Video: Optimal Design of Encoding Profiles for Web Streaming

With us since 1998, ABR (Adaptive Bitrate) has been allowing streaming players to select a stream appropriate for their computer and bandwidth. But in this video, we hear that over 20 years on, we’re still developing ways to understand and optimise the performance of ABRs for delivery, finding the best balance of size and quality.

Brightcove’s Yuriy Reznik takes us deep into the theory, but start at the basics of what ABR is and why we. use it. He covers how it delivers a whole series os separate streams at different resolutions and bitrates. Whilst that works well, he quickly starts to show the downsides of ‘static’ ABR profiles. These are where a provider decides that all assets will be encoded at the same set bitrate of 6 or 7 bitrates even though some titles such as cartoons will require less bandwidth than sports programmes. This is where per-title and other encoding techniques come in.

Netflix coined the term ‘per-title encoding’ which has since been called content-aware encoding. This takes in to consideration the content itself when determining the bitrate to encode at. Using automatic processes to determine objective quality of a sample encode, it is able to determine the optimum bitrate.

Content & network-aware encoding takes into account the network delivery as part of the optimisation as well as the quality of the final video itself. It’s able to estimate the likelihood of a stream being selected for playback based upon its bitrate. The trick is combining these two factors simultaneously to find the optimum bitrate vs quality.

The last element to add in order to make this ABR optimisation as realistic as practical is to take into account the way people actually view the content. Looking at a real example from the US open, we see how on PCs, the viewing window can be many different sizes and you can calculate the probability of the different sizes being used. Furthermore we know there is some intelligence in the players where they won’t take in a stream with a resolution which is much bigger than the browser viewport.

Yuriy brings starts the final section of his talk by explaining that he brought in another quality metric from Westerink & Roufs which allows him to estimate how people see video which has been encoded at a certain resolution which is then scaled to a fixed interim resolution for decoding and then to the correct size for the browser windows.

The result of adding in this further check shows that fewer points on the ladder tend to be better, giving an overall higher quality value. Going much beyond 3 is typically not useful for the website. Shows only a few resolutions needed to get good average quality. Adding more isn’t so useful.

Yuriy finishes by introducing SSIM modeling of the noise of an encoder at different bitrates. Bringing together all of these factors, modelled as equations, allows him to suggest optimal ABR ladders.

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Speaker

Yuriy Reznik Yuriy Reznik
Technology Fellow and Head of Research,
Brightcove

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: WAVE (Web Application Video Ecosystem) Update

With wide membership including Apple, Comcast, Google, Disney, Bitmovin, Akamai and many others, the WAVE interoperability effort is tackling the difficulties web media encoding, playback and platform issues utilising global standards.

John Simmons from Microsoft takes us through the history of WAVE, looking at the changes in the industry since 2008 and WAVE’s involvement. CMAF represents an important milestone in technology recently which is entwined with WAVE’s activity backed by over 60 major companies.

The WAVE Content Specification is derived from the ISO/IEC standard, “Common media application format (CMAF) for segmented media”. CMAF is the container for the audio, video and other content. It’s not a protocol like DASH, HLS or RTMP, rather it’s more like an MPEG 2 transport stream. CMAF nowadays has a lot of interest in it due to its ability to delivery very low latency streaming of less than 4 seconds, but it’s also important because it represents a standardisation of fMP4 (fragmented MP4) practices.

The idea of standardising on CMAF allows for media profiles to be defined which specify how to encapsulate certain codecs (AV1, HEVC etc.) into the stream. Given it’s a published specification, other vendors will be able to inter-operate. Proof of the value of the WAVE project are the 3 amendments that John mentions issued from MPEG on the CMAF standard which have come directly from WAVE’s work in validating user requirements.

Whilst defining streaming is important in terms of helping in-cloud vendors work together and in allowing broadcasters to more easily build systems, its vital the decoder devices are on board too, and much work goes into the decoder-device side of things.

On top of having to deal with encoding and distribution, WAVE also specifies an HTML5 APIs interoperability with the aim of defining baseline web APIs to support media web apps and creating guidelines for media web app developers.

This talk was given at the Seattle Video Tech meetup.

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Slides from the presentation
Check out the free CTA specs

Speaker

John Simmons John Simmons
Media Platform Architect,
Microsoft

Video: SCTE-35 In-band Event Signalling in OTT


SCTE-35 has been used for a long time in TV to signal ad break insertions and other events and in recent years has been evolved into SCTE-104 and SCTE-224. But how can SCTE-35 be used in live OTT and what are the applications?

The talk starts with a look at what SCTE is and what SCTE-35 does – namely digital program insertion. Then the talk moves on to discuss the most well-known, and the original, use case of local ad insertion. This use case is due to the fact that ads are sold nationally and locally so whereas the national ads can be played from the playout centre, the local ads need to be inserted closer to the local transmitter.

Alex Zambelli, Principal Product Manager at Hulu, then explains the message format in SCTE along with the commands and descriptors giving us an idea of what type of information can be sent and how it might be structured. Looking then to applying this to OTT, Alex continues to look at SCTE-224 which defines how to signal SCTE-35 in DASH.

For those who still use HLS rather than DASH, Alex looks at a couple of different ways of using this with Apple, perhaps unsurprisingly, preferring a method different from the one recommended by SCTE.

The talk finishes with a discussion of the challenges of using SCTE in OTT applications.
See the slides

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Speaker

Alex Zambelli Alex Zambelli
Principal Product Manager,
Hulu