Flumotion’s Co-founder and CTO Thomas Vander Stichele explains which trends are worth watching in the future.
Flash took a while to take over from Java as the default client-side Web application framework, and now Microsoft is striking back with Silverlight to take back market share from Flash. Interestingly enough, Microsoft has switched from MMS and RTSP to the most open and fundamental protocol on the Internet: HTTP. They have developed Smooth Streaming on top of this, which allows switching between various bitrates of the same stream (a concept pioneered by Real as SureStream a decade ago). It will be interesting to see if Microsoft’s marketing machine can make this technology work this time around, and take control of the user’s browsers.
On the codec side, H-264 is currently the clear winner, and will probably remain so for a while. Codecs have advanced rapidly for a long time, but we are now hitting a limit on what is possible with video compression and it’s unlikely we will see huge bandwidth improvements. Instead, the focus is now on optimisations for quality and higher image sizes.
Bandwidth consumption will grow exponentially in the future. On one hand, more and more users are starting to use their computers as a replacement for their TV, preferring to decide for themselves what they watch and when they watch it. Especially students and young professionals have switched their viewing habits, and sites like BBC’s iPlayer and PVR features follow these trends.
On the other hand, people are getting better internet connections, more powerful computers, and bigger screens, at the same time as BluRay, gaining popularity. From DVD to Full HD, the image contains five times more pixels. As people move to Full HD, their use of bandwidth for streaming will go up as well.
There is so much audio and video available on the Internet these days that the main problem is finding what you’re looking for. The data associated with media is becoming more and more important: who plays this song, who acts in that movie, where is that scene where the Titanic breaks in two and sinks? In addition, user-generated metadata will become more and more important. Imagine chatting about the soccer game of your favourite team in real time with other people, and being able to click on the history of that chat session to go back to the video you were talking about? Did you see how Ronaldo put that ball just past the goalkeeper’s fingertips?
Imagine if you were also able to link exactly to that part of the video, where Ronaldo scores? Instead of telling people where to look at the video and then for which point they should seek, the link has all the information and takes you to the exact place. It brings the hyper to video the way the Internet did it for text. Now imagine you can create links from those videos to other videos because the metadata gives them a relationship – click on Ronaldo’s goal to be able to see ten of his most favourite goals! Or, instead, watch ten other balls that goalkeeper missed.
Streaming technology has entered a new cycle of innovation. Content providers are looking for new ways to reuse the content and metadata they already have. Podcasting based on the calendar they already maintain for their website, detecting audio and video content in their streams, creating fake live streams based on on-demand content, tieing into their metadata databases, integration with payment systems, … Streaming providers are being challenged to provide custom solutions for the content providers who are becoming more demanding and creative with their content.
Who wants to watch their favourite TV show on a very small mobile phone screen? Everyone of course, the mobile providers thought, and they charged through the nose for it. It turns out it wasn’t that big of a success. That is, until now, with the release of the iPhone and now its competitors in the Smartphone space: Google’s Android and the Palm Pre. These mobile devices finally have screens that are big enough to make watching a show at least bearable, as prices for mobile connectivity are finally coming down. Interestingly, these devices do not implement the 3GPP streaming and media standards made for mobile phones; instead, they are all more like small desktop PCs relying on traditional IP technology for streaming.