Video streaming: For your viewing pleasure

Our relationship with content and how we consume it is changing. Hurrairah bin Sohail explores the role AV has to play in the world of video streaming.

Video streaming, both the live and on-demand variety, is gaining in popularity. Services like Netflix and Hulu are bringing on-demand video streaming into every home and on to every device. Platforms like YouTube Live and Twitch are revolutionising live streaming and empowering a new generation of creators.

Familiarity is breeding demand and enterprises are finding that video streaming is a way for them to differentiate themselves from the crowd. For example, an education institute that is able to deliver its lectures and content via live streams and on-demand platforms to students can set itself apart from competitors.

What is AV’s part in providing a video streaming solution to end users? Joe da Silva, director of product marketing at Extron Electronics, answers: “Video streaming is a very broad term that can cover everything from encoders and decoders sending video and audio across a LAN (AV over IP), capturing and playing back content for lecture capture, or over-the-top streaming (OTT). The AV industry easily addresses two out of the three. The OTT streaming approach hasn’t become a mainstream application within the AV industry.”

The missing part of the puzzle, as da Silva points out, is ‘OTT streaming’ which is the domain of video management system (VMS) or video content management system (VCMS) providers such as Brightcove. The core feature set for OTT streaming spans across ingestion, transcoding, metadata management, playback, analytics and monetisation to name a few.

Ben Morrell, vice president for Asia at Brightcove, illustrates the specialised focus required to compete in the VMS space: “We have been focussed and investing, for the past 14 years, on delivering video at high performance, and in the most cost-effective way on behalf of our customers. Thousands of our customers use the same platform and thus, our scale and reliability are second to none. Our scale allows us to constantly invest in making the costs of building a business with video cheaper, while ensuring a great user experience that keeps viewers coming back to the services of our customers.”

For end users the problem with regards to video streaming is one of getting to grips with the different moving parts and ensuring optimisation across the whole deployment. Sam Recine, the director of sales for Americas and Asia Pacific at Matrox Graphics, says: “Organisations want to eliminate unnecessary overlapping gear if fewer pieces can handle all jobs. They also want to re-use ‘existing’ equipment – and this is very important to many customers. This includes existing networking infrastructure, existing storage assets, existing AV processors, etc. The full-on incorporation of the entire spectrum of AV and IT products working in concert together is what enables maximum ‘reach’ and ‘performance’ across organisations.”

A key consideration for the ‘incorporation of the entire spectrum of AV and IT products’ that Recine highlights is dealing with wireless devices.

Historically, AV has not always had the best support for wireless devices. According to da Silva from Extron this might be changing: “Distributing video to mobile devices is key to the success of lecture capture deployments.

Supporting live streaming to those same devices brings a different set of requirements to the discussion but it is certainly something that can be accomplished by Extron and others within the AV industry. When looking at delivering live streams to lots of viewers on a wide range of devices, partnering with a content delivery network – CDN could mitigate many of the challenges.”

On the other hand, supporting wireless devices from the consumer electronics realm has been a core focus of Brightcove. Morrel says: “For our customers delivering new OTT services on devices, like iOS, Android, FireTV, Roku, Apple TV, etc., we introduced a new solution in 2016 that has had a large impact in cost reduction for media companies launching new services. Had you asked about this type of solution just two years ago, we would have had to architect and deliver it as a custom engagement. Today, Brightcove OTT Flow powered by Accedo is a robust product that reduces time-to-market for launching an out-of-the-box OTT service.”

Another important lesson for AV to learn in order to succeed in the world of video streaming is to carefully consider the use of proprietary technology. Recine from Matrox says: “Something working on category cable but not using internet protocol, such as HDBaseT, is never going to allow you to stream your captured source generically. The same applies to products that do use standard internet protocol signalling, but lock down the stream so that they only send and receive nodes, hardware or software, from the same vendor so they can actually ‘use’ the streams. This is very limiting.”

He continues: “In all cases, products producing locked-down streams only compatible within one vendor’s line-up, or worse, single-source proprietary encoding scheme, should most often be avoided.”

The role of integrators with regards to the deployment of video streaming systems is also worth exploring. Morrell from Brightcove says: “As our platform is a cloud-based, SaaS-based solution, there is no installation or deployment. But we do welcome opportunities to work with the AV industry and AV integrators in a variety of reseller or solution partner agreements.”

Recine says that the skills and expertise integrators bring to the table are important: “AV expertise will always be of value. Before anything can be ‘streamed’, it needs to be captured. Knowledge of how to adapt myriad different sources and, if necessary, process some of the sources for optimal ‘capture’ before encoding is just one example of where AV specialist know-how can contribute greatly. AV specialists are also experts in human interfaces tailored to the specific organisations’ needs. The merging of high-performance, low-bitrate AV over standard IP just means more ‘nodes’ to bring under intelligent management in many cases.”

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