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IBC 2013 part 2: Brightcove & Envivio

Brightcove

I met up with Albert Lai who is CTO of Media and Broadcast Solutions. He told me that Brightcove has “traditionally been a big end-to-end black box”. But that is changing as more and more requests come in for just a part of the workflow.

Brightcove has seen the Software As a Service (SaaS) model move to a Platform As a Service PaaS (platform) one, but where modularity and Flexibility have become the key criteria.

All this modularity has come about because of the very different use cases Brightcove now caters for, ranging from the Cloud transcoding services for HEVC to the Viacom native apps including the Nikelodeon one that just recently won an Emmy.

Brightcove was founded in 2004 and IPOed in February 2012. As of December 31, 2012, Brightcove had 335 employees. It is headquartered in Boston with offices in San Francisco, Seattle, New York, London, Paris, Barcelona, Singapore, Seoul, Tokyo and Sydney.

The leitmotiv of my interviews this year was 4K and Albert told me that the Cable Show 2012 was when Brightcove first started getting requests about 4K.

Brightcove has conducted internal tests on 4K content management and has concluded that it’s a very promising approach. At present it is “less a technology issue than a general marketplace one, where availability is still an issue”.

I pointed out that Cinema content was already widely available in 4K but Albert responded, “Sure cinema content is there, but its just a small amount”.

Albert sees 4K representing a 100% to 400% increase in storage and transmission costs although he thought that HEVC will alleviate some of the pain by doubling the quality within the same bandwidth and providing for a better experience. The monetization question must however be addressed, so Brightcove is listening to the market and is ready for, but not pushing 4K right now.

The Zencoder purchase of last year is probably part of that readiness campaign. Zencoder is a pure-cloud software based encoding solution for live and on-demand content.

Envivio

This year I spoke to Jean-Pierre Henot the company’s CTO based in Rennes.

I went straight to the point in asking about HEVC so Jean-Pierre first explained the main demos at the front of the booth. Three screens were showing an HD demo of live content at 24 frames per second and all looked identical. One screen was showing MPEG2 at 8 Mbps, the centre screen displayed MPEG4 at 4 Mbps and the last one was showing HEVC decoded content, currently at 3 Mbps but expect to be reduced to 2 Mbps by EOY 2014. Note that the latter still has a CPU power requirement four times greater which really is an issue in the short term.

All the demos used software encoding.

Jean-Pierre noted that the hardware decoding part of HEVC is stable already for HD content, but that for 4K HEVC decoding is still only available in beta versions as the protocol is still a bit new. Fully compliant reference designs are expected for CES 2014.

This is inline with some minor issues still pending with the specifications for HEVC transport, which is otherwise ready for HD.

Like a decade ago with MPEG4, the situation regarding royalties is still being sorted out.

We discussed the cheaper 4K sets available today and Jean-Pierre scoffed at the 30HZ limit as Envivio sees 60fps as a requirement for sport. The hardware limitation of HDMI should be gone thanks to the new 2.0 specification. This should also be available at the beginning of 2014.

All in all, Henot confirmed the general industry view that royalties, devices, frame-rates and HDMI 2.0 have been the stumbling blocks so far for 4K.

As these are gradually removed, HEVC will take off but start initially below 4K.

HEVC has no noticeable impact on ABR, which is the key enabler for many OTT services.

There seems no doubt that HEVC will be next “best solution” available for video compression and with the shorter lifecycles all round, it will take less time than MPEG4 did to penetrate market.

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IBC 2013, impressions of a 4K OTT show

Although OTT has been an IBC topic for a few years, we actually saw a plethora of end-to-end platforms that actually worked, often purely in the cloud. The range of supplier was impressive from Israeli start-ups like Vidmind to multinationals like Siemens or the pioneer Kit digital, now reprendre Piksel. There was also much more talk of real world deployments. Underlying technologies are of course needed to enable OTT and adaptive bit rate (ABR) was omnipresent with most - but not all - stakeholders betting on the convergent MPEG-DASH flavour. OTT ecosystems can still be daunting and as we predicted in last year's white paper written for VO, Broadpeak and Harmonic, multi-vendor pre-integration was a trending theme. This year's IBC was, as expected, all about the forthcoming Ultra HD/4K resolution, which will now be enabled by the new HDMI 2.0 announced at IFA and HEVC. HEVC was shown in a few real world setups as oppose to last year's lab demos, although there wasn’t yet any consumer-grade decoding solutions. Many demos painfully showed that frame-rate is an issue as Thierry Fautier pointed out to me here. The jerky 25 FPS demos clearly made the point that it's going to be at least 50 FPS or higher resolutions just won't take off.  The 8K, Super Hi-Vision demo by NHK in the IBC's future zone blew my mind. With such an immersive experience, I doubt we’ll be wasting any more time with 3D in the living room. Although less prominent, but nevertheless significant, like the tip of an iceberg, the Smart Home continued its slow forward march with for example a demo of Cisco's Snowflake that dimmed the lights during a movie's night scenes. Several vendors like ADB or Nagra were talking about media hubs in the home. Big data was in a lot of discussions and I was pretty amazed by the power of solutions like Genius Digital's analysis of viewing statistics and how they can being immediate gain. Of course I too loved Wyplay's huge blue frog in hall 5, representing their new open source initiative, which needs to be analysed in the light of the US centric RDK project pushed by Comcast. As every year, I spent some time with a company slightly out of my usual focus, this year Livewire Digital showed me how professional newsgathering can meet BYOD. Some things I had expected (described here), but didn't see much of, included HTML5 that wasn't promoted as the mother of all UI technologies as I thought it would be. Also, despite Google’s recent successful Chromecast launch, dongles were not really visible at IBC (I’m told Qualcomm had one on their booth). Finally, it occurs to me tidying up my notes, that the true implication of the BYOD phenomenon hasn’t really been addressed head-on. Of course the show and conference were full of things to say about tablets and smartphones, but nobody seems to be looking at the deep business model transformation underway. When I learnt to do a TV launch business model, barely over a decade ago, the STB represented 70% of the project CAPEX if you hit a million subs. So in the future will a TV rollout cost 30% of what it used to, with the subscriber subsidising the operator for the other 70%? This is about my tenth IBC. In the jury for best booth, to which I was invited again this year (thanks Robin Lince), we realised that as IBC matures in the age of Internet and social media, the show is less about learning what the latest trend or product is or even what people think about them, we usually know all that before even coming. Face to face networking and building relations are the deeper motivation. In follow-up posts I’ll report on the 17 companies I spoke to this year at IBC: Brightcove, Envivio, Axinom, Visiware, Vidmind, Wyplay, Genius Digital, Astec, Axentra, Gravity, Akamai, Rovi, Cisco, Livewire Digital, Tara Systems, Verimatrix and SofAtHome.

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IP&TV World Forum 2012 preview

If last years theme was OTT (after a Multi-Screen show in 2010), how are we going to put 2012 into a nice neat box?
I'll gamble on the 2012 theme being something like "IPTV is dead long live OTT!"
I doubt the never-ending rumor mill on AppleTV will have an impact yet in 2012, so Apple Google & Microsoft will wait for 2013 to be main themes...
Back to the present: see you here in a few weeks to find out if I was right for 2012 at least.

 

2012 is set to be a very full and well attended event judging by the number of people I know that will  be there. The conference tracks have become so dense that you need a day to study the program before deciding where to go. I'll just play it by ear on the day. The number of companies to see on the exhibition floor is so big anyway, that I might not be able to attend much.

 

IPTV has grown into a big show so there are getting to be more parties and extra add-on events.

I’ll be going to the 
Verimatrix "English Breakfast" on the first day which has a mini-conference on advanced video deployment (but at least I admit it it’s the English sausages that attract me).

Mariner Partner are a Canadian IPTV quality-monitoring specialist. They have a drinks party just after the first day, this year I won’t need to gate-crash as I was actually invited.

The Red Bull event later in the evening will probably be packed as usual and I’ve only got one of the tickets that are valid “until capacity is reached”, so maybe not…

On day two Irdeto is hosting a morning OTT strategy event. But I probably won’t make that one, not least because they didn’t invite me )-:

Of course day two wraps up with the glitzy prizes, this year at the London Film Museum. I went to the first 3 events as a judge, but there’s no way I will fork out £300 needed when you don’t have an invite.

I’m sure there are many more events but that’s what I’ve spotted so far.

 

From the list of speakers and potential prize-winners, it is clear that there will be plenty of Operators in London.

I’ll be looking to catch up with some news from Malaysia Telecom that are one of the first Huawei IPTV customers outside of China.

There’s a wrath of interesting people from Orange so I’ll be looking to get the latest form some ex-colleagues there. Also from France, I’ll try to catch up with Bouygues Telecom, which has had an amazing success story as a mobile challenger getting towards a million subs in three years. 
Swisscom is one of the European Telcos that is still happy with the Microsoft’s IPTV solution
 so I’ll tray and get some of the story there.

Paul Berriman, the veteran CTO of PCCW who launched one of the worlds first IPTV deployments in Hong Kong

 will be there too and it's a while since I've caught up with him.

From the trade floor my selection of vendors whose product demos I want to see include:

  • Whoever has cool Android boxes to show (Echostar who impressed in last year don't seem to be present).
  • Then Harmonic & Envivio to try and really understand how they differ.
  • Rovi, to actually see the demos of what I’ve been talking about for a while.
  • Then there is
 Siemens, where I want to see how their video flicking solution has fared in the market.
  • Zappware is a middleware alternative to NDS & Nagra. As I missed the later two at IBC I’ll try to see those demos that everyone was raving about in 2011.
  • Red Bee have acquired TV Genius since last year so I’ll try and find out how that’s going. There is also a new kid on the block from what I gather with Shazam moving into TV recommendation also.
  • I haven’t been to see Cisco in a while and they seem to have their house in order with Videoscape now so I’ll try and get an update on that too.
  • Ineoquest were talking a lot about ABR for OTT last year, before any of the other monitoring companies and I’d like to learn if they’ve had any success with that (as usual I, then you, will have to read between the lines because they won’t actually say directly).
  • I need an update on the chip maker's roadmap and ambitions in the STB space so I’ll be visiting one or more of Intel, Sigma Designs & / or STM.
  • I suppose you can’t blog on an event like this without talking to some of the connected TV app developers like WizzTivi.
  • The OTT market is already showing some results in the diaspora market so I’ll also catch up with Live Asia TV if possible.
  • Finally I’m due for an update on what SoftAtHome are doing.

I have some catching up, discovering to do with people that will be there without a booth. I hope to meet MediaMelon a US based CDN supplier specialized in OTT and my friends from 3 Vision, thebrainbehind, MediaTVCom, OnCubed, AppMarket.tv, etc.

Now I need to go to sleep for a couple of days, to charge up the batteries so I will actually be able to get through at least some of that  ... report coming soon.

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Hype-ometer: Comparing lack of rate adaptive buzz with 3D buzz

The more hype the less genuine importance?

Rate-adaptive technologies occupy very little media space but will radically transform the Internet and broadcasting industries.

3D on the other hand is yet again making all the headlines (yes is has done several times over the decades), but I’m convinced this new surge of interest will barely be remembered as just another blip on the radar, a few years from now.

Counting Google hits is by no means science, and you write ‘3D’ in most languages as oppose to “rate adaptive” which is English only, but getting 170 million hits for the search “3D cinema OR TV” (limited to English language) while the search ”rate adaptive cinema OR TV” gets 240 thousand must portray a bit of the hype imbalance between the two topics.

Walking through the booths at IBC for example, you’ll see 3D used on booths whichever way you look, to entice wanderers-bye to stop. Counting the number occurrences of “rate adaptive” on booth walls will be easier!

First let’s look at one reason why 3D is generating such a fuss at places like IBC.

The global economy is apparently picking up after a recession and cyclic industries like the electronics industry need to have something new to push. 3D serves that purpose well. For set makers, there is now a wider and wider array of new high tech parameters to get people to think they need a new TV. On top of the traditional TV specs like screen resolution, size, contrast, colour management etc., there’s also now Internet connectivity, widgets, OTT services and home networking.

This list of features is also used to differentiate from competition. In the end, even if 3D never really takes off in the living room, the likes of Sony, Philips, LG, Sharp or Samsung will have benefited from the hype. 3D is just one of many many features and can only help sales.

Device makers make cool devices but - Apple apart – they don’t deliver cool services. For the 3D revolution to happen, content needs to start flowing.

Apart from the set makers, the other group that have a vested interest in making 3D take of are service providers who feel it would give them an added value.

Now for some reasons why this might remain hype and never make it to mass-market.

Today’s side-by-side trials by satellite operators actually have to reduce resolution. They basically split the screen and send the left and right components of the 3D stream on each half of the screen. Feedback I’ve had has been disappointing as viewers notice the drop in resolution from HD, which is not compensated for by 3D.

3D will have to be broadcast in full HD resolution to have an outsider’s chance of delivering its promise. To do this a bandwidth of 20% to 100% increase will be required. DSL and unmanaged Internet will drop out of the race, at least for live content. So the only stakeholders I see pushing hard to get the 3D bandwagon rolling are satellite operators – and in some cases FTTx and Cable operators – for whom bandwidth is less of a blocking point. That’s why Sky has several 3D initiatives and been showing some impressive demos for over a year, they rightly see 3D, if it takes off, as keeping them one stage ahead of the game.

But even the biggest marketing muscles are ineffective to make a person adopt something that doesn’t bring any benefit to them.

When a movie especially thought of for 3D comes along people will notice. But beyond aesthetics, this doesn’t answer a need expressed by users or yet imagined by marketers.

HD improves the experience of any content, whereas 3D is beneficial only to content specially designed and created for 3D. It’s a funny contradiction that the sex industry was one of the last to take up HD, (indeed who wanted more gynaecology?) but may take back its role as innovator for 3D (have a beautiful body passing right by your fingertips can have more effect that just seeing it in 2D). But beyond that early adoption, 3D will remain niche for most of us for a few years yet, because it doesn’t answer any of our needs. It might even remain niche forever like 3D photography has for over a hundred years.

Aesthetics alone can however make an impact if 3D becomes part of our culture. 3D will have to permeate all aspects of production, starting with design of the content; this is underway, but will take years.

***

Rate adaptive is a lot less sexy to talk about than 3D. Indeed there isn’t all that much to show, except maybe to geeks who understand what’s happening under the hood.

Rate adaptive technologies will however enable the delivery of services people have been wanting from the Internet from the outset. This month’s Wired magazine cover reads “The Web is Dead”, inside you’ll see they mean that it’s video in particular that is killing it. Delivering video over the Internet remains a challenge though. In the media space one of the rare companies out there that was saying this out loud was Verimatrix with their white paper from last year "Adaptive Rate Streaming: Pay-TV at an Inflection Point". They don't seem so focussed on the subject (at least on their Website in the sun up to IBC), I'll try and find out why and keep you posted.

An early implementation of rate adaptive technology from Move Networks led the market by several years and almost made it to the mainstream when they were rolling out web streaming services with major US studios. Somehow they failed in the last stretch. Positioning and marketing must be to blame, because the technology is beautiful. They have now moved out of the B2C space and head-ends and are concentrating on enabling TV delivery for corporate customers.

Rate Adaptive technology is picking up speed in the consumer market. It is one of the latest exciting things from all of Microsoft, Apple and even Adobe. Of course all the encoder manufacturers like Envivio support it too now.

UK’s project Canvas CTO Anthony Rose recently said it’s “essential for Quality of Experience on a range of Internet bandwidth”.

He’s right and there should be more fuss about it in the media it’s really much more significant than 3D.

Bad quality and unreliability have been real killers to both user aspirations and business models for all Web streaming efforts from even before the Internet bubble days.

The traditional pay-TV model may survive in a renewed shape, but even the most conservative execs in the industry agree there is a major shake-up underway and OTT is one of its names. Content owners frown upon many OTT ventures, but to reassert control, content owner are investing themselves heavily in TV-Everywhere initiatives so that consumers have access to premium content from anywhere. That means pushing content across unmanaged networks.

Google’s entry into the market reinforces the feeling of unstoppable change.

As the MP3 and music industries debacle showed, people want more freedom in consuming content. Companies, TV content creators included, need to make money. Rate adaptive technology is the key enabler for both to be satisfied.

User surveys invariable show that consumers are happy to pay for content; as long as technology is seamless and doesn’t get in the way. Price points will find their natural equilibrium on their own.

Finally a little technical perspective [geeks only from this point]: what do you actually need to deliver rate adaptive say in a STB? A recent LinkedIn post by Amino’s CTO Dominique Le Foll puts it nicely in a nutshell.

The most high-level requirement is to adapt quickly and automatically to a change in available bandwidth. All components of the stream must of course remain synchronised (video, audio, teletext / closed caption). All features requiring significant processing must be supported by hardware (demux, decode, etc.). Trick modes must be supported for Fast Forward, Rewind, Pause, etc. Of course the technology license must be affordable and content protection must be possible. I also agree with Dominique that streaming should be based on http. This is the best solution via the NAT in end-user’s home, but it also means that in some implementations of the technology (e.g. Move Networks), streams can make use of cheap HTTP caches throughout the Internet (this is akin to free multicast feature in the network). Adjusting the initial buffering level will be tricky to achieve good TV user experience, but who said it would be easy?