Author Archives: David

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Reducing Startup Latency and Increasing Streaming Performance

Category : 4K Studios , NTEK , UltraFlix

In an effort to further increase our network performance, reduce our startup times, and provide overall network efficiency in the upcoming release of UltraFlix 3.0 I’ve been doing a lot of research into alternative network protocols.  UltraFlix 2.x currently uses https calls for it’s streaming, and while secure and stable, it can be improved upon.  Given the scale we are now seeing closing in on a half million users, small improvements can yield big impacts especially on origin to edge performance which directly impacts startup times.  For 3.0 we are testing the Quick UDP Internet Connect (QUIC)  protocol.

QUIC supports a set multiplexed connections over UDP, and provides security protection on par with TLS/SSL.  QUIC also provides reduced connection and transport latency by using a variable frame/packet size.  QUIC uses bandwidth estimation in each direction providing congestion avoidance.  It also times packet transmissions evenly to help reduce packet loss. The use of packet-level error correction codes also helps reduce the need to retransmit lost packet data, further improving performance.  Finally, QUIC aligns cryptographic block boundaries with packet boundaries.  This means that the impact of packet loss impact is mitigated.

With the goal of decreasing the buffering and setup time we are relying on some of the benefits found in QUIC, specfically the fact that QUIC handshakes typcially require zero roundtrips before sending payload, as compared to 1-3 roundtrips for TCP+TLS calls.  In addition, we have crafted some proprietary techniques to the video stream that optimize the ability to quickly start the stream while buffering is still taking place, further reducing startup time on any bitrates, including the new UHD Blu-ray quality option that can be enabled on homes with > 50mbit internet connections.


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Digital Movie Remastering – Flicker

I’ve been bombarded with questions today asking me about remastering of movies shot digitally.  There are several issues when delivering a movie shot in digital to the consumer whether using DVD, Blu-ray or OTT streaming.  These issues become greatly amplified when you start moving into the Ultra HD realm, especially with the various color space issues and HDR formats.  With the consumer TV market HDR and UHD are not standard.  Color space can be DCI-P3 or REC2020.  HDR standards include HDR-10, DolbyVision, HLG and variations that TV manufacturers are implementing.    Even within a single manufacturer you have sets that can generate different levels of brightness in HDR.   You can have sets that max out at 500nits and others at 1,000 nits.  When viewing video on the different levels of color and brightness you end up having a different threshold for the Flicker Fusion where the movement causes a visual flicker.  On lower end panels this is much more noticable than higher end panels.  It becomes really obvious when videos shot digitally at 50/60 fps is played back on sets that don’t support the higher frame rate and have to stepped down to 25/30 fps.

When preparing videos and movies to be streamed OTT you can improve the user experience substantially by creating different masters for various platforms from mobile phones to the highest end HDR Ultra HD television.


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Digital Movie Remastering – Grain

I had a conversation today with someone who was asking me about film remastering.  His first question was “if a movie was shot in digital format, then you don’t have to do anything but encode it right?”  While several movies are being shot in digital format, there is a long held belief by many in the industry that film provides a much better look and feel for movies.  We first learned this when working on the Interstellar project where we had to review our compressed digital delivery along side the original film output.  Directors all take great care in their art, and rightfully so, as it’s their expression to the world of story they want to show and tell.  Some directors will even go as far as choosing the type of film that they shoot on to get a particular look.  This attention to detail is something that we spent a lot of time on when working on The Good The Bad and The Ugly project as we not only were trying to recreate the directors vision of the film, but also to match the choices made in lighting and apply coloring techniques to recreate the style of the print.

There are several considerations that have to be made when delivering a movie to the consumer on a TV over the internet.  First and foremost, we have to look at what can be done to optimize the number of bits that are being streamed while trying to retain the original vision of the movie.  A typical stream is going to deliver 6 to 8 gigabytes of data, which has been compressed down from the original 4 to 7 terabytes of raw digital footage.  There is a significant amount of data to remove in order to make that work.

There are many areas of remastering techniques that are used on both analog and digital masters.  One area that we are currently doing a lot of experimentation with and seeing some great results is film grain.  Film grain provides a unique look to a film and helps the video being shown to get away from that plastic look that is especially prevalent in modern video that is shot on high end digital sensors at 60 fps.  While that look is really great for showing off the color and brightness of the latest generation 4K HDR television sets, it can be off-putting for a movie experience.  This is where grain can be your friend.  By having grain, film has a more natural and fluid look.  Capturing that grain is your enemy however, when trying to create a compressed digital file to be streamed.  Grain is realized in pixels as what appears to be random patterns of different variations in the lighting of textures within a scene.  This typically wreaks havoc when you are trying to compress a scene as compression does really well when you have long stretches of the same colored pixels in a row and does far worse when there are lots of subtle variations.  There are a lot of grain filters that can be used during the post production process that can take the digital images and make them appear move film like.  Where we are doing a bunch of work is to add that filter post expansion on the client side within the player as opposed to upstream pre-compression.  This allows us to gain a better compression ratio but still apply the same “look and feel” of the graining filter that was desired.

With new techniques and tools literally coming out every week, and new projects coming on board we have the fun job of both redoing movies we have previously remastered and compressed and applying the new methods to improve them as well as taking some of the latest and greatest state of the art digital movies and applying new methods to them to show even greater improvement.  This job is sort of like the guys that paint the Golden Gate Bridge, it’s never done.  By the time they get to one end, it’s time to go back and restart.


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My ongoing DirecTV 4K Experience

Category : 4K Ultra HD TV

So wanting to stay in touch with the DirecTV 4K offering I contacted them in late January to have my DirecTV serivce upgraded to 4K.  They finally came yesterday.  I stayed home from work while the technician performed my upgrade.

The first interesting issue was that I was told I had to have my “genie” unit replaced.  That is my main DVR / Receiver which seems normal as it was installed 4 years ago.  The new unit was required to support 4K, however, the unit itself does not output 4K.  In order to display 4K on my main TV, he had to install (and I had to lease or purchase) a second TV controller, a “remote genie”  For this he had to install a signal splitter in my A/V closet and have both the genie and remote genie connected.

After installing the devices and completing the setup we had to wait for the unit download an update to install the 4K support.  We waited for an hour and the unit hadn’t updated and it stated that the TV doesn’t support 4K.  My technician, who by the way was really great and courteous, said that they had reports of this delay issue in upgrading the software.  After a few hours we gave up and he gave me his number and I told him I’d ping him when the update downloaded.

Even though I was confident that my wiring was good, he was concerned that since we were connected to port 1 of the Sony TV it might not support 4K input.  To demonstrate the wiring was okay, I hooked up my NP-1 on port 1 and my Roku Ultra on port 2, and both were outputting 4K to the TV.

He’s meant to come back today and has been able to force the firmware update to allow it to support 4K.  I’ll post an update once the next chapter takes place.


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HDR Testers Needed

If you have a 4K TV that supports HDR and would be interested in testing HDR streams please contact me at david@ntek.com

 


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4K Trailers are coming

Category : 4K Studios

Some of the new cool technology we are playing with allows us to take an old trailer and a new source movie in 4K and the program will recut the trailer using the original scene cuts and finding them in the new source material and automatically re-create the new trailer.  


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NanoTech Gaming Labs Logo

The Future of Gaming & Redemption

Category : NTGL

The Future of Casino gaming is definitely trending towards games with skill.  Europe has long supported this concept and it’s now becoming approved in the states.  The Gaming Labs team created some amazing math models with the NanoTech Advantage and Cube betting models.  Seeing those implemented in the Pinball Technology was really cool.

I’ve now seen the next step with a really cool implementation that the team has come up with and identified some really cool new technology and people acquisitions.  What’s really cool is seeing all of the elements combined, and the market expanded.  The newest design takes into consideration both the trends in casino and family entertainment centers and combines 8 player single machine, game with skill, and 4K Ultra HD.

I’m excited about my investment in these guys and can’t wait to see the transition from R&D to production.


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Surround Sound Beta Testers Needed for Dolby & DTS

I’m looking for some UltraFlix users that have a surround sound setup connected to their 4K TV willing to test some videos with various embedded surround sound streams.  I’ll provide the movies at no charge for feedback on the sound delivery.  email david@ntek.com if you would like to participate


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Encoding Engine Version 18

Final testing this evening on a new update to the encoding engine, version 18.0 which includes updates for HLS/DASH fragmentation, multiple audio streams (2ch HyperAudio/Dolby/DTS), HDR10 color space.  Adding a bunch of quality enhancements researched over the past two years including much better 360p, 480p, 720p and 1080p videos for mobile devices, AppleTV and Roku 3 boxes.

Also need to release for performance enhancements as it’s got over 1,400 movies in the queue to run through it once released.


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UltraFlix Logo

Updating Network for New Features

Tags :

Category : Swig , UltraFlix

Thanks to our new partners at SWIG we are implementing some of the Instant On technology into UltraFlix this evening which makes for much quicker loading of movies.  Due to some unforeseen caching issues, the updates are taking longer than we had hoped to propagate through the internet and clear out cached old DNS entries.

If your app isn’t loading, try exiting and reloading.  So far we’ve confirmed updates of 2.0.14E up and running on Vizio, LG, Roku, iOS (iPad and iPhone).  We are working to verify others.  If you see an issue, email support@ntek.com and let them know what device you are on and the exact message you get, and if possible include a picture of the error so they can track down your specific issue.