Delivering high scale in streaming really exposes the weaknesses of every point of your workflow, so even those of us who are not streaming at maximum scale, there are many lessons to be learnt. CBS Sports Digital delivered the Super Bowl using the principles of ‘practice, practice, practice’, keeping the solution as simple as possible and making mitigation of problems primary to solving them.
Taylor Busch tells walks us through their solution explaining how it supported their key principles and highlighting the technology used. Starting with Acquisition, he covers the SDI fibre delivery to a backup facility as well as the AWS Direct Connect links for their Elemental Live encoders. The origin servers were in two different regions and both received data from both sets of encoders.
CBS used ‘Output locking’ which ensures that the TS segments are all aligned even across different encoders which is done by respecting the timecode in the SDI and helps in encoder failover situations. QVBR encoding is a method of encoding up to a quality level rather than simply saying ‘7000 kbps’. QVBR provides a more efficient use a bandwidth since in the situations where a scene doesn’t require a lot of bandwidth, it won’t be sent. This variability, even if you run in capped mode to limit the bandwidth of particularly complex scenes, can look like a failing encoder to some systems, so the fact this is now in ‘VBR’ mode, needs to be understood by all the departments and companies who monitor your feed.
Advertising is famously important for the Super Bowl, so Taylor gives an overview of how they used the CableLabs ESAM protocol and SCTE to receive information about and trigger the adverts. This combined SCTE-104, ESAM and SCTE-35 as we’ll as allowing clients to use VAST for tracking. Extra caching was provided by Fastly’s Media Shield which tests for problems with manifests, origin servers and encoders. This fed a Multi-CDN setup using 4 CDNs which could be switched between. There is a decision point for requests to determine which CDN should answer.
Taylor then looks at the tools, such as Mux’s dashboard, which they used to spot problems in the system; both NOC-style tools and multiviewers. They set up three war rooms which looked at different aspects of the system, connectivity, APIs etc. This allowed them to focus on what should be communicated keeping ‘noise’ down to give people the space they needed to do their work at the same time as providing the information required. Taylor then opens up to questions from the floor.
A bumper video here with 7 short talks from VideoLAN, Will Law and Hulu among others, all exploring the state of MPEG DASH today, the latest developments and the hot topics such as low latency, ad insertion, bandwidth prediction and one red letter feature of DASH – multi-DRM.
The first 10 minutes sets the scene introducing the DASH Industry Forum (DASH IF) and explaining who takes part and what it does. Thomas Stockhammer, who is chair of the Interoperability Working Group explains that DASH IF is made of companies, headline members including Google, Ericsson, Comcast and Thomas’ employer Qualcomm who are working to promote the adoption MPEG-DASH by working to imrove the specification, advise on how to put it into practice in real life, promote interoperability, and being a liaison point for other standards bodies. The remaining talks in this video exemplify the work which is being done by the group to push the technology forward.
Meeting Live Broadcast Requirements – the latest on DASH low latency!
Akamai’s Will Law takes to the mic next to look at the continuing push to make low-latency streaming available as a mainstream option for services to use. Will Law has spoken about about low latency at Demuxed 2019 when he discussed the three main file-based to deliver low latency DASH, LHLS and LL-HLS as well as his famous ‘Chunky Monkey’ talk where he explains how CMAF, an implementation of MPEG-DASH, works in light-hearted detail.
In today’s talk, Will sets out what ‘low latency’ is and revises how CMAF allows latencies of below 10 seconds to be achieved. A lot of people focus on the duration of the chunks in reducing latency and while it’s true that it’s hard to get low latency with 10 second chunk sizes, Will puts much more emphasis on the player buffer rather than the chunk size themselves in producing a low-latency stream. This is because even when you have very small chunk sizes, choosing when to start playing (immediately or waiting for the next chunk) can be an important part of keeping the latency down between live and your playback position. A common technique to manage that latency is to slightly increase and decrease playback speed in order to manage the gap without, hopefully, without the viewer noticing.
Chunk-based streaming protocols like HLS make Adaptive Bitrate (ABR) relatively easy whereby the player monitors the download of each chunk. If the, say, 5 second chunk arrives within 0.25 seconds, it knows it could safely choose a higher-bitrate chunk next time. If, however the chunk arrives in 4.8 seconds, it can choose to the next chunk to be lower-bitrate so as to receive the chunk with more headroom. With CMAF this is not easy to do since the segments all arrive in near real-time since the transferred files represent very small sections and are sent as soon as they are created. This problem is addressed in a later talk in this talk.
To finish off, Will talks about ‘Resync Elements’ which are a way of signalling mid-chunk IDRs. These help players find all the points which they can join a stream or switch bitrate which is important when some are not at the start of chunks. For live streams these are noted in the manifest file which Will walks through on screen.
Ad Insertion in Live Content:Pre-, Mid- and Post-rolling
Whilst not always a hit with viewers, ads are important to many services in terms of generating the revenue needed to continue delivering content to viewers. In order to provide targeted ads, to ensure they are available and to ensure that there is a record of which ads were played when, the ad-serving infrastructure is complex. Hulu’s Zachary Cava walks us through the parts of the infrastructure that are defined within DASH such as exchanging information on ‘Ad Decision Parameters’ and ad metadata.
In chunked streams, ads are inserted at chunk boundaries. This presents challenges in terms of making sure that certain parameters are maintained during this swap which is given the general name of ‘Content Splice Conditioning.’ This conditioning can align the first segment aligned with the period start time, for example. Zachary lays out the three options provided for this splice conditioning before finishing his talk covering prepared content recommendations, ad metadata and tracking.
Bandwidth Prediction for Multi-bitrate Streaming at Low Latency
Next up is Comcast’s Ali C. Begen who follows on from Will Law’s talk to cover bandwidth prediction when operating at low-latency. As an example of the problem, let’s look at HTTP/1.1 which allows us to download a file before it’s finished being written. This allows us to receive a 10-second chunk as it’s being written which means we’ll receive it at the same rate the live video is being encoded. As a consequence the time each chunk takes to arrive will be the same as the real-time chunk duration (in this example, 10 seconds.) When you are dealing with already-written chunks, your download time will be dependent on your bandwidth and therefore the time can be an indicator of whether your player should increase or decrease the bitrate of the stream it’s pulling. Getting back this indicator for low-latency streams is what Ali presents in this talk.
Based on this paper Ali co-authored with Christian Timmerer, he explains a way of looking at the idle time between consecutive chunks and using a sliding window to generate a bandwidth prediction.
Implementing DASH low latency in FFmpeg
Open-source developer Jean-Baptiste Kempf who is well known for his work on VLC discusses his work writing an MPEG-DASH implementation for FFmpeg called the DASH-LL. He explains how it works and who to use it with examples. You can copy and paste the examples from the pdf of his talk.
Managing multi-DRM with DASH
The final talk, ahead of Q&A is from NAGRA discussing the use of DRM within MPEG-DASH. MPEG-DASH uses Common Encryption (CENC) which allows the DASH protocol to use more than one DRM scheme and is typically seen to allow the use of ‘FairPlay’, ‘Widevine’ and ‘PlayReady’ encryption schemes on a single stream dependent on the OS of the receiver. There is complexity in having a single server which can talk to and negotiate signing licences with multiple DRM services which is the difficulty that Lauren Piron discusses in this final talk before the Q&A led by Ericsson’s VP of international standards, Per Fröjdh.
MPEG DASH is a standardised method for encapsulating media for streaming similar to Apple’s HLS. Based on TCP, MPEG DASH is a widely compatible way of streaming video and other media over the internet.
MPEG DASH is now on its 3rd edition, its first standard being in 2011. So this talk starts by explaining what’s new as of July 2019 in this edition. Furthermore, there are amendments already worked on which are soon to add more features.
Iraj Sodagar explains Service Descriptors which will be coming that allow the server to encapsulate metadata for the player which describes how the publisher intended to show the media. Maximum and minimum latency and quality is specified. for instance. The talk explains how these are used and why they are useful.
Another powerful metadata feature is the Initialization Set, Group and Presentation which gives the decoder a ‘heads up’ on what the next media will need in terms of playback. This allows the player to politely decline to play the media if it can’t display it. For instance, if a decoder doesn’t supply AV1, this can be identified before needing to attempt a decode or download a chunk.
Iraj then explains what will be in the 4th edition including the above, signalling leap seconds and much more. This should be published over the next few months.
Amendement 1 is working towards a more accurate timing model of events and defining a specific DASH profile for CMAF (the low-latency streaming technology based on DASH) which Iraj explains in detail.
Finishing off with session based DASH operations, a look over the DASH workplan/roadmap, ad insertion, event and timed metadata processing, this is a great, detailed look at the DASH of today and of 2020.
Life used to be simple; you’d fire up your camera, point it at a presenter and it would be fed to the transmitter network. When on-going funding came into play, we wanted each transmitter to be able to show local ads and so, after many years, SCTE-35 was born to do exactly that. In today’s world, however, simply telling a transmitter when to switch doesn’t cut it. To deliver the complex workflows that both linear and OTT delivery demand, SCTE 224 has arrived on the scene which provides very comprehensive scheduling and switching.
Jean Macher, from Harmonic explains this need for SCTE 224 and what it delivers. For instance, a lot of SCTE 224 is devoted to controlling the US-style blackouts where viewers close to a sports game can’t watch the game live. Whilst this is relatively easy to deal within the US for local terrestrial transmitters, in OTT, this is a new ability. Traditionally, geo-location of IP addresses is needed for this to work where each IP address is registered against a provider. If this provider is Chinese, then at the very least, you should be able to say that this IP address is in China. However, for ISPs who have an interest in the programming, they can bring in to effect their own data in order to have very accurate geolocation data.
SCTE 224, however, isn’t just able blackouts. It also transmits accurate, multi-level, schedule information which helps to schedule complex ad breaks providing detailed, frame-accurate, local ad insertion.
It shouldn’t be thought that SCTE 35 and SCTE 224 are mutually exclusive. SCTE 35 can provide very accurate updates to unscheduled programmes and delays, where the 224 information still carries the rich metadata.
To finish up the talk, Jean looks at a specific example of the implementation and how SCTE 224 has been updated in recent years.
Director, Market Development – Broadcast
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