Video: DASH: from on-demand to large scale live for premium services

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.

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Speakers

Thomas Stockhammer Thomas Stockhammer
Director of Technical Standards,
Qualcomm
Will Law Will Law
Chief Architect,
Akamai
Zachary Cava Zachary Cava
Software Architect,
Hulu
Ali C. Begen Ali C. Begen
Technical Consultant, Video Architecture, Strategy and Technology group,
Comcast
Jean-Baptiste Kempf Jean-Baptiste Kempf
President & Lead VLC Developer
VideoLAN
Laurent Piron Laurent Piron
Principal Solution Architect
NAGRA
Per Fröjdh Moderator: Per Fröjdh
VP International Standards,
Ericsson

Video: Encoding and packaging for DVB-I services

There are many ways of achieving a hybrid of OTT-delivered and broadcast-delivered content, but they are not necessarily interoperable. DVB aims to solve the interoperability issue, along with the problem of service discovery with DVB-I. This specification was developed to bring linear TV over the internet up to the standard of traditional broadcast in terms of both video quality and user experience.

DVB-I supports any device with a suitable internet connection and media player, including TV sets, smartphones, tablets and media streaming devices. The medium itself can still be satellite, cable or DTT, but services are encapsulated in IP. Where both broadband and broadcast connections are available, devices can present an integrated list of services and content, combining both streamed and broadcast services.

DVB-I standard relies on three components developed separately within DVB: the low latency operation, multicast streaming and advanced service discovery. In this webinar, Rufael Mekuria from Unified Streaming focuses on low latency distributed workflow for encoding and packaging.

 

The process starts with an ABR (adaptive bit rate) encoder responsible for producing streams with multiple bit rates and clear segmentation – this allows clients to automatically choose the best video quality depending on available bandwidth. Next step is packaging where streaming manifests are added and content encryption is applied, then data is distributed through origin servers and CDNs.

Rufael explains that low latency mode is based on an enhancement to the DVB-DASH streaming specification known as DVB Bluebook A168. This incorporates the chunked transfer encoding of the MPEG CMAF (Common Media Application Format), developed to enable co-existence between the two principle flavors of adaptive bit rate streaming: HLS and DASH. Chunked transfer encoding is a compromise between segment size and encoding efficiency (shorter segments make it harder for encoders to work efficiently). The encoder splits the segments into groups of frames none of which requires a frame from a later group to enable decoding. The DASH packager then puts each group of frames into a CMAF chunk and pushes it to the CDN. DVB claims this approach can cut end-to-end stream latency from a typical 20-30 seconds down to 3-4 seconds.

The other topics covered are: encryption (exhanging key parameters using CPIX), content insertion, metadata, supplemental descriptors, TTML subitles and MPD proxy.

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Download the slides.

Speaker

Rufael Mekuria Rufael Mekuria
Head of Research & Standardization
Unified Streaming

Video: Integrating CMAF Into A VOD Workflow

CMAF is often seen as the best hope for streaming to match the latency of broadcast. Fully standards based, many see this as the best route over Apple’s LL-HLS. Another benefit of it over LL-HLS is that it’s already a completed standard with growing support.

This talk from Tomas Bacik starts by explaining CMAF to us. Standing for the Common Media Application Format, it’s based on the standardised ISOBMFF container format and whilst CMAF isn’t by default low-latency, it is flexible enough to deliver just that. However, as Tomas from CDN77 points out, there are other major benefits in terms of its use of the Common Encryption format, reduces storage fees and more.

MPEG DASH is a commonly found streaming format based on ISO BMFF. It has always had the benefit of supporting other codecs such as HEVC and AV1 over HLS which is an AVC-only specification. CMAF is an extension of MPEG DASH which goes one step further in that it can deal with both HLS-style manifest files (.hls) as well as MPEG DASH format (.mpd) inheriting, of course, the multi-codec ability of DASH itself.

Next is central theme of the talk, looking at VoD workflows showing how CMAF fits in and, indeed, changes workflows for the better. CMAF directly impacts packaging, storage and CDN which is where we focus now. Given that some devices can play HLS and some can play DASH, if you try to serve both, you will double your requirements of packaging, storage etc. Dynamic packaging allows for immediately repackaging your chunks into either HLS or DASH as needed. Whilst this reduces the storage requirements, it increases processing and also increases the time to first byte. As you might expect, using CMAF throughout, Tomas explains in this talk, allows you to package once and store once which solves these problems.

Tomas continues by explaining the DRM abilities of CMAF including AES-CBC and finishes by taking questions from the audience.

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See Streamflow’s blog post supporting the talk
Speakers

Tomas Bacik Tomas Bacik
VP of Product Development, Streamflow by CDN77
CDN77

Video: Three Roads to Jerusalem

With his usual entertaining vigour, Will Law explains the differences to the three approaches to low-latency streaming: DASH, LHLS and LL-HLS from Apple. Likening them partly to religions that all get you to the same end, we see how they differ and some of the reasons for that.

Please note: Since this video was recorded, Apple has released a new draft of LL-HLS. As described in this great article from Mux, the update’s changes are

  • “Delivering shorter sub-segments of the video stream (Apple call these parts) more frequently (every 0.3 – 0.5s)
  • Using HTTP/2 PUSH to deliver these smaller parts, pushed in response to a blocking playlist request
  • Blocking playlist requests, eliminating the current speculative manifest request polling behaviour in HLS
  • Smaller, delta rendition playlists, which reduces playlist size, which is important since playlists are requested more frequently
  • Faster rendition switching, enabled by rendition reports, which allows clients to see what is happening in another playlist without requesting it in its entirety”[0]

Read the full article for the details and implications, some of which address some points made in the talk.

Anyone who saw last year’s Chunky Monkey video, will recognise Will’s near-Oscar-winning animation style as he sets the scene explaining the contenders to the low-latency streaming crown.

We then look at a bullet list of features across each of the three low latency technologies (note Apple’s recent update) which leads on to a discussion on chunked transfer delivery and the challenges of line-rate delivery. A simple view of the universe would say that the ideal way to have a live stream, encoded at a constant bitrate, would be to stream it constantly at that bitrate to the receiver. Whilst this is, indeed, the best way to go, when we stream we’re also keeping one eye on whether we need to change the bitrate. If we get more bandwidth available it might be best to upgrade to a better quality and if we suddenly have contested, slow wifi, it might be time for an emergency drop down to the lowest bitrate stream.

When you are delivered a stream as individual files, you can measure how long they take to download to estimate your available bandwidth. If a file can be downloaded at 1Gbps, then it should always arrive at 1Gbps. Therefore if it arrives at less than 1Gbps we know that there is a bandwidth restriction and can make adjustments. Will explains that for streams delivered with chunked transfer or in real time such as in LL-HLS, this estimation no longer works as the files simply are never available at 1Gbps. He then explains some of the work that has been undertaken to develop more nuanced ways of estimating available bandwidth. It’s well worth noting that the smaller the files you transfer, the less accurate the bandwidth estimation as TCP takes time to speed up to line rate so small 320ms-length video segments are not ideal for maximising throughput.

Continuing to look at the differences, we next look at request rates with DASH at 20 requests per second compared to LL-HLS at 720. This leads naturally to an analysis of the benefits of HTTP/2 PUSH technology used in LL-HLS and the savings that can offer. Will explores the implications, and some of the problems, with last year’s version of the LL-HLS spec, some of which have been mitigated since.

The talk concludes with some work Akamai has done to try and establish a single, common workflow with examples and a GitHub repository. Will shows how this works and the limitations of the approach and finishes with a look at the commonalities in approaches.

[0] From “Low Latency HLS 2: Judgment Day” https://mux.com/blog/low-latency-hls-part-2/

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Speakers

Will Law Will Law
Chief Architect,
Akamai