AOMedia Member Spotlight with Cisco Principal Engineer Thomas Davies

2 minute read

Please introduce your company and yourself briefly.

I'm a Principal Engineer in the Collaboration Technology Group (CTG) in Cisco. Cisco covers a great range of internet application areas in networking, security, IT and collaboration. Within CTG, we produce integrated collaboration solutions - video conferencing, screen sharing, meetings, AI assistants - in software and hardware. Cisco Webex has hundreds of millions of active users across the globe on desktop and mobile. Our hardware encompasses a wide range of office video endpoints, telephony and immersive room systems. The technologies we work on cover both cloud-based systems and also on-premise solutions.

I've been working on video codecs and video processing for 20 years, initially in broadcasting and then in the video conference space. I've been working on standards like HEVC and AV1 but have also been deeply involved in real-time implementations and in getting these standards to work in the products.

What first brought you to AOMedia, and why did you decide to become a member?

Cisco was a member right from the start and contributed tools from our open-source Thor codec into the very first AV1 test model. We had been concerned for a long time that internet users were not benefitting from advances in video coding because of the licensing problems arising with prior codec developments, and in particular HEVC. There was a pressing need for a better approach that could drive better quality and exploit the advances in display and processor technology.

With AV1 we wanted to contribute coding tools but also make sure that what we had could be used for low-latency applications and real-time software. That meant a focus on complexity and resilience in particular.

What are you currently working on with regard to AV1? How will end-users benefit from your work? Businesses? Markets?

We've been working on our own software encoder implementation, optimized for real-time interactive video meetings, and integrating AV1 coding into Webex desktop clients. This began going live in February. Video conferencing systems are very complex and introducing a new codec affects all the elements of the system, so we are going step-by-step, and starting with screen share for high motion content. This is the most challenging content from a video coding perspective and a new codec can really help. We're planning to expand coverage to all content types as we move forward.

When you introduce a new and more powerful codec you always have the choice to reduce bandwidth or improve quality. Customers benefit from both, of course, but the impact on quality is most significant. We've seen in the recent pandemic that video conferencing is a game-changing technology that has been the means for survival for many customers. AV1 helps improve that experience.

What AOMedia efforts are you most excited about?

We're really pleased to see the level of adoption that AV1 has had, and the increasing level of support in hardware. As well as the usual streaming applications this will feed through into all the hardware conferencing solutions in time. It's also really exciting to see work on AV2 get going. It is one thing to create a new codec, but creating a pipeline of new codecs will be a fantastic new step. There are lots of applications that can still benefit from increased compression and therefore higher qualities and greater resolutions and fidelities at bitrates that we could only dream of when I started working in the field!