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When you hear people talking about "the cloud," they're typically discussing its various technical benefits. Elastic scalability, flexibility, availability and other features that end in -bility are often hot topics of conversation. In general, this can be very engaging, worthwhile dialog.
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.
- 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.
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.