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Friday, October 03, 2008

Streaming video on the Internet

The great Mr Enck blogs on a recent conference:
"There followed two very interesting presentations, by Anthony Rose and Andy Quested from the BBC. Anthony Rose seemed to express fatigue with the iPlayer bandwidth debate, and stated his hope that the industry could now move on to consider issues around ISP incentivization and monetization. The iPlayer team has resisted the temptation to play out HD content so far, due to concerns that the experience would be unsatisfactory for many consumers, due to contention rates on DSL connections. (Unless I misunderstood his remarks during the Q&A panel later, I believe he said we should see some HD content on the iPlayer "this side of Christmas," probably encoded at around 4Mbps.) The iPlayer server farm, which apparently consists of 60 dual/quad core machines, transcodes content into "six or seven" codec/bitrate flavors, with the average in the 500 - 800kbps range (the latter being for H.264). The BBC is starting a trial of 1.5Mbps H.264 on the iPlayer to Virgin Media's 10,000 50Mbps trial customers in Ashford, Kent. The minimum threshold bitrate for true HD is >3Mbps, which would be challenging for a lot of broadband connections and would risk high buffering levels. So there is a necessity to make sure the experience is not out of line with what HD TV viewers have come to expect. An essential ingredient in ensuring this would be an end-to-end dynamic adaptive bitrate system, but this is not a trivial exercise from a technology standpoint.He made a case for the BBC's role in assembling the puzzle pieces for "others" (presumably ISPs) to build a business model around the iPlayer. He expressed an interest in working with ISPs to develop tiered service offerings to more closely align costs with revenues, as well as to cooperate on technology-based strategies to alleviate pressure on networks. Among these is a trial of Velocix network caching in three London suburbs (presumably this is with Virgin Media, but this was unclear)."

"Next came Kevin Baughan from Virgin Media, who highlighted that the Virgin TV iPlayer contributes 1/3 of all iPlayer sessions, at 11m sessions per month. There was other discussion about the "analogue dividend" and the eventual convergence of video and broadband bandwidth under DOCSIS 3.0, but the topic which really intrigued me was the question of storage vs. transmission. Virgin is experimenting with both edge/network caching, and in the Ashford 50Mbps trial area, has provisioned a 10Gbps link directly to Level(3), in an attempt to answer the question of whether storage trumps transmission, or the reverse. He conceded a fair number of unknowns around edge caching, such as predictability of demand and economics. I will be curious to learn what they determine in the process, but one intriguing idea he floated was that perhaps ISPs should be building their own internal CDN capabilities, striking deals with other CDNs and content players to mirror the most popular content."

How this meshes with the costs suggested by Dave Clark at TPRC will be very interesting, as will Project Kangaroo plans.

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