S01E04: Game of Streams (NAB report including AV1, low-latency streaming and watermarking)

Our Media Solution Consultant, Magnus Svensson, is sharing his reflections from the online streaming industry in this post. This is part of a monthly series so make sure to follow us here if you don’t want to miss an episode.

I leave Las Vegas and NAB with excitement. There is so much happening in the streaming world. VR/360 and high dynamic range (HDR) are entering the scene which in turn put an even higher demand on the compression efficiency and transportation technology. I believe we have seen the birth of AV1 last week even if it’s a way to go.

Codecs, standards, and royalties

Patent pools such as MPEG LA, HEVC Advance, and Velos Media makes HEVC expensive to use. This is the main reason why I believe that the HEVC standard never will really take off. Instead, VP9, a royalty-free format developed by Google, could step in as an alternative. VP9 is supported on most Android devices, Chrome, Microsoft Edge and a growing number of consumer devices. Netflix uses VP9 for a big part of its content, especially for mobile devices and download-to-go.

The only thing that could prevent VP9 is if Apple doesn’t change their mind. Apple has so far refused to implement VP9 format as well as the predecessor VP8.

The next codec that will take off, while the costs for HEVC continue to rise, is AV1. AV1 is driven by The Alliance for Open Media (AOM) with Google, Mozilla, Cisco, Microsoft, Intel, Amazon and Netflix as founding members. Expected bitstream freeze in the last quarter of 2017. Browser support for AV1 shouldn’t take much longer, given that Google, Microsoft, and Mozilla are founding members. Google hinted at NAB that it will have AV1 support in Chrome shortly after bitstream freeze.

At NAB Bitmovin demonstrated AV1 and at the same time announced that it joins Alliance for Open Media. Even if the Bitmovin demo required 200 CPU cores and playback in a standalone player, it proves the point. Also at NAB, Netflix told that they have support for AV1 in the lab and the results show around 20% improvements.

Low-latency streaming

Streaming video needs to match the latency for linear and live TV to successfully replace traditional broadcast. For betting, every second could mean millions in revenue as this will increase the live betting window.

Lately, one of the most discussed topics in the streaming media industry has been low-latency streaming. And NAB was not an exception. A lot of vendors demonstrated low-latency streaming, and even more, discussed the topic. We saw both proprietary solutions as well as standard solutions. Net Insight and Wowza are examples of companies that demonstrated proprietary solutions while Akamai and Bitmovin used standards.

The CMAF (Common Media Application Format) standard offers features for low latency streaming and can be supported by both HLS and DASH. CMAF chunks and HTTP/1.1 Chunked Transfer Encoding could reduce latency down to seconds. WebSockets and WebRTC are other more standardized options discussed.

Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality

At NAB a lot of traditional streaming video companies as Accedo, Wowza, Net Insight. Ericsson and many others had impressive demonstrations of VR and 360. It clearly shows that streaming VR and 360 has taken one step closer to become reality.

Usually, it takes about 5–10 years for a new type of consumer electronics device to reach substantial market penetration which means that we still have a few years before the VR devices reach more people than early adopters.

But technologies as VR/360 will require more efficient codes. Efficient VR/360 compression using HEVC tiles has been prototyped by a lot of vendors. In this way, original content resolution within the user viewport is preserved while content currently not presented to the user is delivered in lower resolution. A corresponding solution must be available in future standards.

Watermarking

Watermarking to protect premium content is becoming required by content owners, driven mainly by live sports events and early release windows for VoD. In the latest guidelines (version 1.3) from the Ultra HD Forum includes a new watermarking chapter. The guidelines have been reviewed by organizations such as MovieLabs, the Digital Watermarking Alliance, and the Streaming Video Alliance.

To watch out for the coming months…

In the middle of May, we have Streaming Media East coming up in New York. I will be part of a panel discussing Skinny Bundles. In a panel with video industry experts, we will discuss the latest on consumer channel priorities and pricing analysis and provide perspectives on what types of bundles consumers want to watch. More to come around that and the rest of Streaming Media East in my next issue of “Game of Streams”

Magnus Svensson is a Media Solution Consultant and partner at Eyevinn Technology. A Swedish consultancy company specialized in streaming, VR, and gaming.

Follow me on Twitter (@svensson00) for regular updates and news.