Online video gets versatile | Financial Times

lmagine if we could halve the bandwidth used by video over the internet in this working from home era — congestion would be eased and speeds could be faster for all of us.

That’s part of the promise of a new video compression standard touted today by the International Telecommunication Union as it enters its final stages of approval. According to the standards body, Versatile Video Coding (VVC) “will need only half the bit rate of its predecessor High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) to achieve the same level of video quality for high-resolution video content . . . The compression performance of VVC will enable the delivery of UHD [Ultra High Definition] services at bit rates today used to carry high definition (HD) services. Halving the required bit rate for a desired video quality will also ease pressure on global networks”.

If you want to get into the numbers game, VVC will be H. 266, following HEVC, which was H. 265 when it was introduced in 2013 and went on to become the standard encoding format for UHD (4K) TV.

However, its predecessor H. 264, introduced in 2003, is still the world’s most widely deployed video compression standard, commonly used for HD TV and mobile video.

H. 265 has seen slower adoption because it requires more powerful hardware and licensing fees are higher. It has also faced competition from AV1, a codec pushed by major tech companies.

The video compression experts of Germany’s Fraunhofer are behind VVC, as they were for MP3, H. 264 and H. 265, and they seem keen to avoid the hardware and licensing issues this time around. Venturebeat reports them as saying the new encoding and decoding chips required “are currently being designed” and they have partnered with big players such as Apple, Ericsson, Intel, Huawei, Microsoft, Qualcomm, and Sony. VVC will be licensed under Frand (Fair Reasonable And Non-Discriminatory) principles by the Media Coding Industry Forum.

Of course, with VVC offering improved streaming of experiences such as cloud gaming, 360-degree video, 8K and High Dynamic Range, it may not be long before we’re using up just as much bandwidth for that improved definition and frame rates. But that’s progress, as they say.

The Internet of (Five) Things

1. Mighty Ant’s IPO announced
Alibaba’s payments arm Ant Group, which has most recently been valued at $150bn, has announced its long-awaited public offering with a dual listing in Shanghai and Hong Kong. A senior Ant executive said it had waited to announce its listing in order to “secure the full support of Beijing”.

2. eBay’s $9bn classified ads deal
Ebay is nearing a $9bn agreement to combine its classified advertising business with Norway’s Adevinta in a deal that would give it a significant stake in the European group. The deal would end a multi-month auction that was launched after activists pressured eBay to slim its business. 

3. SE Asia’s online shopping battle
Alibaba-backed Lazada has been losing out to Tencent-backed Shopee in key Asian markets, and in Indonesia, it also faces competition from Tokopedia, backed by Alibaba as well. Mercedes Ruehl and Henny Sender relate a familiar tale of subsidies and losses and look at whether there can be any winners in this online shopping saga.

4. Big banks enter the cloud 
After years of foot-dragging, many big banks have abandoned their cautious approach and are signing up with gusto to outsource data storage. Why now? Patrick Jenkins has a few reasons. Meanwhile, cloud companies are reaping the rewards of the work-from-home revolution, reports Richard Waters.

5. Europe and US can still beat Chinese tech 
One of the biggest mistakes Donald Trump made in recent years was trying to go it alone in his technology and trade war with China, writes Rana Foroohar. She suggests how a new deal could be reached between the US and Europe that could leave them better placed to compete against China in an ever more fragmented digital world.

Tech week ahead

Monday: IBM is expected to suffer a revenue hit due to falling software sales when it reports second-quarter earnings after the close.

Tuesday: Ride-sharing app Uber will make a last-ditch attempt to overturn a UK court ruling that its drivers are workers rather than independent contractors. The company begins an appeal at the UK Supreme Court where it will argue that it is not an employer but simply an intermediary that uses technology to connect self-employed drivers and customers. In earnings, TalkTalk gives a trading update in the UK, while camera app Snap and chipmaker Texas Instruments report second-quarter results after the US close.

Wednesday: Tesla reports earnings, with the consensus among analysts pointing to the electric carmaker reporting a fall in quarterly revenue and posting a loss. Investors, however, can’t seem to get enough of the company. Tesla’s shares last week hit more than four times the low point they touched during the March sell-off. Microsoft will report its fourth-quarter earnings after the close.

Thursday: AT&T reports before the opening bell, as does Twitter. Intel is after the close. In the UK, Sage will make a trading statement.

Friday: Verizon reports before the bell and in the UK, Vodafone has a first-quarter update, as mobile operators prepare for the possible costs of acquiring 5G spectrum and equipment in the face of Huawei’s forced exit from the UK by 2027. Educational publisher Pearson reports on its first half.

Tech tools — Vaonis Stellina

Jonathan Margolis says there is a furore among amateur astronomers about this revolutionary new point-and-shoot telescope from Montpellier, which does away with layers of expertise and kit to make it possible to take stunning photos of the heavens with minimal skill.

The objection is that you’re not really seeing space with your own eyes because you view it on your iPad or phone, but Jonathan appreciates the way the €3,999 Vaonis Stellina uses GPS to set itself up, then its motors find the heavenly feature you’re looking for and autofocus. There’s even a mode to cancel the effects of light pollution — and you can have a star party with up to 20 people watching the action on their own devices.

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