Special Delivery: High-Def Video
The first file you see is a 30-second preview Flash file in VP6 format, produced at a resolution of 986x410, with a video data rate of 4.11Mbps, and 128Kbps audio. Do the math, and you’ll see that the aspect ratio doesn’t match 16:9—Akamai appears to have cropped pixels to fit the video into the site’s preview window.
Next are 720p files produced in either VC1 or H.264 format, and some in both. For example, the 720p NBA H.264 file was produced at 29.97 fps, with a CBR video data rate of 5.12 Mbps and 128 Kbps AAC audio. Interestingly, the file was produced using the Baseline profile, probably to limit the required playback horsepower.
The NBA’s 720p WMV file was produced at 29.97 fps with using the VC1 Advanced Profile video codec encoded at a CBR data rate of 4.8Mbps. Audio was produced at a CBR rate of 192Kbps with the WMA V9 codec. Another 720p video, featuring singer Nelly Furtado from Geffen records, was produced at 24 fps at a CBR data rate of 3.99Mbps, and a CBR audio data rate of 128Kbps. This video used the older Windows Media 9 audio and video codecs.
Next up were full resolution 1080i files. The 1080i Nelly Furtado file was also in Windows Media format, with a CBR video data rate of 6.8Mbps and 128Kbps CBR stereo audio. The file was encoded using the Windows Media 9 audio and video (Main Profile) codecs. The second file was an NBA video using the Advanced Profile of the more recent VC-1 codec encoded at a constant bitrate of 7.9Mbps video, with CBR 192Kbps stereo audio encoded using the WMA 9 codec. Finally, CNET produced its 1080i file at 29.97 fps, using the Baseline profile of the H.264 codec encoded to a video data rate of 5.5Mbps, with stereo audio produced at a CBR rate of 128Kbps.
Note that only the FLV file is presented within a window in the website’s interface; for the Windows Media files, you click either 720p or 1080i and the video launches in its respective player.
TheHDWeb is heavily weighted toward broadcasters and their technology suppliers, with no B2B offerings that didn’t target broadcasters (Apple, DivX). Other participants included traditional networks such as MTV, Gannett, and BBC and online networks such as CNET, ProElite.com, and Bud.TV.
Akamai’s Johnson believes that video delivered to the living room will be the first killer application for high-definition video, citing advances such as the joint venture between Google and Panasonic for a television set that will play YouTube videos, and presumably others. Akamai recently surveyed its broadcast clients, and 66% planned to stream high-definition video to their customers within 1 year, and 75% within 2 years.
She also reported that the biggest problem slowing the deployment of HD video is last mile connectivity, which is why the most effective delivery technique is progressive download, not streaming. Since many companies host and deliver their own SD videos, I asked Johnson when a company should consider a CDN for high-definition delivery. She responded that video and other rich media is not trivial to adapt internally and that it can be very costly to get up and running even to satisfy low demand. She recommended that if video delivery was mission critical, companies should strongly consider a CDN. You can read the above referenced white paper for more details on the company’s high-definition capabilities.
MonkeySee (www.monkeysee.com) is a new site that’s shooting and editing in HD but currently distributing in SD. What I found interesting was the workflow, which will efficiently support the conversion from SD to HD distribution. MonkeySee is a property of Knowlera Media, and I spoke with Greg Letourneau, co-founder and CEO of Knowlera, and former director of product marketing and strategy for Anystream.
MonkeySee hosts a collection of advertising-supported how-to videos produced in-house or submitted by third party experts. The tutorials are highly detailed and offered in bite-sized chunks, usually no longer than 2–6 minutes in length, and are custom produced for web delivery, rather than repurposed TV shows or other linear content.