Made-in-Israel technology is heading toward ubiquity, not just in back-end hardware and software, but even in consumer goods. Case in point: One-third of the smart TVs sold in the world today contain an essential piece of technology made by Tel Aviv start-up Giraffic.
“As of this year, both Samsung and LG are using our Adaptive Video Acceleration (AVA) technology to ensure flawless playback of streaming content on their Internet-connected televisions,” said Giraffic co-founder and CEO Yoel Zanger. “Right now we are the industry standard for client-side video acceleration and stabilization technology. It’s pretty cool.”
The folks at the world’s biggest smart TV makers certainly think so. Televisions today are very much commodity items, manufactured in China and other Far East lands and sold at small mark-ups; even TVs that are sold as “high definition” (HD) can be had for barely $200 – far less than the price Samsung and LG, among others, seek to sell their top-of-the-line TVs for.
Giraffic’s technology, said Zanger, makes it possible for television makers to distinguish themselves from among the pack by offering superior video display and content streaming uninterrupted by network glitches and slowdowns.
“Not only do we offer a buffer- and interruption-free video experience for streamed content, we do it at the highest video quality level available commercially. If the standard for TV display today is full HD (high-definition) of 1080p, our system allows for flawless playback at 4K. And we do it without requiring anyone to install any software or device anywhere along the network – all the quality control is done inside the television itself, using our software. Technologically, it’s a pretty unique accomplishment.”
With the world’s biggest tech event, CES, set to begin next week, Giraffic is expanding its offering beyond TVs – with a system that will allow for uninterrupted streaming on smartphones and tablets, even of live streaming content.
“4K is not an issue on phones, because most devices can’t display it yet, but uninterrupted streaming is a huge deal for consumers and content providers alike. Our new system for devices promises to put an end to the problem of pausing during content streaming,” said Zanger.
Video tech for streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime movies, HD digital broadcasts, and other Internet-connected content services is becoming a crucial selling point for high-end televisions. With HD sets now the standard and cheaper than ever, why should a consumer shell out $600 and upwards for a “good” TV? What makes a television set “good” anyway?
Part of the answer is a device’s feature set. For televisions, the ability to connect to the Internet and stream content is an important distinguishing feature. But you can do that on a computer or a tablet, too; what sets apart high-quality TVs is their high-quality display, allowing users to see content in crystal-clear, high resolution video.
The top level video display available commercially today is 4K, referring to the 4,000 pixels density of a display, nearly four times more dense than full HD’s 1080p (the more pixels, the more “intense” the image). The difference in quality is immediately noticeable to anyone – which is why 4K display TVs are the fastest-growing segment of the quality television market.
4K enables viewers to watch broadcast channels via cable or satellite in state-of-the-art quality. But as more consumers “cut the cord,” relying on streaming services for their TV fix, the issue of streaming content quality becomes much more important – and much more difficult to achieve.
Streaming video is usually compressed, meaning that it almost never shows up on displays, whether it be a phone, tablet, or TV, in full quality; and even that lower-quality video often freezes, forcing viewers to wait long seconds until the buffer frees up and the show proceeds.
That’s not going to be good enough to get consumers to part with the kind of money Samsung, LG, and other high-end TV makers want for their systems – and in order to solve the pregnant pause problem, TV and device makers, as well as content providers, have been working overtime. It’s become a sort of holy grail in the video business: How can we deliver the highest quality video, uncompressed, without streaming interruptions?
A plethora of solutions have been suggested, developed, and tried – all to no avail, viewers of online content can attest, as streaming content pauses as often as ever. But for owners of Samsung and LG smart TVs with Giraffic’s AVA built in, it’s a problem that’s been solved, said Zanger.
“We don’t use compression/decompression, network regulation, or any of the other tricks that have been tried to solve this. Instead we have an embedded software solution that sits on a chip inside a smart TV that does real-time analytics to determine the ideal way to download and display content, so there are no interruptions. And, our analytics make sure that the video is displayed at the highest resolution available – so content that is broadcast in 4K ends up being displayed in 4K on TVs capable of that.”
Giraffic’s secret: Recalibrating video content downloading to match the criteria of the HTTP protocol.
“One of the reasons content providers and deliverers get into trouble is that they end up ‘choking’ the download pipe by trying to send too much data at once,” said Zanger.
“As long as we are streaming video via HTTP, a protocol that is designed not for video but for text, that choking is always going to be an issue. Our system breaks down the content into much smaller chunks, making it easier for the video data to flow through – and then we reassemble it on the TV itself.”
While others have tried this model before, said Zanger, they didn’t have Giraffic’s advanced algorithms and analytics – “so if they were able to enhance throughput by 20% or 30%, independent tests show that we enhance it by 200%.”
What works for TVs will work for devices as well, and at CES, Giraffic plans to peddle its no-interruption streaming solution to companies in the device business.
“We have already been speaking to some giants in the industry, and they have expressed strong interest in this technology,” said Zanger – who would not confirm that one of those giants was Samsung, which, after all, makes not only TVs, but phones and tablets as well.
“It certainly sounds logical, but you have to remember that Samsung is a huge conglomerate, and the TV and phone divisions really act as separate companies, so the fact that the TV people are enthusiastic about what we are doing does not automatically mean that the phone people will be.”
But given the issues plaguing streaming on devices, chances are that some – if not many – device makers will be interested in what Giraffic is offering.
Based in the Tel Aviv Port area, Giraffic is privately held (obviously at revenue stage; the company gets a cut of every smart TV sold that uses its tech), and has grown by hundreds of percent over the last two years, when it pivoted from a networking technology firm to the streaming video business.
A technology like this sounds like just the thing for a big tech firm like Samsung or others to acquire outright, and while Zanger won’t rule out the possibility – “if someone offers us a billion dollars I’m not sure I won’t say yes,” he said – the plan is to continue on its current path, bringing the message of AVA to more manufacturers. In 2015, about 120 million 4K-capable smart TVs were sold worldwide, with Giraffic’s solution on about 30 million of them. But sales for these TVs are expected to rise dramatically in the coming few years – and within less than a decade, 4k will be the standard, much as 1080p is now, with the high-end TVs displaying 8K and beyond.
“We’re ready for that market too,” said Zanger.
“It’s pretty clear that client-side tech like this is not only the best solution to high-quality streaming content, but the only practical solution,” added Zanger. I can tell you that there is not a major device maker that is not trying to nail this down, and we’ve seen some imitators trying to duplicate what we are doing. But I think it’s like that old saying – tell me who your friends are, and I’ll tell you about who you are. The fact that the likes of Samsung and LG are working with us tells you about who we are, as well.”