Tuesday, June 18, 2013

ETIA: Smarter streaming on the Net with DASH

Streaming is great, except when things fall apart. We've all seen the various combinations of "buffering" messages, spinning balls, or frozen screens that marks a failure of the network to keep up with the source material. Streaming technology that adapts to circumstances in real time is definitely a big part of the solution, but is easier said than done. In the first panel this afternoon, Dolby's Richard Doherty lead a session focused on alternatives for making it a reality.

Will Law of Akamai provides a live demo of DASH
Photo by David Cardinal
 Richard emphasized the scope of the problem by telling us that most viewers expect a video to start within 2 seconds. With YouTube serving over 13 billion videos, that's a lot of video on demand. Historic attempts to tackle the problem were modifications to Adobe Flash, Microsoft Smooth Streaming, and more recently Apple HLS. Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP (DASH) is the ISO standard to create a standard as part of the MPEG effort.

Richard also explained that one of the big advantages of DASH is that it operates entirely over HTTP, so it doesn't require any new low-level protocols to be supported. Being an ISO standard, it is also open and can be implemented by anyone.  His introduction segued into Will Law, architect at Akamai's demo of DASH being used to adapt a video stream to real time viewing conditions. Showing the HTML behind the demo showed that it was simple Javascripts that tied into the new Media Source tag.

Mark Watson, Director of Streaming Standards at Netflix made it clear that Netflix wants to push the technology envelope to get its contents to as many people as possible, and are committed to MPEG and to moving to HTML5 and DASH. Like Netflix, tech giants Microsoft and Adobe have also agreed to move to DASH as their adaptive streaming technology. Netflix's move was made easier because they have moved all their rendering and delivery to the Amaxon EC2 cloud, so it is highly scalable. However, panelists agreed that Apple, while instrumental in helping get DASH technology off the ground, has not signed on to DASH and instead is currently still committed to its own HLS technology.

Elemental was founded to build codecs for what were then the new technology of GPUs. Jesse Rosensweig, CTO of Elemental, explained that it was hard to make money doing that, so Elemental moved into the video transcoding market, which has been a rapidly expanding market as entertainment over the Internet has taken off.

Asked about the challenge of delivering quality on the internet, Will Law pointed out that cable companies have huge bandwidth direct connections, so consumers expect a lot any time the internet competes with it. Mark explained that things were even more complicated because it is difficult to get accurate data on which aspects of video quality are really important to users.

-- David Cardinal

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