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Google Speeds Up YouTube With Powerful New Chip

To keep viewers hitting the play button, YouTube has been given a hefty boost by Google, who has developed a new custom processing chip called Argos, designed to deliver optimum video quality. Perhaps more notably, its efficiency avoids chewing through broadband or mobile data allowances.

Thousands of Argos chips are already running in Google data centres. If you upload a video today, it’s almost certain that an Argos chip will process it so it can be streamed all over the world. One specific benefit for users is that when it processes high-resolution 4K video, that content can be ready to watch within hours instead of the days it previously took.

Google shared information about its Argos chips for the first time at the ASPLOS Conference on Wednesday. As told by Scott Silver, the Google vice president of engineering who oversees YouTube’s massive infrastructure, a team of about 100 Google engineers designed the first-generation chips in 2015. In recent months, Google began phasing in its second-generation Argos chips that push video compression another step forward.

“Customers have to pay for bandwidth one way or another,” Silver said. “Our goal is to make sure people can get the highest quality video on whatever device they have.”

To give you an idea of what a mammoth task YouTube has in handling content, we upload 500 hours of video to YouTube every minute. That means Google – more specifically, the Argos chip – must do lots of transcoding, which means converting original uploaded videos into different compression formats and adapting them for different screen sizes.

Argos is a type of chip that Google calls a video coding unit (VCU), and it’s the hero that gave YouTube a boost during our pandemic induced video binge. (We’ve been watching 25 per cent more video during the pandemic, so that’s quite the help.) This chip handles video 20–33 times more efficiently than conventional servers.

For every video that’s uploaded, YouTube creates new versions based on the original. For example, from a 1080p video, it creates lower resolution 720p and 360p versions to cater for people watching on phones, who might not have the screen resolution or network capacity for full-res versions.

All of this is done by the Argos chips, hence the term video coding unit. Argos chips also create versions encoded with different compression formats. Each original becomes 10–15 variations, Silver said.

Now if only YouTube would spare its non-subscribing users the enforced doubling-down on ads before and during its videos and it would really see a boost in popularity.

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