The 411 on OVPs
If this is all you need, your OVP choice becomes a simple economic decision—calculate your projected video views or bandwidth, check some websites (www.vid compare.com is a great place to start), and choose the most affordable provider. If you’re not sure what you need, scan the questions sprinkled through the rest of this article, which are designed to identify newer features that will prove valuable to many streaming producers.
It all starts, of course, with the target audience that you’re attempting to reach.
Which Platforms Are You Trying to Reach?
Virtually all OVPs allow you to reach Adobe’s Flash Player on any supported computer platform, though not all have switched from VP6 to H.264, which offers higher-quality and more efficient playback on platforms that support the GPU acceleration added to Flash Player 10.1. You definitely want H.264, so verify that your OVP supports it.
If Silverlight is a requirement, you’ll have to dig a bit deeper to find an OVP that supplies it. Again, Silverlight can be Windows Media or H.264, and you definitely want H.264.
HTML5 support is a multitiered feature set. At the very least, the OVP should be able to reach the iPhone and iDevices with video encoded into H.264 format—more on device support in a moment. For HTML5 die-hards, WebM output is a must and a feature offered by most larger OVPs.
Support for smartphones and Wi-Fi-only devices such as the iPod touch is the next great OVP battleground, and device support also has a multitiered feature set. At one level, you’ll want a player that can detect which device is connecting and can deliver a stream configured for that device. If you decide to go one step further and create an app for the device, you’ll want an SDK (software development kit) that allows you to integrate video into other forms of content.
For example, for Android, Brightcove offers an SDK with code libraries for integrating video into an Android app. The SDK also includes prebuilt components for video players and playlists; look for components for pushing video to social media and adding cover flow navigation soon. Some other OVPs offer similar functionality for Android, and many—like Kyte, for example—offer SDKs for iOS devices.
Over the next few months, expect to see similar levels of support for BlackBerry and perhaps Palm devices, depending upon what HP has up its well-funded sleeve. When comparing OVPs, identify the platforms that you want to reach and how you want to reach them—browser or app—and then make sure your candidates provide the necessary elements.
With What Types of Streams and How Delivered?
Once you identify your targets, focus on the types of streams you want to deliver. Most OVPs can deliver static streams, usually both SD and HD, with the former in both 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios. If you’re targeting very high bitrate HD streams, check to make sure there aren’t any bandwidth or data rate limits that will stand in your way.
Also check whether the OVP can support arbitrary stream resolutions. For example, if your web designers conclude that 544x306 looks best, you definitely want to create a stream—and player—at that resolution. Scaling a stream upward or downward to meet a player resolution looks worse and requires more CPU overhead than playing a stream in a native-sized player.
Next up, determine whether the OVP offers adaptive streaming, which provides the optimal playback experience over a range of connection speeds and playback devices. Briefly, with adaptive streaming, the OVP will encode your source video into multiple streams at different resolutions and data rates. During playback, the video player will monitor metrics such as the buffer level, CPU utilization, or dropped frames to determine if the current stream is the best match for the playback device. If the buffer level drops to near empty status, or if frames start dropping, the player can request a lower-bandwidth stream that will arrive more quickly and play back more efficiently.
There are so many OVPs in the market that it can be difficult to choose. This guide looks at ten top OVPs in-depth, showing how they differ in their features and focus.
A Streaming Media East panel made up of both OVP vendors and media powerhouses shows what it takes to create a successful video publishing workflow.