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MPEG-DASH is now industry essential

While NAB 2012 was approaching, Will Law was pushing forward MPEG-DASH on this blog as "a single [video] format that can be supported across a common ecosystem of content and services, all the way from the encoder down the chain to the end consumer" with the potential to "translate into an industry with a deeper feature set and a steeper innovation curve". What is the situation after IBC 2013? Did MPEG-DASH successfully handle this industry spread to allow a world of streamlined media workflows?

Let's agree that the general perspective provided by MPEG-DASH is quite appealing for most online video professionals, with the target of drastically reducing the number of Adaptive Bitrate streaming formats to support. The recent move of Widevine dropping proprietary packaging in favor of DASH clearly goes in this direction, as well as the positive efforts of Microsoft to translate Smooth Streaming to DASH through a new generation of PlayReady DRM and new DASH-enabled player frameworks. After having recently focused on HLS support in its client implementations, Adobe now gets back to DASH with announcement of early 2014 support, which will be a major event if DASH finally comes to the huge installed basis of Flash Players and supersedes Adobe HDS format.

A main characteristic of DASH is to focus on manifest and video segment organization, delegating restrictions on codecs, containers and even transport modes to profiles. The positive side of this approach is that it conveys openness and brings flexibility to the standard. But it also brings a complexity factor: numerous interactions with other standards and standardization bodies to offer a systemic approach. This partly explains why the DASH standardization process is taking some time despite all efforts deployed by the MPEG consortium since late 2011 with the first draft standard publication. The intermediary observation that can be derived from this situation is that the standardization work is still not finished as major complementary standards like Common Encryption and multi-DRM still require industry collaboration efforts. Nevertheless, the MPEG-DASH standard has become a strategic asset for the entire video industry, considering upcoming Ultra-HD video distribution challenges.

What's DASH ecosystem reality in late 2013? Well, it's integrated into roughly a hundred products and open-source solutions, with a growing adoption curve. It's now possible to build end-to-end workflows using DASH, including content protection and QoS insurance. Industry implementation efforts are mainly focused on ISO-BMFF and DASH-AVC/264 profiles, thus limiting fragmentation risks over a standard with a high openness level. In early 2012, the DASH Promoters Group (a non-profit industry association of 70 members established to catalyze the adoption of MPEG-DASH) transformed itself into the DASH Industry Forum and produced two major contributions: the DASH-AVC/264 profile finalized in June 2013, and the dash.js client framework released in version 1.0 in September 2013. Since the industry is seeing DASH-AVC/264 as an evolving profile (1080p and multichannel audio support now being introduced) providing a solid systemic approach, it has gained a real traction - and generated a positive expectation for the new DASH-HEVC/265 profile which was just released for community review. The dash.js framework is now the essential layer for DASH interoperable support into web browsers, starting with Chrome / Internet Explorer 11 / Opera, and just joined by Mozilla with a solid roadmap mainly motivated by YouTube DASH production player.

YouTube is not the only actor to deploy DASH at large scale. Netflix has been promoting DASH for a long time now, and uses it in production on Chromium and Internet Explorer 11 versions of the service, with predictable extension of the compatibility scope as Netflix is pursuing a determined quest towards format and player de-duplication. Hulu's plans with DASH have also started to surface, with more details promised during the Streaming Media West show in November. But the strongest DASH traction factors might well come from different horizons, as the HbbTV 1.5 devices are starting to show up on European consumer electronics markets and the Google Chromecast HDMI stick featuring native DASH support (with multiple DRMs) is starting its international distribution with a price tag conducive to massive consumer spread. The adoption of DASH as the default video distribution format on the major CE and game console platforms might therefore be a confirmation of how essential is DASH to the video industry today, especially in the perspective of the upcoming UltraHD/4K streaming using H.265 as a codec successor for H.264.

To conclude, what are Akamai's plans with DASH, now that the ecosystem has matured? Apart from steadily supporting the DASH standardization initiative since the DASH Industry Forum's inception, Akamai has recently announced at our Edge 2013 Customer Conference two major initiatives which will certainly root DASH into mainstream customer adoption. The first one is the support for live DASH ingest, which will provide a global set of DASH ingest points into the Akamai network with back-ups and fail-over. The second one is the addition of the DASH format to its stream packaging feature, which will dynamically generate HLS, HDS, or DASH streams from a single common file format, such as MP4, during the stream delivery process.  Within Akamai, we all look forward to these new features reaching market availability as we share one underlying motto that fully applies to DASH: "Technology is our passion, innovation is our mission..."


Nicolas Weil is Senior Solutions Architect at Akamai.

An extensive DASH implementations directory and a DASH standardization timeline are available on his personal blog.

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