Alongside incredible entertainment potential and enabling new, enhanced forms of communication, the video streaming industry consumes a lot of energy. Video traffic now accounts for roughly 80 percent of all data transmitted over the internet, and Netflix alone streams around 250 million hours of video each day. With roughly 5 billion global internet users and more than 28 billion connected devices demanding faster than ever broadband speeds to satiate our desire for streaming media, the engineers and inventors at InterDigital are creating solutions and shaping standards to mitigate streaming video's energy impact.
With an annual carbon footprint now exceeding that of the airline industry, the video industry must soon acknowledge and reckon with its growing sustainability challenges. Thankfully, we at InterDigital lead and contribute to several initiatives that help address these concerns, while continuing to encourage innovation in critical solutions. Here, we’ll explore three areas that shape our impact, including energy-aware technologies, video codecs, and standards.
Energy Aware Technologies
The International Energy Agency's analysis of energy use in video streaming consumption found that consumer devices account for a whopping 72 percent of energy consumption, followed by data transmission at 23 percent and data centers the remaining 5 percent. An important caveat to consider is that user devices only consume this much energy when they are turned on, while infrastructure components are typically operational and using energy all day and all year long. Still, these three components of the video streaming chain have unique opportunities to reduce energy consumption.
As devices and displays trend toward more energy-hungry 4K and 8K resolutions as well as high dynamic range (HDR) technologies, energy aware solutions will become more critical. For example, cutting-edge energy-aware display technology can intelligently reduce the pixel brightness of displayed images to optimize the balance between energy consumption and perceptible image quality.
When you consider that there are millions of pixels within each display screen, and more than a billion televisions installed worldwide, even small reductions in pixel brightness across televisions can achieve major energy savings. In fact, InterDigital has pioneered important innovations in Pixel Value Reduction (PVR) solutions that reduce the brightness of an image while maintaining or controlling the perceived quality to the viewer.
InterDigital's research in PVR solutions explores two main approaches. The first approach focuses on overall quality of experience and manages the “Just Noticeable Difference” between an original and a processed image, with the goal of maintaining the best image quality while capturing whatever energy savings possible. The process is transparent for end users, and effectively guarantees no change in perceived quality of experience. The solution targets a viewer's perceived experience and is more appropriate for broadcast content where artistic integrity might take priority over visible modifications to the content.
The second approach is focused on achieving specific energy reduction targets and is thus more applicable to streaming content that is typically adapted to support unique users with different levels of content at varying qualities. This type of approach can result in the user perceiving a difference in the quality of experience, but it also enables the user to customize and maximize energy reduction in their devices. This approach can take advantage of machine learning methods to help achieve the best tradeoff between image quality and energy savings.
With these solutions, the difference in quality of experience between an original image and a PVR-processed image would be minimal, if not imperceptible, though the energy savings they enable are real.
New Codecs — VVC
New video compression codecs, such as Versatile Video Coding, or VVC, are capable of an approximately 40 percent reduction in bitrate with no perceptible sacrifice in image quality. While it’s challenging to quantify exactly what that means in terms of energy savings generally — because there are so many variables that make up any given bitstream — it is believed that large reductions in bitrates generally equate to significant energy savings in the coding and transmission components of the video chain. Encoding in particular is a compute-intensive process that requires a lot of energy, and lower-bandwidth video requires less energy to transmit, so the efficiency of new codecs like VVC represent a good step forward in energy savings.
As a hybrid video codec based on HEVC, VVC leverages its commonalities with its predecessor to help it run more efficiently across a wider range of hardware. It refines these existing coding technologies while adding new coding tools, making it more adaptable to many different types of content, from HDR to 360-degree video and even computer-generated content.
Because of its approach and efficiency — which helps to reduce overall video traffic and network congestion — VVC is an excellent codec choice for video over 5G networks, streaming (including UHD) and television broadcast. There are certainly other forms of video content being developed and transmitted over various networks, but if we look at the three biggest types of consumer video services alone — mobile video, streaming, and broadcast to TV sets — VVC is the most efficient codec available today. Nowhere is that efficiency more important today than in mobile video.
Alongside these solutions and codecs, several global standards bodies, including ITU-R, MPEG, DVB, and SMPTE, are beginning to acknowledge and explore energy efficiency and sustainability initiatives around foundational and essential technologies we use daily.
In ITU-R, InterDigital has fought to raise awareness of these issues, and spearheaded a now-adopted effort to integrate the consideration of energy consumption into the standards purview. In addition to driving attention to the importance of these considerations across the video telecom ecosystem, InterDigital also leads in the exploration of Energy Aware Broadcasting Systems to encourage the adoption of energy efficiency schemes in broadcasting, and other efforts around carbon offsetting.
In addition, InterDigital maintains leadership roles within the Green MPEG working group and co-chairs the MPEG ad-hoc group on the carriage of green metadata. We are an active contributor to the extension of the VVC green metadata specification. InterDigital also co-leads the Digital Video Broadcasting (DVB)'s mission study on Energy Aware Service Delivery and Consumption to determine emerging opportunities to make sustainability-driven changes in the standard. Finally, InterDigital contributes to the SMPTE working group on Cloud and Sustainability.
At InterDigital, our innovation leadership in, and contributions to, energy-aware technologies, video codecs, and standards helps bring us closer to impactful, and more sustainable, connected ecosystems and immersive experiences.