Dense is good when it comes to transcoding
FIGURE 1. NETINT’S TRANSCODERS USE NVME SLOTS IN SERVERS.  

Dense is good when it comes to transcoding

Back in high school, if someone called you dense, it meant you were slow on the uptake, and it definitely wasn’t a compliment. For high-volume video transcoding, however, density is, without question, a major plus.  

Some background. I now work with NETINT, a Canadian company that designs, develops, and sells ASIC-powered transcoders like the T408 and T432, which can output H.264 and HEVC, and the Quadra, which produces H.264, HEVC, and AV1. These transcoders are available in multiple form factors including U.2 and PCIe add-in cards. The U.2 modules fit into slots in rack-mounted servers like that shown in Figure 1, with some servers having the capacity for over 20 NVMe devices.  

Dense is good when it comes to transcoding
FIGURE 1. NETINT’S TRANSCODERS USE NVME SLOTS IN SERVERS.

Once installed, each T408 serves as a self-contained encoding engine, requiring little more from the host server other than handing live streams to the T408 and delivering the encoded streams to the packaging engine. This standalone transcoding performance maximizes the number of T408s you can install in a server. 

High-Density H.264 Transcoding

For example, Table 1 shows H.264 encoding performance with three different systems. On average, encoding utilizing the on-board T408s, the system delivered 4164 frames per second using only 369 watts of power for an FPS/watt of 11.00. In contrast, with software-only encoding with the x264 codec using the Fast preset, the same systems averaged 318 frames per second using 364 watts for an FPS/watt of 87. 

Dense is good when it comes to transcoding
TABLE 1. T408 PERFORMANCE COMPARED TO X264 SOFTWARE-ONLY ENCODING USING THE FAST PRESET

If you divide the frames per second produced by the T408 (4164) by the fps produced via software-based encoding (318), you’ll find that it takes about 13.1 servers without the T408s to equal the performance of a single server with between 10 – 24 T408s. We’ve helpfully presented that in figure 2. 

Slashing Carbon Emissions

With T408s costing less than $400 at volume and the high-capacity encoding workstation around $12,000 or much higher, it’s easy to see the huge CAPEX advantage to the ASIC-based approach. This is especially true given that for some transcoding applications, you can run ten T408’s on a much less expensive server. 

What about OPEX? Oh, there’s an equally impressive advantage here as well. The NETINT-powered encoding system consumes just 7.5% of the power of the software-only approach and, better still, produces only 7.5% of the carbon emissions compared to CPU and software!

Dense is good when it comes to transcoding
FIGURE 2.  ONE SERVER POPULATED WITH T408S OFFERS THE SAME LEVEL OF PERFORMANCE AS 13 SERVERS UTILIZING SOFTWARE ENCODING

High-Density HEVC Transcoding

Table 2 shows the same computation with HEVC using the x265 Medium preset. Here, you’d need 55.1 standalone systems to produce the same output as the T408-enabled system (we’ll spare you the diagram). Even if you assume a significant speed increase by using a faster x265 preset, the CAPEX, OPEX, and emissions savings delivered by the ASIC-enabled systems are unquestionably quite significant. 
Dense is good when it comes to transcoding
TABLE 2. T408 PERFORMANCE COMPARED TO X265 SOFTWARE-ONLY ENCODING USING THE MEDIUM PRESET

What about quality? We’re preparing a more detailed comparison for future presentations demonstrating that NEINT’s ASIC-based transcoders deliver quality equivalent to or better than the software-based codecs/presets typically used for live transcoding. 

To be sure, ASIC-based solutions aren’t right for all applications. But if you’re a high-volume live streaming platform or are streaming interactive videos or games, you’d have to be … well, dense … not to consider NETINT transcoders.

About Jan Ozer

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I help companies train new technical hires in streaming media-related positions; I also help companies optimize their codec selections and encoding stacks, and evaluate new encoders and codecs.

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