Adaptive Streaming's Primetime Challenge
Video service providers have become enamored of adaptive bit rate streaming as a way to deliver video to tablets and smartphones, but not everyone believes the technology will become the primary way video is delivered to the home.
HTTP Adaptive Streaming (HAS) "is not ready for primetime TV," declared Pieter Liefooghe, chief solution architect and solution line manager at the video solutions and integration organization of Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), during a panel on the topic at last week's Managing & Monetizing OTT Video event in Boston. HAS is "okay for a single-stream, OTT-style of service, but as a basis of a primetime TV service, it's a challenging proposition," he added.
Adaptive streaming, which chops video files into small chunks, is used to keep a stream flowing even as bandwidth levels fluctuate. That adaptive nature, in turn, means that the requirements of the network can be relaxed (a bit) and still deliver a high-quality video, compared to more traditional IPTV systems that rely on Real-Time Transport Protocol (RTP) and require more stringent architectures that guarantee QoS all the way to the set-top box. (See Cable Adapting to Video's Streaming Future.)
Liefooghe said HAS can become unstable as multiple streams are delivered to the same customer, noting that the technology tends to be "too fair" in its use of bandwidth to the point that an iPad could end up getting a higher-quality video stream than the home's primary TV.
And HAS can suffer delay issues. While a traditional IPTV stream might see a 10-second delay, a HAS stream could experience delays of up to 50 seconds. That might be okay for some linear TV shows, but for live sports "that's a painful delay," he said.
Also, HAS isn't terribly bandwidth efficient. In tests conducted on a 6Mbit/s DSL line, for example, he said AlcaLu found that the highest-quality video that could be achieved with "default" technology was 1.6 Mbit/s to 1.8 Mbit/s.
But this doesn't mean HAS will never be suitable for primetime TV, as the shortcomings identified by Liefooghe relate to "out-of-the-box" HAS technology. He said, for example, that AlcaLu has identified some technologies and techniques that can be done on the routing platform and the content delivery network (CDN) to boost HAS performance enough to address some of its technical shortcomings. And he insisted there are ways to pare delays down to six seconds while still guaranteeing continuous playback.
"There's a future for HAS as the new RTP," Liefooghe concluded.
EchoStar Corp. LLC (Nasdaq: SATS), for one, would agree. Adaptive bit rate streaming serves as the bedrock of a bring-your-own-rights, multi-screen OTT video platform that it's pitching to ISPs. (See EchoStar Readies Over-the-Top Video Play.)
Adapting to the new streaming world
But adaptive streaming represents a sizable management exercise. For a deployment in Asia/Pacific for VoD and live, linear content, SeaChange International Inc. (Nasdaq: SEAC)'s workflow system puts those streams into 24 different formats before storing them on a CDN for delivery, said SeaChange CTO Steve Davi.
And if the video itself is being broken down to chunks of two to 10 seconds each -- depending on whether it's processed using the Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL), Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) or Adobe Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: ADBE) adaptive streaming platforms -- service providers will be confronted with "millions and millions of fragments" that must be catalogued and managed, said Robert Scheffler, distinguished member of the technical staff at Motorola Mobility LLC .
"But as bleak as the numbers might look, it is being done," Davi said.
Still, some service providers may want to hold off on HAS and simplify how they deliver video to IP-connected screens in the customer's home, at least initially.
Rather than slicing and dicing the video further up the network for all manner of devices, screen sizes and resolutions, Suddenlink Communications is considering the use of home gateways from Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS) and other suppliers to transcode the primary video feed into formats that can run on iPads and other IP-connected devices. "We don't think that you can get away without having something at the edge of [the] network," said Eric Eby, director of video engineering at Suddenlink. [Ed. note: Eby didn't say if Suddenlink had made a commitment to buy or deploy video gateways from any particular vendor.]
— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable