CAST opts for Motion JPEG instead of H.264 encoding in new streaming product

The first step in a production workflow demo at Sony's IBC 2016 booth. (Image: FierceOnlineVideo)

CAST Inc., which describes itself as a semiconductor intellectual property provider, is launching a new HD video encoder subsystem product that uses Motion JPEG (MJPEG) rather than the more widely utilized H.264 encoding standard to encode digital videos for streaming.

The reason for CAST’s departure from H.264 in the new product? The company says the solution is targeted at digital videos for which “moderate levels of compression are required” and where the video provider may need encoding accomplished faster, with less processing power required.

Of course, MJPEG is hardly new. The format was developed in the mid-1990s to compress digital videos for PC viewing – basically, each video frame is compressed as a JPEG image – and is still used by video capture devices like digital cameras and in non-linear video editing. Many viewing devices – PCs, game consoles and other products – are able to decode the MJPEG stream with compatible video viewing software (think, Quicktime).

While MJPEG is streamed similar to other encoding formats using packets of data, its video quality historically has been lower than that of MPEG-4. However, CAST said that the video quality of its MJPEG streaming product is “practically equivalent to that of H.264 when typical video content is compressed with a ratio of 20:1.”

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The MJPEG encoding subsystem (an architectural framework for delivering IP-based video) needs significantly less RAM to encode video, CAST said – 60K gates and 60 Kbits of RAM versus the 500K gates and 500 Kbits RAM needed for H.264 encoding. And users can accomplish encoding without external DRAM, which is needed to buffer frames during the H.264 encoding process.

Diagram of CAST Inc.'s MJPEG HD encoder subsystem architecture.

Those lower requirements can spell cost savings for smaller online video providers looking to deliver video from, say, their own platforms. But the technology could also be used to speed encoding of video when it’s in demand from viewers, such as a live football game or an eSports tournament. CAST sees the subsystem being used in other verticals like healthcare, where streamed video for a number of applications like telemedicine are becoming increasingly more important.