SVC, WebRTC and the Future of Video by Alex Eleftheriadis, IMTC/UCIF Activity Group Chair

1. Please provide some background info about yourself and your role with IMTC/UCIF’s over the years?

I joined the IMTC Board of Directors in the beginning of 2011.  Vidyo, which I am the Chief Scientist and Co-founder, had grown considerably (it was founded in 2005), and one of our core technologies, Scalable Video Coding (SVC), had already made inroads throughout the videoconferencing industry.  IMTC was the pre-eminent organization dealing with interoperability in our space, and it was natural for us to be part of that.  At IMTC we soon created a new Activity Group focused in Scalable Video Coding, and I was appointed co-chair. The group met for the first time in December 6, 2011.

Separately, we had become a contributing member of the UCI Forum in the summer of 2010 and we had initiated an SVC  group there, which I also co-chaired. In 2013 I joined the UCI Forum’s Board of Directors. There was an understanding in forming these two parallel group within IMTC and the UCI Forum that the former would address H.300-series systems and mobile, whereas the latter group would address SIP-based systems.  Just prior to the merger, the UCI Forum’s board expanded the scope of the SVC group to include other codecs, including HEVC and VP8/VP9, and we renamed the group “Video”.

The SVC activity is a very good indicator of the very complementary nature of the two organizations. Several of the participants in the two groups, but not all, were common across the organizations, and it became evident that it would be much more productive if the groups operated under a single umbrella. In the new organization the two groups will be merged, under a name that is yet to be determined.

2.  How would you characterize IMTC’s/UCIF’s current position in the industry today as opposed to when it was first established?

IMTC has had a long history in the telecommunications space – we had a 20-year anniversary last year, whereas the UCI Forum’s history is much shorter but of comparably intense activity.

The list of accomplishments just focusing on the last few years is very impressive. Just on the SVC front, at the UCI Forum we designed, proposed, and got accepted by the ITU and ISO/MPEG a set of new single-layer and scalable profiles for the H.264 video coding standard focusing on unified communications applications. This was a joint proposal between Intel, Microsoft, Polycom, and Vidyo, and I actually presented the proposal in Geneva in November 2011. These profiles are now part of the H.264 specification.

In parallel, working at the IMTC, we had the first-ever successful interoperability test event for videoconferencing systems using SVC in the IMTC SuperOp! held in Porto in May 2013.  The test was repeated this year at the SuperOp! event in San Diego in May.

Both of these industry developments would not be possible without IMTC and the UCI Forum. The industry needs a neutral ground where companies can meet, discuss their needs, develop requirements and technical approaches, examine architectures, and come up with recommendations that can be submitted to standards development organizations so that they act on them. At the same time, we can also examine system-level issues that transcend any given standards organization, and even define certification programs where appropriate.

There is no doubt in my mind that the joining of forces of IMTC and the UCI Forum will create additional momentum, and will translate to significant benefits for both vendors and end-users.

3. How did the decision to join organizations come about? Was there a specific catalyst in your opinion?

The type of work we did at the SVC groups in both organizations is characteristic of the work that they are chartered to do. Vidyo is very committed to open standards and interoperability, and both IMTC and the UCI Forum had a clear agenda towards the goal of interoperability and  certification. It was very natural for us to join these groups as soon as interoperability needs surfaced in the horizon.

4.  What kind of affect will the IMTC / UCIF merger have on the industry?

I think it’s great news, because for the first time nearly all major players in videoconferencing and unified communications will be under one roof.  That will allow better coordination, and will eliminate duplication of work (both administrative and technical).

5. Moving forward, what are the industry challenges that the newly joined organization will tackle? 

There is no doubt that the video communications industry is undergoing significant transformation. The introduction of SVC, the VidyoRouter or – as it is now generically called – the  “Selective Forwarding Unit” (SFU) which replaces the old Multipoint Control Unit (MCU), are transforming the technical architectures on which video communication has traditionally been built.  The coupling of scalable, cloud-ready, high-quality back-end architectures with client-side APIs, including things like our own VidyoWorks but also the standards-based WebRTC, open up completely new application areas for video. Instead of “video applications”, we are now talking about “applications with video”. You can now program video support in pretty much any application, either native, or on a web browser. The combined IMTC/UCIF organization will have to adapt to this new reality, and be ready to reach deeper into application development processes, client and server APIs, as well as appropriate server signaling, than it ever has.  I think it already has shown that it can respond very quickly: it has just created a brand-new technical study group called MANE – Media-Aware Network Element – which investigates transport and signaling issues for these types of new architectures. To me, this is a sign that IMTC/UCIF is poised for continued success.

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