy “eyes” at various stages of the delivery chain to track viewer experience from content creation to consumption.
Recently, a customer was concerned that the source files for sports content they received from third parties were not always the best quality. Using our solution, they quickly identified the issue- some source files were being upsampled, so even though the bitrates were high, the quality was very low. This is one of the biggest misconceptions in the industry – that the higher the bitrate is, the better the quality will be. We are trying to educate the industry to look beyond this myth. So checking the files as they enter your workflow is important.
Now, given the situation the world is in, we see a lot of articles that mention networks under pressure and hours of streaming increasing in double digits. This can also deteriorate the Viewer Experience as devices do not have a way to keep consistent video quality. They use different logic and are programmed to optimize for buffer size and data rate, not the Viewer Experience.
Q: In this time of strong competition, with many different technologies on the rise, how do you see the streaming landscape evolving in the next years and what is the role you’ll play in it?
A: As consumers are offered more choices by the media and entertainment industry, there are four things that services need to focus on to be competitive and to accelerate business results:
- Protecting their brand value by validating Viewer Experience, especially for premium content, such as 4K HDR video.
- Optimizing delivery costs by using viewer-aware approaches
- Fixing Processing and Delivery Issues
- Increasing Viewership and Improving Monetization
These are the four areas on which we believe streaming services, broadcasters and content providers should focus. SSIMWAVE can help in each of these four areas. One thing that separates us from the rest is that we are the only ones to map the actual human visual system. This capability does not exist anywhere else. And we are focused on using this knowledge to help the industry deliver desired Viewer Experiences at half the delivery cost. We are working together with the American Society of Cinematographers on a project to measure and improve the preservation of creative intent for HDR content delivery. We are working with Dolby Vision to ensure their content and obsession with premium viewer experience is being preserved. And we are constantly improving our solutions by partnering with our customers on behalf of hundreds of millions of viewers. This decade will be an exciting journey for everyone in the industry and we are proud to be part of it.
About the author
Originally from Chicago, with a degree in Advertising from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Jose is a Marketing Manager at Teltoo. With a handful of experience in both sales and marketing, he joined the Teltoo team to help spread the word of its innovative streaming distribution solution and eliminate the buffering circle that everyone loves, once and for all!