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Adobe to add HLS and DASH to Primetime
Adobe's plans for Primetime highlight both the strengths and limitations of HLS and DASH, as well as the fact that Flash isn't going away anytime soon
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Streaming producers seek the widest possible playback support for their content, which is tough enough for general purpose video, and vastly more complicated when capabilities like advertising insertion, digital rights management, integrated analytics, and closed captions are also required. Though relatively few publishers require these capabilities, those that do are major content producers and distributors. This is precisely the group Adobe is targeting with Primetime, introduced with Comcast Cable and NBC as launch partners. Pricing details have not been released.

At a high level, Primetime is the cross-platform player productization of multiple Adobe products enabling the capabilities described above. On the player side, the Primetime player is an SDK that sits atop Flash that publishers can use to integrate Primetime features into their player. It’s important to recognize that the Flash Player and Primetime Player are two different products; though the Primetime Player can leverage all existing features of the Flash Player, the reverse is not true. Primetime also includes iOS and Android SDKs for creating Primetime compliant apps on these platforms.

Existing Adobe products incorporated into the Primetime suite include Adobe Pass for user authentication, Adobe Primetime DRM (formerly Adobe Access) for digital rights management, Adobe Auditude and MediaWeaver for advertising insertion and delivery, and the Adobe Media Server family for cross-platform delivery.

From a technology perspective, the Primetime player will support multiple existing streaming technologies, depending upon the platform. Not surprisingly, the iOS and Android SDKs support HTTP Live Streaming (HLS), with Android support provided by a full HLS (v4) video stack that will extend HLS compatibility back to Android 2.3, and avoid many of the problems reported with Google’s own HLS implementation.

The recent big news is that Adobe will add HLS support to the Primetime Player by this summer (2013), but not to the Flash Player itself. Though on the desktop, Primetime licensees could also use HTTP-based Dynamic Streaming (HDS), the only single technology that could address all platforms will be HLS.

Adobe plans to add DASH to Primetime (but not the Flash Player) by the end of 2013, but this will only extend to the desktop and Android versions of Primetime, not iOS--the Primetime SDK for iOS will only support HLS. According to Ashley Still, Adobe’s director of product management for video solutions, Adobe made this decision because DASH support on iOS would require client-side transmuxing from DASH to HLS, which could cause performance issues during some playback scenarios.

Also, later this year, Adobe will extend Primetime to support connected TVs and game consoles (Samsung SmartTV, Xbox, Roku), which will not require a separate player or plug-in. These devices will support both HLS and DASH playback.

I asked Adobe if DASH delivered any features that HLS didn’t, and Adobe shared several examples, including playlisting (via Periods), which allows for the bitrate set to change across periods; time-based addressing, which is important for fault tolerance; and segment address prediction, which can minimize network traffic. Whether these benefits will convince Primetime licensees to support HLS for iOS and DASH for everything else remains to be seen.

I also questioned if the DASH royalty picture had cleared. Adobe responded, “at this time there has been no move to form a patent pool around DASH.  MPEG is actively working to keep DASH royalty free, but a final decision has not been made yet.”

As a standards-based closed system enabling monetization for large content producers, Primetime looks great. As a vehicle for promoting standards and open technologies, which obviously isn’t Adobe’s charter, not so much. In fact, Primetime highlights weaknesses in DASH (no widely distributed player, no Apple support and the potential for royalties) and HTML5 (the lack of any browser-based DRM, live, or adaptive streaming) more than it promotes either. Anyone thinking that Flash is going away in the short to medium term, or that DASH will soon emerge as a single dominant standard, just has it wrong.

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