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The last thing digital video needs is new jargon that fuels another cycle of hype. So here’s the quick case for spotlighting hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP) video: In tech years, HTTP is not new, but ancient, or as old as the Internet; HTTP linked to video is proving to be a strong growth engine.
The longer defense is that HTTP provides a hook for the “multi-screen” and “over-the-top” (OTT) themes that dominated IBC 2011. The key is that in contrast to IPTV-centric protocols, HTTP focuses on the client—on whatever device and at the end of whatever network—and its so-called GETs, or means of retrieving information or video from a network server.
This protocol and its adaptive bit-rate (ABR) cousins have yet to conquer the world. In fact, a competing theme at IBC 2011 was “hybrid,” whose resurgence indicates “more longevity in broadcast,” said ADB VP Strategy Paul Bristow. Moreover, there were other categories of technology on display: advanced advertising, HD, 3D, Super Hi-Vision, content distribution networks (CDNs), conditional access (CA) and digital rights management (DRM) systems.
But HTTP touches many of those topics. It is also embedded within the much-discussed ABR protocols, literally so in Apple’s HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) and the new convergent standard, MPEG Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP (DASH). About ABR in general, it’s no hype to say this approach to segmenting MPEG video into small chunks of varying bit rates is driving real deployments.
Here’s one proof point, external to IBC: The Roku 2 digital media streamer unveiled in July 2011 adopts ABR, which allowed Netflix to tell millions of subscribers that its video will “adjust constantly to the speed of your Internet connect.” Back on the IBC show floor, what struck some experts is just how quickly the market has moved.
“A year ago we were talking about basic protocol structure—dynamic HTTP-based protocol. Nobody knew what it was,” Edgeware CMO Duncan Potter said. “Now we have moved into a retail multichannel capacity and a wholesale opportunity on top of that.”
One such opportunity has been seized by the Finish operator Maxisat, whose Development Manager J-P Hela-Aro was manning a display at the Motorola stand. Several years ago, the Maxisat team realized that by passing only 200,000 homes with its ADSL network, they were stuck. “We couldn’t compete with the big ones,” Hela-Aro said. “We decided that over-the-top was the only solution.”
Maxisat used Motorola headend technology, set-top boxes and middleware and Edgeware servers to go OTT, which led to a current monthly customer growth rate of 15 percent. It also offered this service to small telcos in Finland, eleven of whom are now reselling it, as is one of the country’s main satellite providers.
Edgeware has seen a similar shift and growth of its own business. A year ago, managed IPTV networks represented 80 percent of sales, with only 20 percent going to Web (W)TV. “That’s flipped around completely now,” Potter said, even while growing 100 percent year-over-year. “That’s why we announced the (Orbit) 3020 platform that runs both (managed and unmanaged) protocol sets simultaneously.”
Other suppliers are tracking and abetting this shift. Ken Morse, CTO for Cisco’s SP Video Technology Group, cited data estimating the average number of set-tops per home in some markets at 1.8, but the number of unmanaged video display devices at 2.6. It’s going to be a big surprise for a lot of operations,” he said. “Whatever you’re delivering into the home, if it wasn’t HTTP, it will become HTTP-based.”
At IBC, Cisco touted Korea Telecom’s implementation of a unified content management system, part of Cisco’s Videoscape architecture, which achieves a “one source, multi-use” goal and supports KT’s “N Screen” vision. Morse also endorsed the potential of MPEG-DASH to reduce the complexity of OTT video delivery. “If DRM is the only variable, that’s good,” he said.
Security deserves separate treatment, but suffice it to say that DRM and CA vendors who touch both the client and headend are engaged in this mix, too. “We have helped catalyze an ecosystem of players around HTTP live streaming,” Verimatrix VP Marketing Steve Christian said. “We don’t need to be in the center, but moving in the same direction and offering choices.”
Another systems provider to promote ABR efficiencies, Ericsson, demonstrated its dense multi-screen stream and network processors, the latter a software-based adaptive streaming segmentation and encryption processor that can track updates in formats and DRM systems. “MPEG-DASH just became available as a software for wrapping DRM keys,” Ericsson VP Technology Matthew Goldman said, noting the need to align quickly with moving targets.
Other vendors showed tools that aim to divide and conquer. Envivio was showing its 4Caster platform that transcodes, packages and distributes as well as its Halo processor that acts more as a pure packager. Harmonic unveiled its upgraded Electra encoding platform, which it pairs with an adaptive streaming preparation system and an origin and streaming server supporting multiple ABR formats. Having been early to separate its multiprocessor gateway and TransAct packager, RGB Networks CTO Youval Fisher said the integrated approach is passé.
Featuring feeds from Swisscom Broadcast, which is using its technology for both ABR streaming and traditional single bit rate delivery, RGB nonetheless was keen to address the question of how to monetize additional video. Envivio pointed to 38 new customers won in the first half of the current fiscal year. Envivio VP Marketing Boris Felts further pointed to former sister company, France Telecom’s Orange, as one operator leaving legacy protocols behind to go all HTTP.