Dynamic Bitrate Streaming for Kiwanis.org

I was recently tasked with upgrading the video player for the Kiwanis Convention website. The event itself has now passed but the videos are still online, you can check them here.

The client already had a video player in place but wanted to offer a better experience to users on slower connections as some users reported problems viewing the single file, high bandwidth versions without constant rebuffering.
I upgraded the existing FLVPlayback component to the latest version 2.5 and deployed a bunch of SMIL based XML files, one for each clip, which in turn pointed to the different videos.

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Producing H.264 Video for Flash

My friend Jan has a great article on H.264 video production on his site. You can read the first part below, and catch the rest on his blog.

Introduction
As a producer of video on the web, you know that you're judged by the quality of your video. In this regard, many producers are considering converting from the venerable On2 VP6 codec to H.264. H.264 offers better visual quality than VP6, and the AAC audio codec offers much better quality than the MP3 codec paired with VP6. Starting with Adobe Flash Player 9 Update 3, you could play back files encoded in H.264/AAC formats. As of September 2008, the penetration of H.264/AAC-compatible players exceeded 89% in all Internet-connected PCs. No wonder they're switching over.

This article first discusses the issues involved in such a changeover, including the potential requirement for royalties. I then describe the H.264-specific encoding parameters offered by most encoding programs. Finally, I cover how you can produce H.264 video with Adobe Media Encoder CS4 and Adobe Flash Media Encoding Server 3.5.

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Strobe Media Framework Presentation

Sumner Paine, Product Manager of the new Strobe media framework, recently presented on this very topic to the FMS User Group. You can see the recording here.

If you haven't heard about Strobe yet, the official summary is: "Strobe provides new delivery and monetization options for video distribution. Anyone can develop modules that plug into Strobe media players and enable things like advertising insertion, content delivery and syndication, micropayments, viewer authentication, transaction handling, and business model controls. With an open framework, the future of web video monetization can be developed collaboratively with lower costs and faster turnaround."

Watch the recording here.


H.264 - Critical Links and Information

My friend Jan was recently asked by a client for a list of H.264-related references. And Jan figured that if these references are worthwhile to his client, perhaps they might be worthwhile for you, so here they are. For much more great content around all things streaming check out Jan's Streaminglearningcenter.com.

General H.264

Wikipedia - it all starts with Wikipedia, but you probably knew that. Here you can find all you need to know about profiles, levels and entropy encoding (oh, my!).

The Future's So Bright: H.264 Year in Review. Before you recommend H.264 to a client, or for internal use, you need to know that H.264 comes with some baggage, in the form of royalties (yes, royalties). In fact, depending upon how you're currently deploying H.264 encoded video, you might already have triggered a royalty obligation. Read all about it here, as well as why H.264 adaption has been relatively slow among major broadcasters and corporations.

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Adobe Media Player - R.I.P.

Adobe is to discontinue the content syndication through the Adobe Media Player (AMP), essentially laying the whole initiative to rest reports NewTeeVee.

Personally I'm not surprised. The shows that were available in AMP did not really appeal to me and the format of a desktop media player was also not what consumers seemed to want or indeed need - Joost anyone? The 'iTunes for video' concept simply did not catch on.
Strobe, the new media player framework that was recently announced, now appears to be taking center stage and is being pushed as the way forward when it comes to building media players (initially for the web but we all know how easy it is to turn a Flex based application into an AIR based client), and the coverage on NewTeeVee seems to suggest that even Adobe had their problems when building AMP, contributing to the birth of Strobe.

R.I.P. Adobe Media Player, I won't be missing you though.


Adobe Strobe - A Video Player Framework

Adobe Strobe is the code-name for a new video player framework with an aim to help drive standards for media players.
Strobe is a great idea and sorely needed. These days every publisher, agency, developer, CDN and ad network are rolling their own video players and integration logic which means there is virtually no best practices approach as far as industry standards go. Why? Because there are no standards as of now, and you can bet that video player A which was developed with CDN B in mind will not work with CDN C unless some pretty major surgery is applied to the player's code.

Strobe is trying to alleviate these pains by providing a player framework which can be extended through a plug-in model. For example the connection routine between CDN A and CDN B differs drastically. In this case Strobe should (once released) allow both CDNs to provide connection routine plug-ins for Strobe (these may simply be some ActionScript3 classes) which developers can leverage easily without having to rework their existing video player code - provided it is built on top of Strobe.

Connection routines are of course just one aspect. Other implementation points may include advertising insertion, content syndication, micropayments, viewer authentication, transaction handling, and business model controls.

According to the FAQ Adobe Strobe is planned for release around the third quarter of 2009.


Creating Automatic Transcripts in Flash Video Using Adobe CS4

Michael Hurwicz has published an excellent tutorial over at streamingmedia.com covering the creation of transcripts for use in Flash video.
In it Michael explains how you can use Premiere Pro, Soundbooth, Adobe Media Encoder, and Flash to to automatically generate a text transcript based on speech in a video, and then use that transcript as a captioning file within Flash.

One thing I'd like to point out (without actually having gone through the process myself) is that it may be preferable to keep the produced XML timed caption file separate from the video rather than embedding the cue points into the video, if that's what's happening. This would leave you more flexible if you had to, for example, provide multiple language tracks for one piece of video content, and even opens the door for switching the language of the transcriptions at runtime.

Check out Michael's article here.


Microsoft Announces Live Smooth Streaming - Adds Copies DVR Capabilities

Many of you may know that MIX09 is in full swing and Microsoft has announced not only Silverlight 3 Beta but also added some new live streaming capabilities to its platform.
Once of those additions is a feature called Live Smooth Streaming which, if I understand it correctly, provides the equivalent to Adobe's dynamic bitrate streaming by offering fallback bitrates if the connection speed on the user's side fluctuates. The term 'Live Smooth Streaming' is a little bit deceptive however since this service - as far as I understand it - is not true streaming at all, however it comes close to a streaming experience. Instead it uses chunks of HTTP progressively downloaded material to provide a stream-like experience. I guess 'Live Smooth HTTP Download' doesn't sound as sexy.

Another feature is the so-called Live PVR, basically a total rip-off of Adobe's DVR functionality introduced recently to FMS which lets users rewind a live event and catch up to it as well. Microsoft describes their service as a 'PVR in the cloud', and it runs on top of IIS 7 and Windows Server 2008. Ben Waggoner has all the details, mixed in with some marketing fluff.

While it's great to see competition take hold in this space I would really wish for Microsoft to be more innovative at times. Of course they are playing catch up with Flash on the Silverlight front, but I generally expect them to be more experienced in the video streaming space (they've been doing this for much longer than Adobe). We've seen a glimpse of the fact that Microsoft is able to innovate during the preview of the out-of-browser install feature in Silverlight 3, but the blatant copy of Adobe's DVR functionality seems a bit cheap to me. If copying can't be avoided then so be it, but couldn't you at least differentiate the feature a little bit, or top it somehow? That would really get Adobe into gear too and maybe speed up some of their own initiatives - I've heard they are working some new FMS features.


Open Video Player Updated to Version 2.0

The Open Video Player initiative has just (rather silently) released version 2.0 of their player framework.
Open Video Player is a framework for building media players and currently features versions for both Silverlight and the Flash Platform (which includes Flex). In their own words: "The Open Video Player Initiative is a community project dedicated to sharing player code and best practices around video player development and monetization." It is supported by Adobe Akamai, Microsoft and others. Akamai in particular (thanks to Will Law) seems to be pushing the updates on the Flash front.

In short, this framework tries to encourage industry standards and best practices around video player development. A great idea since the video player itself must have been re-invented thousands of times by hundreds of developers. I now encounter clients who specifically ask about this framework, and adding it to your toolkit would not be a bad idea (it certainly beats the FLVPlayback component...).


A Close Look at YouTube's HD H.264 Video

My friend Jan Ozer has just published an interesting article about the specifics of YouTube's HD video (and audio) encoding parameters.
Jan's used a variety of tools to take a peek at the internals of the produced H.264 material and made several observations in regards to bitrate, resolution, encoding profile and more. One of the takeaways is that the preferred resolution should be 720p, higher formats are likely a waste of bandwidth since YouTube would downsize them anyway.

Check out Jan's article for many more details.


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