For a decade, streaming live video to a mobile device was hard to do. Bandwidth issues, firewalls and network infrastructure support all created problems. Streaming protocols weren’t firewall friendly. HTTP progressive download was invented partially to get past firewalls but didn’t offer true streaming capabilities. Now, the advent of adaptive streaming over HTTP has changed everything and is reshaping video delivery to mobile devices as well as devices such as IP set-top boxes (STBs).
There is a battle taking place over the adaptive streaming technology to reach those mobile devices. The three main adaptive streaming contenders are all industry heavyweights: Apple, Microsoft and Adobe. Last year Microsoft released its version of adaptive streaming called Smooth Streaming, part of its Silverlight web application framework. Shortly thereafter Apple introduced HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) as a proposed IETF standard and the draft is now on its fourth iteration. Not to be outdone, in late 2009 Adobe announced it too would play in the adaptive HTTP streaming space, with project Zeri. Aside from these three main contenders, 3GPP is standardizing its own version of HTTP streaming, and MPEG is also entering the fray.
What is the big deal with adaptive streaming?
Adaptive streaming does two main things for video that make it such a good choice for mobile delivery.
- Adaptive streaming segments video into small chunks. For example HLS usually uses 10 second chunks.
- The video is encoded at multiple bitrates and resolutions creating chunks of different sizes. This is the ‘adaptive’ part of adaptive streaming, as the mobile client can choose between different bitrates/resolutions and adapt to larger or smaller chunks automatically as network conditions change.
These two key features of adaptive streaming provide several benefits:
- Video chunks can be cached by proxies and easily distributed to CDNs or HTTP servers, which are simpler and cheaper than the special streaming servers required for ‘older’ video streaming technologies.
- Bitrate switching allows clients to dynamically adapt to network conditions.
- Eliminates the guesswork for content providers on what bitrates to encode for end devices.
- Works great with firewalls since the stream is sent over HTTP.
- Live and VoD workflows are almost identical. When a provider creates a live stream, the chunks can be kept for later VoD delivery.
Who will win the adaptive streaming battle? I’m looking for the person that can answer that for me. Leave a comment on this post with a compelling argument of who you think that will be and I’ll send you a free RGB Networks shirt.
I’ll be covering each specific adaptive streaming protocol in more detail in a later post. Stay tuned.
Tags: Adaptive Streaming
Today we announced that Simone Sassoli has joined RGB Networks as our new Vice President of International. We put him right to work on his first day to share his thoughts on the global video market, as well as his reasons for making the leap to RGB after 11 successful years at SeaChange International.
Why did you join RGB Networks?
Quality is a key ingredient for success and during my many interactions over time with RGB I found quality in the management, the products and the customers. This is a very good base from which to extend the success that the company has had in the Americas to the rest of the world. I enjoy the challenge of building winning teams and have the past experience to build a bridge into international markets. I have this opportunity again at RGB with a very strong product offering that is at the heart of the value chain for the delivery of video content to multiple screens.
What are the trends that you see driving growth in the video delivery business?
I have been in the video business for over 15 years and although the Internet seems to have simplified the approach to video delivery, the reality is that video remains the domain of very few companies with specific competencies, especially when video needs to scale with quality of services to millions of paying customers. This is the difference between a video platform for publishing a video blog as compared to delivering broadcast quality HD programming to a TV, PC and mobile using Internet Protocols (IP).
RGB is one of those companies where video is at its core. Our growth is going to be fueled by the continuing adoption of IP networks and devices in the home to complement and replace the more traditional video delivery systems. The adoption of adaptive HTTP streaming (being Apple HLS, Microsoft Silverlight, Adobe Zeri) not only for mobile and PC, but also for the next generation of set-top boxes and home gateways, will change the landscape in our market. Also the move to have an all-IP network, being DOCSIS 3.0, FTTH or xDSL, is making our target customers look very similar—one will soon struggle to tell the difference between a cable, telco, satellite or over-the-top service provider when it comes to video distribution. The evolution of codecs and resolutions will also be a trend to watch—the adaptation of new formats for multiple screens and networks will continue to fuel our industry—it is a constant change that we can count on!
Are requirements different in different areas of the world?
“Il mondo e’ bello perche’ e’ vario – the world is beautiful because it is different.” This is an Italian saying from my dad that stuck with me. I have a lot of those Italian sayings, some which I’ll need to share with you offline. Video standards and delivery protocols are getting closer and closer around the world—we certainly are far away from the issues of SECAM versus PAL versus NTSC, but we still have differences in DVB-C and ATSC, DOCSIS and EuroDOCSIS. It is true that H.264 and the various variants of HTTP streaming are allowing for a more global view of the video market, but I will believe in a single solution when I can travel without a multi-pronged power adaptor for my phone.
Where do you see the biggest potential right now?
Multi-screen delivery of broadcast channels. It seems that everyone can do on-demand because content delivery networks (CDNs) are built basically for playing HTTP from storage or cache upon a request. When I refer to a CDN I do not distinguish between Akamai, Level3, Comcast or Verizon, Virgin Media or Starhub. After all, a traditional VOD network for cable or IPTV is a CDN. What operators will need is, for example, to distribute the same broadcast channel line-up over cable and also over an un-managed Internet connection to an iPad—that is where RGB plays well with a highly scalable and reliable solution. Remember that broadcasters cannot go to “black”—it does not matter if it is free over the Internet—do you expect your off-air free channels to go to black?
Scalability and reliability will be the difference between those companies that have experience in providing a solution that is Super Bowl- or World Cup-ready and those that do not—RGB is a leader in this space. The step to ad insertion is very logical now that we are discussing the broadcast space, but the issues are not completely addressed. How does ad insertion into the same multi-screen broadcast work across a MPEG-2 DVB-C, H.264 over HLS and Silverlight and FLV? We at RGB have a very good idea—call me.
What has been the reaction when you tell people that you are joining RGB?
“You gonna work with Lou again!!??” Aside from that, compliments for joining a respected leader in the video space.
Would you share one thing about yourself that people might not know?
If they do not know, there is most likely a reason—that is why I avoid social sites like the plague. Just pick up the phone or shoot me an e-mail if you want to connect.
RGB has talked a lot over the last few years about the use of digital overlays in targeted advertising applications, including interactive ads enabled through the EBIF standard. However we’re finding that our customers are equally interested in some of the other uses for these versatile digital opportunities.
Video service providers worldwide often require a simple method for sending service messages to alert subscribers to a range of information pertaining to channel programming and emergency situations. Information could be related to upcoming channel line-up changes, migration of channels to digital, pending service outages, blackout periods for local sporting events, operator promotions, as well as more serious emergency alert notifications.
Text crawl messages similar to those generated for U.S. cable customers through the SCTE 18 Emergency Alert System (EAS) standard can readily be generated directly from a simple, password-protected graphical user interface (GUI). Special zoning capabilities allow operators to define ‘messaging zones’ and send targeted messages only to specific areas or over specific channels. In addition to text messages, today’s service messaging systems can support the insertion of graphics, as well as international language characters using either graphic files or Unicode text file conversion to digital overlay formats. Systems of this type bring value to operators, helping them to keep their subscribers up-to-date on all relevant local activities.
Come visit us at Cable-Tec Expo, booth #2025, to learn how you can easily implement digital overlays in your network to keep subscribers in the know and drive demand for new services. Click here
for more information now and to download a free exhibit pass (a $150 savings).
You can also read more in this article from CSI magazine.
We’re happy to report that our flagship three screens solution – the Video Multiprocessing Gateway (VMG) – received a stellar 4 Diamond Ranking in Broadband Gear Report’s annual Diamond Technology Reviews. We certainly weren’t surprised by the high score. The VMG has been getting rave reviews from operators around the world – big and small – who are taking advantage of the VMG’s outstanding transcoding performance and industry-leading stream processing capacity for trials of multi-screen services and deployments of other transcoding applications, such as MPEG-2 to H.264 for bandwidth savings and HD to SD downconverion, eliminating the need for costly SD simulcasting and duplicated ad insertion costs.
Tags: Online video
One recent video-to-the-PC trial in particular highlights the unique capabilities of the VMG. Since cable operators are the leading providers of broadband service here in the US, it’s natural for them to want to deliver service to the PC rather than surrender this potentially lucrative market to the over-the-top (OTT) players. While many OTT players claim that delivering TV to a PC is simple, it’s actually quite a challenge if the goal is to offer a service that’s “as good as TV” and free from choppy video, tinny audio, poor picture quality and annoying “waiting for download” messages.
The key to a quality viewing experience is being able to accommodate a wide array of connection speeds, screen resolutions, etc. The ideal approach is to create multiple different “profiles” of each video stream to meet a variety of user requirements. In this major trial the VMG created 14 separate streams for each incoming stream – in other words, it output 14 different versions of HBO, Showtime, ESPN and dozens of other channels. Multiply a 100+ channel line-up by 14 and you get a sense of the stream processing and transcoding horsepower required to deliver a complete channel line-up.
This is where the VMG really shines. Its ability to repurpose up to 144 HD input streams into over 400 output streams, all within a single chassis under a single management system, drives down the cost and complexity for operators to expand small scale trials with a handful of channels to a commercially available service that delivers a full line-up of hundreds of channels.
What’s more, this combination of unprecedented stream processing capacity and advanced transcoding abilities can make delivering live TV to mobile devices as equally widespread.
Come visit us at Cable-Tec Expo, booth #2025, to learn more about the full capabilities of the VMG. Click here for more information now and to download a free exhibit pass.