Unified Headend

Pay TV Operators today are challenged with supporting their legacy video systems for primary screen delivery to traditional set top boxes (STBs) while operating new Adaptive Bit Rate (ABR) video systems for TV Everywhere (TVE) delivery to multiscreen devices. There is an increasing demand to support video processing and delivery of the next generation of enhanced user experiences, including Ultra HD/4K (UHD/4K), High Dynamic Range (HDR) and Virtual Reality (VR) video services. These new ABR/TVE video systems were deployed independently from legacy primary screen systems, leading to operational inefficiencies and additional costs to support both the legacy and next generation video processing platforms. AWS Elemental has developed a unified video processing architecture that significantly reduces operational complexity, lowers cost, supports legacy and next generation services and provides best-in-class video quality and encoding efficiency. The solution can be deployed in Amazon Web Services (AWS), on-premises or in a hybrid model.

Project Details

Challenge

  • Implement end-to-end multiscreen solution to offer an enhanced TV experience for Pay TV Operator’s customers. The unified video processing offering needs to support legacy primary screen, ABR/TVE multiscreen delivery as well as emerging video technologies like 4K/UHD, HDR and VR. 
  • Provide the same channel lineup and services as the current primary screen IPTV and cable platforms including Live, VOD, Start-Over, Look-Back, and Network DVR (nDVR) services.  
  • Integrate with existing and new control plane systems to support key functionality and automate workflows (content management systems, digital rights management systems, ad insertion systems, etc.).

Solution

  • AWS Elemental Live and Server provides unified video processing for live and VOD content, all managed by AWS Elemental Conductor. AWS Elemental Delta provides Just-in-Time Packaging (JITP), Just-in-Time Encryption (JITE), Live-to-VOD for nDVR/Catch-up TV and origination and delivery services. AWS Elemental Cloud provides for elasticity and scaling for cloud and hybrid deployments.
  • Efficient streaming of ABR/TVE live and VOD content is handled by a CDN like Amazon CloudFront. The solution can be deployed as a single CDN solution or as part of a multi-CDN architecture.
  • Amazon S3 is used for video content storage. Other AWS cloud services include Route 53 DNS, ELB, Lambda, SNS, SQS, Direct Connect, CloudWatch, which allow for additional reliability, scaling, automation, network monitoring and redundancy. 

Benefit

  • The AWS Elemental solution provides for a unified and flexible processing of legacy primary screen content as either constant bitrate (CBR) in conjunction with ABR/TVE multiscreen, HEVC, 4K/UHD, HDR, and VR content all on the same platform.
  • Having all the video processing on a single platform reduces operational complexity and costs while allowing for more efficient allocation of processing resources. The solution utilizes software based processing, allowing for feature velocity including video quality enhancements without time consuming and costly hardware replacements.
  • AWS Elemental Cloud processing, in conjunction with AWS services, leads to cost efficiencies as the Pay TV Operator only pays for resources when needed instead of running expensive equipment on the groud. Cloud deployments also allow for faster deployment of services.

Project Snapshot

  • Project Name:
    Unified Video Processing and Delivery Platform
  • Market Segment:
    Service Provider
  • Type of Application:
    Multiscreen Delivery, TV Everywhere
  • Geographic Location:
    USA
  • Products Included: 
    AWS Elemental Live
    AWS Elemental Server
    AWS Elemental Delta
    AWS Elemental Cloud
    AWS Elemental Conductor
  • AWS Products and Services:
    Amazon CloudFront
    Amazon Route 53
    Elastic Load Balancer
    AWS Lambda

Expanded Workflow

The AWS Elemental Unified Video Processing solution enables Pay TV Operators to rapidly scale up and scale down video processing and delivery resources on-demand in an efficient and cost-effective manner. This is beneficial for both live and VOD processing and delivery, as it significantly reduces costs for live events that are generally only a few hours per year as well as VOD, file-based processing that tends to be “bursty” in nature, where many VOD assets need to be processed in a short period of time. AWS Elemental Cloud resources can also be elastically scaled depending on the size of the event and number of viewers. This elastic scalability is also true for VOD storage and delivery including Network DVR (nDVR) recordings. The architecture diagram below illustrates a typical workflow for live and VOD processing and delivery.

Functional Areas

  • Content Acquisition
  • Live Streaming
  • VOD Streaming 
  • Transcoding
  • Delivery
  • Encryption (DRM)
  • Storage
  • Content Management
  • Ad Insertion

Detailed Breakdown of the Workflow

Most of the control and data plane functions can be hosted in AWS, deployed at the Pay TV Operators facility or as a hybrid model. An AWS Elemental Cloud deployment enables Pay TV Operators to focus on managing their services versus maintaining the overall infrastructure. The cloud enables operators to take full advantage of other AWS services such as Lambda, Step Functions, S3, Glacier, CloudFront, Route 53, SNS, SQS, Dynamo DB, CloudWatch, and others to support rapid scaling for these workflows. 

Sources:

The live sources are acquired from the Content Providers via satellite, fiber/leased lines, or off-air. Some content may be locally generated. The VOD files are generally acquired from the Content Providers via satellite or an Internet connection. The video content is transferred to AWS Elemental Cloud using two AWS Direct Connects which are implemented on diverse signal paths for redundancy and reliability. The live sources are routed to AWS Elemental Live encoders for processing to the required delivery formats. The VOD content is then store in Amazon S3 storage in preparation for processing by AWS Elemental Server.  

VOD Processing Workflow:

The content management system (CMS) orchestrates and automates VOD processing workflow in conjunction with AWS services. The mezzanine source files are initially stored in an Amazon S3 in preparation for processing to the required delivery formats by AWS Elemental Server. When a source file is transferred and received in Amazon S3, the metadata is analyzed to determine the processing required. The CMS will automatically initiate a processing job on AWS Elemental Server via API and balance the transcoding jobs across Server instances. The source file will be processed in the required delivery formats for both the legacy primary screen delivery as well as next generation primary and multiscreen delivery (ABR, AVC, HEVC, 4K/UHD, HDR, VR, etc.). During processing, optional features can be deployed, such as audio normalization, logo insertion, SCTE 35 markers, video stitching, frame synchronization, and third party watermarking software. Third party quality control (QC) tools can be used to verify that the VOD asset was processed properly (i.e. check video, audio, captions). Once the job was successfully completed, the processed VOD files are placed in a separate Amazon S3 bucket awaiting delivery. The CMS notifies the AWS Elemental Delta origin/packager that a new VOD asset is available and Amazon S3 location where to ingest the asset. The CMS then moves the mezzanine VOD source file to AWS Glacier for long-term archival storage in case it is needed later for further processing. The CMS notifies the client middleware that the VOD asset is available and the URL to request the asset from the AWS Elemental Delta origin/packager. 

Live Processing Workflow:

Live sources from Direct Connect are routed to AWS Elemental Live for processing to the correct delivery formats for both the legacy primary screen delivery as well as next generation primary and multiscreen delivery. The same optional features, mentioned previously, can be deployed during the processing phase. Once Pay TV Operators have completed their migration to the next generation STBs, the resources used for legacy video processing a portion of these resources can be repurposed for other services and the excess cloud resources can be “spun down” to significantly reduce processing costs. 

Content Delivery:

AWS Elemental Delta will then just-in-time package (JITP) and encrypt (JITE) the live and VOD content in the requested packaging format (HLS, DASH, Smooth Streaming, or HDS) and add the DRM (i.e. Widevine, PlayReady, FairPlay, etc.). Delta will also process the SCTE-35 ad markers and decorate the ABR manifest files with these ad markers, as well as provide ad insertion and program replacement for content blackouts. For Time Shift TV features, Delta supports Start-Over, Catch-Up, and Network DVR (nDVR) functionality. The CMS and/or middleware manages the recording and playback of this content on Delta via API.    
Pay TV Operator can choose to use a single content delivery network (CDN) or deploy a multi-CDN architecture. The Pay TV Operator may choose to have their own managed CDN as the single CDN or as part of a multi-CDN including Amazon CloudFront and/or other CDNs. The AWS Route 53 DNS service can be deployed to help with routing content to the appropriate CDN. A caching and load balancing layer is placed in between CDNs and the Delta Origins/Packagers to minimize latency, protect against origin/packager failures, and shield against excessive client/CDN requests for the same live or VOD content. The same redundant AWS Direct Connect circuits are used to egress the video streams to the Pay TV Operators managed network infrastructure.  

Associated Technology Partners

  • NGINX
  • Civolution
  • Neilsen
  • Google Widevine
  • Apple FairPlay
  • IBM Aspera
  • Microsoft PlayReady
  • Interra Systems Baton
  • CDNs (CloudFront, Akamai, Level 3)