Jiangtao Wen… engine room of StarTimes’ innovative delivery

Prof. Wen

Prof. Wen

PROFESSOR Jiangtao (Gene) Wen received the BS, MS and Ph.D. degrees with Honors from Tsinghua University, Beijing, China, in 1992, 1994 and 1996 respectively, all in Electrical Engineering.

While working at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) from 1996 to 1998, he conducted research on multimedia coding and communications. Many of his inventions were later adopted by international standards such as H.263, MPEG and H.264.

After UCLA, he served as the Principal Scientist of PacketVideo Corp. (NASDAQ: WAVE/DCM), the CTO of Morphbius Technology Inc., the
Director of Video Codec Technologies of Mobilygen Corp (NASDAQ: MXIM), the Senior Director of Technology of Ortiva Wireless (NASDAQ: ALLT) and consulted for Stretch Inc., Ocarina Networks (NASDAQ: DELL) and QuickFire Networks (NASDAQ: FB).

Since 2009, the technology specialist has held a Professorship at the Department of Computer Science and Technology of Tsinghua University. He was a Visiting Professor at Princeton University in 2010 and 2011.

Prof. Wen’s research focuses on multimedia communication over challenging networks and computational photography. He has authored many widely referenced papers in related fields. Products deploying technologies that Prof. Wen developed are currently widely used worldwide.

An Associate Editor for IEEE Transactions Circuits and Systems for Video Technologies (CSVT), Prof. Wen is a recipient of the 2010 IEEE Trans. CSVT Best Paper Award and elected a Fellow of the IEEE in 2011. He is the Director of the Research Institute of the Internet of Things of Tsinghua University, and a Co-Director of the Ministry of Education Tsinghua-Microsoft Joint Lab of Multimedia and Networking.

He holds over 50 patents world wide, including 27 granted US patents, with many others pending. Some of his patents were licensed to Samsung Electronics by UCLA in the largest patent licensing agreement in the history of the highly ranked UCLA School of Engineering.

Since 2013, he has served as the Senior Corp. Vice President of StarTimes Group, and the President of StarTimes Research since its inception.

In two years, he recruited the StarTimes Research Team, led the complete revamp of the user interface, user interaction and industrial design of the StarTimes terminal products, the development of the StarTimes world class cloud based video processing system and content distribution system, as well as the Tenbre family of terminal products, including the Tenbre smart router, and the apps. Besides teaching and conducting research, he also invests in high
technology companies as an angel investor.

Speaking specifically on his engagement in StarTimes, he said he has been managing its R& D for two and a half years, with responsibility for the research, technology development, product development and the patent process. For him, it is a unique opportunity for StarTimes to integrate an end-to-end solution from content production to the network to the terminal to really fully optimize the user experience, and to provide to the end users the best programme over the most cost effective network presented on the most beautiful terminal product.

On what is the driving force behind StarTimes technology, he felt the company is strongly driven by the end user. “After all, we serve consumers, not enterprises. We work very hard to understand how users would like to consume the content where and when as well as the content itself. We want to make sure that we have the most cost effective way to delivery high quality content over any networks, satellite or terrestrial broadcast networks, or the Internet to present the content to the end user in a quality that is worthy of our customers’ trust in us, as well as the content providers’ trust in us.”

“As a digital TV provider, we also care a lot about video processing and video compression technologies. In both areas we have worked with our partners and are leading the cutting edge in the world. Our router products make it possible to monitor and manage your content consumption in the household, and it is simply a beautiful and great WiFi router.

“ I think you can see a trend here, for the first time in our history, and quite honestly this is true for our competitors’ products as well, for the first time, you are seeing something beautiful in this industry, not the ugly STBs and TVs you want to hide inside a cabinet! You have seen many of these products introduced in the Africa market, and I can’t help but quote a famous line, “You ain’t seen nothing yet”.

Elaborating on the company’s cutting edge technology especially compared with competitors, he said with its compression technology, “working with our partners, using our video encoder, we can encode soccer games to 200 kbps which is available almost everywhere in the world. You can watch soccer match on your phone without using a lot of data. If you look at the competitor on the other hand, even big guys like Youtube, and Facebook, still use last generation technology and requires many times the bandwidth.

“Not only was the cost higher, you don’t get that kind of sustained bandwidth in most areas! This, along with our cloud based CDN technologies allows us to off free streaming of Bundesliga to the end user! Free of charge! Our competitor can’t match that!”
On the key objective of the research development in StarTimes, he said “We want to be the best in class from a system perspective, meaning that we are not going to reinvent the wheel, we are not going to work on every module in the system. Some of them are quiet mature, differences between solutions are very small, and therefore we would not be working on those.

“On the other hand, we work very hard to identify the key modules in the system that we CAN make a key difference, and focus our resources on those areas. So video processing, content delivery, and also very key, the integration of design and technology to truly revolutionize the user experience. That is the key – we work on things to create differences that the users can see, better video, greater and more flexible ways of consuming the content, or cheaper cost. We didn’t innovate to make ourselves happy, we innovate to make our customers happy.”
On what is invested in R&D, he said it is very little for a number of reasons with regard to what it does and what it has achieved. “For two reasons, efficiency is really in the bone of our culture here at StarTimes research. We want our technology to be efficient, we want our design to be streamlined and therefore efficient, and we want our business to be run with great efficiency too. The second reason is our focus, we are very mindful when choosing what we work on.”

Most of the customers are African… how do you manage to reach people in the village areas?
That’s a challenge obviously. Internet is a great platform for collecting feedbacks and insights from the users and our partners. We also work very closely with our local team and we travel to Afica.

Apart from Projector TV, what else can users expect, he said, “In addition to projector TV, I want to draw your attention to our entire family of terminal products. They share many attributes, they are all very beautifully designed, as a matter of fact, they are probably the most beautiful digital TV products on the market. They user interface design is beautiful and are easy to use. We have multiple hardware products, including new decoders, PVRs, LCD and integrated TVs, our smart phones and tablets. All these were designed for the user to enjoy our content anywhere, anyway, e.g. via satellite, terrestrial broadcast, or the Internet. We are also introducing our Tenbre router product, which is again a great looking product. Not only is it a great Wifi router in terms of both performance and price. It can also be used to deliver TV signal via in-house Wifi to any phone or tablet screen in the household, so you can now watch TV anywhere in the house.

The Professor noted that the company is faced with a number of problems. “First of all the technical challenges. Everything we work on is almost by definition, cutting edge and very hard, so we have to really innovate. This is a challenge I am happy to tackle, and I will have to say we have been quite successful in tackling these technical challenges. The bigger challenge, in my opinion, is engagement, in other words, how to engage our customers and partners and other departments in StarTimes and convince them to give the new technologies a try, to give StarTimes a try. This is not the StarTimes of yesteryears. You haven’t seen anything quite like these. We can only win by showing great products, by making differences that the end users care about.

This involves both solving technical problems and sales; however technology people are usually not good at explaining why what they did is great. As the leader of StarTimes R&D I will have to refocus them on working only on the key pressing technical problems, and to explain to the market that what we have is worth trying. This keeps me awake at night.”

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