Tuesday, April 27th 2021

YouTube Updates Server Infrastructure With Custom ASICs for Video Transcoding

Video streaming is looking a bit like magic. The uploader sends a video to one platform in one resolution and encoding format, while the viewer requests a video in a specific resolution and encoding format used by the device the video is streamed on. YouTube knows this best, as it represents the world's largest video platform with over 2 billion users visiting the platform each month. That takes a massive load on the server infrastructure over at Google's data centers that host the service. There is about 500 hours worth of video content uploaded to the platform every minute, and regular hardware isn't being enough anymore to handle everything.

That is why YouTube has developed custom chips, ASICs, that are called VCUs or Video (trans)Coding Units. In Google data centers, there is a large problem with transcoding. Each video needs to adapt to the streaming platform and desired specifications, and doing that on regular hardware is a problem. By using ASIC devices, such as VCUs, Google can keep up with the demand and deliver the best possible quality. Codenamed Argos, the chip can deliver 20-33x improvement in efficiency compared to the regular server platform. In data centers, the VCU is implemented as a regular PCIe card, with two chips under the heatsinks.

Google has provided us with a chip diagram that shows just what the Argos chip has inside. Alongside regular IO and memory controllers, there is a CPU to control the flow of data in the chip. The main highlight of the chip is ten encoder cores, each capable of encoding 2160p resolution at 60 FPS, in real-time using three reference frames. That is all done using off-the-shelf IP, as Google notes. For more details about the chip and its applications, read the whitepaper here and read the YouTube blog post here.
Source: via Arstecnhica
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10 Comments on YouTube Updates Server Infrastructure With Custom ASICs for Video Transcoding

#2
yeeeeman
wonder why google expected so long to do this...it is an obvious choice when you have such a specialized task on such a large scale to use asics.
Posted on Reply
#3
Arcdar
TheLostSwedeThere are some very detailed pictures of that card in the forums, that were posted back in March.
www.techpowerup.com/forums/threads/is-this-a-video-card.279701/
I also just thought of the post "is this a video card" I read a few weeks ago :D ... thanks for directly linking it :)

Was funny back then reading the speculations and stuff and the explanation in general - but good to now have the official info including the whitepaper :)
Posted on Reply
#4
stimpy88
Interesting. This was launched a year ago, and only supports VP9 and H.264 encoding, up to 60Hz 2160p. So legacy video stuff really, but I guess that covers most uploads to YouTube. It was also telling that they think AMD and nVidias consumer hardware encoders offer sub-par quality, which I can certainly agree with, especially AMD's encoder!

V2.0 of this will be interesting, as HDR, AV1 & 8K support should be baked in this time round. We can all hope that this could also bring a much needed improvement in quality.
yeeeemanwonder why google expected so long to do this...it is an obvious choice when you have such a specialized task on such a large scale to use asics.
I think they were using nVidias hardware before, but don't quote me!
Posted on Reply
#5
TheLostSwede
stimpy88Interesting. This was launched a year ago, and only supports VP9 and H.264 encoding, up to 60Hz 2160p. So legacy video stuff really, but I guess that covers most uploads to YouTube. It was also telling that they think AMD and nVidias consumer hardware encoders offer sub-par quality, which I can certainly agree with, especially AMD's encoder!

V2.0 of this will be interesting, as HDR, AV1 & 8K support should be baked in this time round. We can all hope that this could also bring a much needed improvement in quality.


I think they were using nVidias hardware before, but don't quote me!
Uhm, there's AV1 support in the one that was just announced...
www.slashgear.com/youtube-custom-chip-transcodes-videos-supports-av1-codec-23670054/
Posted on Reply
#6
stimpy88
TheLostSwedeUhm, there's AV1 support in the one that was just announced...
www.slashgear.com/youtube-custom-chip-transcodes-videos-supports-av1-codec-23670054/
Strange, as it's not mentioned in the whitepaper. They also only show test results for H.264 and VP9.

"And one of the key things that we're doing in the next-generation chip is adding in AV1" - From Youtubes Blog post April 21st 2021

To me, that implies this chip does not support the AV1 codec.
Posted on Reply
#7
TheLostSwede
stimpy88Strange, as it's not mentioned in the whitepaper. They also only show test results for H.264 and VP9.

"And one of the key things that we're doing in the next-generation chip is adding in AV1" - From Youtubes Blog post April 21st 2021

To me, that implies this chip does not support the AV1 codec.
I guess they misread then. Odd, oh well.
Posted on Reply
#8
1d10t
Youtube will now spawn more ads to cover this expense.
Posted on Reply
#9
evernessince
stimpy88Interesting. This was launched a year ago, and only supports VP9 and H.264 encoding, up to 60Hz 2160p. So legacy video stuff really, but I guess that covers most uploads to YouTube. It was also telling that they think AMD and nVidias consumer hardware encoders offer sub-par quality, which I can certainly agree with, especially AMD's encoder!

V2.0 of this will be interesting, as HDR, AV1 & 8K support should be baked in this time round. We can all hope that this could also bring a much needed improvement in quality.


I think they were using nVidias hardware before, but don't quote me!
I don't think YouTube can cast stones here, their quality is pretty poor. Particularly black detail performance. It's not better than NVENC IMO.
Posted on Reply
#10
stimpy88
evernessinceI don't think YouTube can cast stones here, their quality is pretty poor. Particularly black detail performance. It's not better than NVENC IMO.
NVENC is terrible on motion detail.
Posted on Reply
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