Video: Player Optimisations

If you’ve ever tried to implement your own player, you’ll know there’s a big gap between understanding the HLS/DASH spec and getting an all-round great player. Finding the best, most elegant, ways of dealing with problems like buffer exhaustion takes thought and experience. The same is true for low-latency playback.

Fortunately, Akamai’s Will Law is here to give us the benefit of his experience implementing his own and helping customers monitor the performance of their players. At the end of the day, the player is the ‘kingpin’ of streaming, comments Will. Without it, you have no streaming experience. All other aspects of the stream can be worked around or mitigated, but if the player’s not working, no one watches anything.

Will’s first tip is to implement ‘segment abandonment’. This is when a video player foresees that downloading the current segment is taking too long; if it continues, it will run out of video to play before the segment has arrived. A well-programmed player will sport this and try to continue the download of this segment from another server or CDN. However, Will says that many will simply continue to wait for the download and, in the meantime, the download will fail.

Tip two is about ABR switching in low-latency, chunked transfer streams. The playback buffer needs to be longer than the chunk duration. Without this precaution, there will not be enough time for the player to make the decision to switch down layers. Will shows a diagram of how a 3-second playback buffer can recover as long as it uses 2-second segments.

Will’s next two suggestions are to put your initial chunk in the manifest by base64-encoding it. This makes the manifest larger but removes the round-trip which would otherwise be used to request the chunk. This can significantly improve the startup performance as the RTT could be a quarter of a second which is a big deal for low-latency streams and anyone who wants a short time-to-play. Similarly, advises Will, make those initial requests in parallel. Don’t wait for the init file to be downloaded before requesting the media segment.

Whilst many of points in this talk focus on the player itself, Will says it’s wise for the player to provide metrics back to the CDN, hidden in the request headers or query args. This data can help the CDN serve media smarter. For instance, the player could send over the segment duration to the CDN. Knowing how long the segment is, the CDN can compare this to the download time to understand if it’s serving the data too slow. Perhaps the simplest idea is for the player to pass back a GUID which the CDN can put in the logs. This helps identify which of the millions of lines of logs are relevant to your player so you can run your own analysis on a player-by-player level.

Will’s other points include advice on how to avoid starting playing at the lowest bandwidth and working up. This doesn’t look great and is often unnecessary. The player could run its own speed test or the CDN could advise based on the initial requests. He advises never trusting the system clock; use an external clock instead.

Regarding playback latency, it pays to be wise when starting out. If you blindly start an HLS stream, then your latency will be variable within the duration of a segment. Will advocates HEAD requests to try to see when the next chunk is available and only then starting playback. Another technique is to vary your playback rate o you can ‘catch up’. The benefit of using rate adjustment is that you can ask all your players to be at a certain latency behind realtime so they can be close to synchronous.

Two great tips which are often overlooked: Request multiple GOPs at once. This helps open up the TCP windows giving you a more efficient download. For mobile, it can also help the battery allowing you to more efficiently cycle the radio on and off. Will mentions that when it comes to GOPs, for some applications its important to look at exactly how long your GOP should be. Usually aligning it with an integer number of audio frames is the way to choose your segment duration.

The talk finishes with an appeal to move to using CMAF containers for streaming ask they allow you to deliver HLS and DASH streams from the same media segments and move to a common DRM. Will says that CBCS encrypted content is now becoming nearly all-pervasive. Finally, Will gives some tips on how players are best to analyse which CDN to use in multi-CDN environments.

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Speaker

Will Law Will Law
Chief Architect,
Akamai

Video: Web Media Standards

The internet has been a continuing story of proprietary technologies being overtaken by open technologies, from the precursors to TCP/IP, to Flash/RTMP video delivery, to HLS. Understanding the history of why these technologies appear, why they are subsumed by open standards and how boost in popularity that happens at that transition is important to help us make decisions now and foresee how the technology landscape may look in five or ten years’ time.

This talk, by Jonn Simmons, is a talk of two halves. Looking first at the history of how our standards coalesced into what we have today will fill in many blanks and make the purpose of current technologies like MPEG DASH & CMAF clearer. He then looks at how we can understand what we have today in light of similar situations in the past answering the question whether we are at an inflexion point in technology.

John first looks at the importance of making DRM-protected content portable in the same way as non-protected content was easy to move between computers and systems. This was in response to a WIPO analysis which, as many would agree, concluded that this was essential to enable legal video use on the internet. In 2008, Mircosoft analysed all the elements needed, beyond the simple encryption, to allow such media to be portable. It would require HTML extensions for delivery, DRM signalling, authentication, a standard protocol for Adaptive Delivery (also known as ABR) and an adaptive container format. We then take a walk through the timeline staring in 2009 through to 2018 seeing the beginnings and published availability of such technologies Common Encryption, MPEG DASH and CMAF.

Milestones for Web Media Portability

John then walks through these key technologies starting with the importance of Common Encryption (also known as CENC). Previously all the DRM methods had their own container formats. Harmonisation of DRM is, likely, never going to happen so we’ll always have Apple’s own, Google’s own, Microsoft’s and plenty of others. For streaming providers, it’s a major problem to deliver all the different formats and makes for messy, duplicative workflows. Common Encryption allows for one container format which can contain any DRM information allowing for a single workflow with different inputs. On the player side, the player can, now, simply accept a single stream of DRM information, authenticate with the appropriate service and decode the video.

CMAF is another key technology called out by John in enabling portability of media. It was co-developed with Apple to enable a common media format for HLS and DASH. We’ve covered this before on The Broadcast Knowledge starting with the ISO BMFF format on which DASH and CMAF are based, Will Law’s famous ‘Chunky Monkey’ talk and many more. We recently covered FuboTV’s talk on how they distribute HLS & DASH multi-codec encoding and packaging.

Also highlighted by John. are the JavasScript Media Source Extensions and Encrypted Media Extensions which allow interaction from browsers/JavaScript with both ABR/Adaptive Streaming and DRM. He then talks about CTA WAVE which is a project that specifically aims to improve streamed media experiences on consumer devices, CTA being the Consumer Technology Association who are behind the annual CES exhibition in Las Vegas.

What is often less apparent is the current work happening developing new standards and specifications. John calls out a number of different projects within W3C and MPEG such as Low latency support for CMAF, MSE and codec switching in MSE. Work on ad signalling period boundaries and SCTE-35 is making its debut into JavaScript with some ongoing work to create the link between ad markers and JS applications. He also calls out VVC and AV1 mappings into CMAF.

In the second part of the presentation, John asked ‘where will we end up?’ John draws upon two examples. One is the number of TCP/IP hosts between 1980 and 1992. He shows it was clear that when TCP/IP was publicly available there was an exponential increase in adoption of TCP/IP, moving on from proprietary network interfaces available in the years before. Similarly with websites between 1990 and 1997. Exponential growth happened after 1993 when the standard was set for Web Clients. This did take a few years to have a marked effect, but the number of websites moved from a flat ‘less than 100’ number to 600, then 10,000 in 1994 increasing to a quarter of a million by 1995 and then over one million in 1996. This shows the difference between the power ‘walled garden’ environments and the open internet.

John sees media technology today as still having a number of ‘traditional’ walled gardens such as DISH and Sky TV. He sees people self-serving multiple walled gardens to create their own larger pool of media options, typically known as ‘cord cutters’. He, therefore, sees two options for the future. One is ever larger walled gardens where large companies aggregate the content of smaller content owners/providers. The other option is having cloud services that act as a one-stop-shop for your media, but dynamically authenticate against whichever service is needed. This is a much more open environment without the need to be separately subscribing to each and every outlet in the traditional sense.

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Speakers

John Simmons John Simmons
W3C Evangelist, Media & Entertainment
W3C

Video: Low Latency Live Streaming At Scale

Low latency can be a differentiator for a live streaming service, or just a way to ensure you’re not beaten to the punch by social media or broadcast TV. Either way, it’s seen as increasingly important for live streaming to be punctual breaking from the past where latencies of thirty to sixty seconds were not uncommon. As the industry has matured and connectivity has enough capacity for video, simply getting motion on the screen isn’t enough anymore.

Steve Heffernan from MUX takes us through the thinking about how we can deliver low latency video both into the cloud and out to the viewers. He starts by talking about the use cases for sub-second latency – anything with interaction/conversations – and how that’s different from low-latency streaming which is one to many, potentially very large scale distribution. If you’re on a video call with ten people, then you need sub-second latency else the conversation will suffer. But distributing to thousands or millions of people, the sacrifice in potential rebuffering of operating sub-second, isn’t worth it, and usually 3 seconds is perfectly fine.

Steve talks through the low-latency delivery chain starting with the camera and encoder then looking at the contribution protocol. RTMP is still often the only option, but increasingly it’s possible to use WebRTC or SRT, the latter usually being the best for streaming contribution. Once the video has hit the streaming infrastructure, be that in the cloud or otherwise, it’s time to look at how to build the manifest and send the video out. Steve talks us through the options of Low-Latency HLS (LHLS) CMAF DASH and Apple’s LL-HLS. Do note that since the talk, Apple removed the requirement for HTTP/2 push.

The talk finishes off with Steve looking at the players. If you don’t get the players logic right, you can start off much farther behind than necessary. This is becoming less of a problem now as players are starting to ‘bend time’ by speeding up and slowing down to bring their latency within a certain target range. But this only underlines the importance of the quality of your player implementation.

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Speaker

Steve Heffernan Steve Heffernan
Founder & Head of Product, MUX
Creator of video.js

Video: HLS and DASH Multi-Codec Encoding & Packaging

As we saw yesterday, there’s an increasingly buoyant market for video codecs and whilst this is a breath of fresh air after AVC’s multi-decade dominance, we will likely never again see a market which isn’t fragmented with several dominant players, say AV1, AVC, VVC and VP9, each sharing 85% market share relatively equally and then ‘the rest’ bringing up the rear. So multi-codec distribution to home viewers is going to have to deal with delivering different codecs to different people.

fuboTV do this today and Nick Krzemienski is here to tell us how. Starting with an overview of fuboTV primarily streams both live and on VOD. Nick shows us the workflow they use and then explains how their AVC & HEVC combined workflow is set up. Starting with the ideal case where a single fmp4 is encoded into both AVD and HEVC, he proposes you would simply package both into an HLS and DASH manifest and let players work out the rest. Depending on your players, you may have to split out your manifests into single-codec files.

DRM’s very important for a sports broadcaster so Nick looks at how this might be achieved. CMAF allows you to deliver m3u8 and mpd files using CENC (Common ENCryption). This promises a single DRM process ahead of packaging, but the reality, we hear from Nick, is that you’ll need two sets of media for HLS and DASH if you’re going to use CENC.

When you’re delivering multiple manifest and, hence, multiple sources, how do you manage this? Nick outlines, and shows the code, of how he achieves this at the edge. Using Lamda, he’s able to look at the incoming requests and existing files at the CDN to deliver the right asset with the logic done close to the viewer. Nick closes by with his thoughts on the future for streaming and answering questions from the audience.

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Download the presentation
Speakers

Nick Krzemienski Nick Krzemienski
Engineering Lead, VOD Encoding & Operations, fuboTV
Maintainer & Editor, awesome.video
Dom Robinson Host: Dom Robinson
Director and Creative Firestarter, id3as
Contributing Editor, StreamingMedia.com, UK