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Welcome to the Future

This has been an amazing year in online video streaming at Akamai. Between the 96 live games of the Sochi Olympics, the 64 games of the World Cup, and a variety of other high profile live streaming events (remember the Super Bowl?), the Akamai support teams have certainly earned a summer vacation. Of course, since Akamai supports a lot more web activity above and beyond these high profile events every day, some of the team members are going to have to stick around, because the Internet does not take vacations.
The following is a post from Director of Product Marketing, Kurt Michel, and Senior Solutions Architect, Nicolas Weil.

It has been a very busy first quarter for the media team here at Akamai, where the technical folks have been elevating the quality of online video to all-new heights. In January at CES, we demonstrated 4K/Ultra HD streaming video with help from Qualcomm and Elemental. Last week at the NAB Show in Las Vegas, we showed what we believe was the world's first CDN-delivered 4K/Ultra HD 60 frames per second linear stream using Elemental's HEVC compression and MPEG-DASH packaging, highlighting the performance capabilities of our network and our new native DASH ingest feature.

Bringing the Sochi Games Home - Internationally

As the Sochi winter games draw to a close, I'd like to share a live streaming experience I had Sunday, which truly puts the spirit of the games into perspective for me.
 
My 12-year-old daughter, Stephanie, is a ski racer with the Jay Peak Ski Club in Vermont, USA. Jay Peak is much closer to Montreal than to my residence near Boston, so I have a number of Canadian friends in the club. Sunday morning, my daughter had a race at Burke Mountain, VT, home of Burke Mountain Academy, where American skier Mikaela Schiffrin graduated this past year. My daughter and I have been tracking Mikaela's Olympic progress with great interest, and we watched Mikaela's gold medal slalom run live. And thanks to NBC's terrific iOS applications, we have watched her amazing second run recovery on demand, providing me with a great teachable moment about practice and never giving up. But I digress.
 
While in the Burke ski lodge preparing their children for the race, my Canadian friends were unfortunately missing the men's hockey gold medal final between Canada and Sweden. Since the game was being played on Sunday morning here in Vermont, the bar with the TV was not yet open. And since the race was in the U.S., rights restrictions prevented my friends from streaming the game through their Canadian provider. As their inability to enjoy their national sport's ultimate contest became apparent, I saw a real opportunity to strengthen international relations. I pulled out my iPad, connected it to Burke Mountain's complimentary WiFi, started up my NBC Live Extra app, and played the live stream. Suddenly, my Canadian friends began swarming around my iPad, asking, "Is that really live?" and complementing the high quality that we were getting in a ski lodge with a few hundred people sharing WiFi in rural upstate Vermont. One even said, "It looks like TV!" Of course, I let them know that Akamai played a big role in helping NBC to deliver the experience; and they were truly grateful. Luckily the game finished with a Canadian victory before the ski race began, precluding any need for tough choices.

The Winter Games - Your Way

Here at Akamai, six days into the winter games, we have been reliably streaming the events in high quality - much of it in HD - for more than 20 broadcasting rights holders around the world. Since each of these broadcasters has their own unique requirements and workflows, our teams have been working with them for over nine months so that we can meet their expectations, as well as their audiences', over these 17 days. Video streams from the Akamai network are reaching devices around the globe in all of the major streaming formats, providing stream security and analytics capabilities. And of course, this all requires 24/7 support. 

Addressing the 4K Challenge at CES

Big screens, bigger screens and little, tiny screens ... the 2014 International CES is sure to be all about screens - and the gadgets they're attached to - again this year.

I, for one, will have my eyes fixed on the Ultra High Definition, or 4K, screens at this year's show. Unlike the 3-D fad in recent years, this technology is here to stay. Tech cycles have quickly evolved and there's no physical "box" needed to deploy 4K (except the enormous one the display comes in, of course), which means it's rapidly moved from "interesting" to "awesome" over the last year.

In fact, Akamai has been working with our friends from Elemental Technologies and Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. on a 4K demonstration, which can be experienced in Qualcomm's CES booth #8252. We are showing attendees how content owners can make the jump from demonstration to deployment at a scale that is achievable and can help satisfy the groundswell of consumer demand in the year ahead.

Here's what it will look like:

  • Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. will be demonstrating a development tablet, powered by the Snapdragon™ 805 processor, with the ability to decode H.265 High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) and play back 4K content on an Ultra High Definition television.
  • Elemental Technologies will encode the content using HEVC, compressing the video to require about half of the bandwidth of today's commonly used AVC/H.264 compression standard. Elemental will also apply Moving Picture Expert Group - Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP (MPEG-DASH) formatting to the content. MPEG-DASH has been designed to serve as a single, open streaming format for all devices and players.
  • That 4K/HEVC/DASH content will be hosted in Akamai's cloud-based NetStorage and streamed in real time over the Akamai Intelligent Platform's high-performance network at bitrates ranging from 10 to 20 megabits per second. 

So, what's cool about this joint demonstration at CES? It's a great example of innovative companies combining their technologies to showcase a practical implementation for online 4K viewing. Sure, you can find a few examples of 4K content online now, and you can also download massive 4K files; but delivering that level of content at scale is a real hurdle for content owners and service providers - one that Akamai is working with other innovators to solve.

This demonstration from Akamai, Qualcomm, Technologies, Inc. and Elemental shows those enabling technologies all in one place and demonstrates how 4K can become commercially viable in terms of managing the storage, bandwidth and costs associated with this higher level of content delivery.

If you're interested in seeing this demonstration in person, stop by Qualcomm's booth, #8252, or email Kurt Michel to make an appointment.

Kurt Michel is director of product marketing for Akamai's digital media solutions.
This is the first installment in a series of posts that discuss various challenges of online video and how Akamai's Sola Media Solutions can be used to address those challenges.

Live video streaming has become an increasingly important part of the web content universe, as a variety of businesses and organizations attempt to capture 'share of eyeball' and deliver richer, more HDTV-like experiences. From breaking news, to live sports, to video promotions, to historic events like Felix Baumgartner's recent jump from space, more and more people all over the world are counting on live, real-time access via streaming video on virtually every platform, from traditional browsers to mobile devices.

The broad adoption of social media increases the likelihood of rapid, almost instantaneous audience growth. With a few tweets and re-tweets of a live event link, huge audience spikes are easily made possible. If the delivery solution has not been architected for this rapid viewer scaling, the risk of playback failure is high.

At the same time, the quality expectations of these ever-increasing audiences continue to grow. Not only is HD quality for online video desired - it is becoming the de-facto standard for all viewing experiences, from HDTV home viewing to "anywhere" viewing on mobile devices with "better than HD" quality displays.

The Simplicity Mantra at IBC

Online video was clearly "top of mind" at this year's IBC, and it was fascinating to hear from a variety of companies across the broadcast spectrum and learn more about their video delivery, monitoring, and monetization needs.

If I could put my finger on one major topic I heard over and over again at this year's IBC Conference, it's simplicity. Companies want simplicity across the board ­- whatever it takes to quickly get new video content out to viewers. That's what they wanted to talk about. From companies with large content libraries, to service providers who need to deliver it, the thought of serving all of the different devices viewers are using can seem overwhelming! They wanted to know how to prepare and secure the content for delivery to all of those devices, and they also wanted to understand how to access the end-device player technologies that bring it all together for viewers. On top of that, they want to simplify the authentication experience for viewers, while also removing the complexities of allowing content owner and service provider systems talk together in support of that simplification.

As I showed the demos of our new cloud-based Sola Vision transcoding, stream packaging, and identity services offerings, Akamai's own simplicity message resonated with visitors. They could see how simple preparing and delivering high quality online video can be with a simple, unified workflow that just happens to be built on top of the world's largest CDN.

Visitors to our exhibit at IBC could clearly see the difference between the CDN capabilities we offer, and the value-added video simplification tools we now provide. And they showed real enthusiasm for the simplicity and performance that Sola Media Solutions offers them.

I'm looking forward to continuing the many conversations that we started at IBC in the months to come.

Kurt Michel is a director of product marketing at Akamai