Video to Go
After years of waiting for the technology and audience to develop, video to the desktop has finally arrived in a big, big way. Formats have been whittled down, delivery technologies have been improved, and broadband speeds have continued their steady march upwards.
Finally, content owners are starting to realize viable business models for delivering video to the desktop. But the desktop was only the beginning. Now, eyes are rapidly turning to what might be the most numerous, and undoubtedly smallest, screens out there: the ones in consumers’ pockets.
Mobile video is hot, and no one wants to be left behind as this space begins to mature; when audience interest starts reaching critical mass; and when the technologies that enable it are created, enhanced, and expanded. But like the early days of internet video to the desktop, the mobile space is rife with complexities and uncertainties for content owners looking to leverage these new platforms. If anything, the challenges are even worse and the future more unknown in the mobile world than they ever were for desktop video.
Competing standards and delivery technologies each promise their own vision of a world where rich mobile media experiences thrive, but at this point it’s nigh impossible to postulate who will win out or even if any one will come to dominate at all.
The market for mobile devices offers consumers boundless choice in features and functionality, but that also means content owners have to be prepared to deliver content across a broad spectrum of form factors and device capabilities in terms of storage and processing power.
It’s an exciting, dynamic, potential-filled space fraught with uncertainty. So much so that anyone claiming to know where things are headed will likely not find history to be a kind mistress even six months down the road. But even in this uncertainty, content owners must do their best to keep up with the rapidly evolving marketplace, in particular as it relates to vendors offering new solutions for them to establish mobile identities.
So instead of attempting to look inside a decidedly murky crystal ball to guess where everything’s headed, this article will take a step back and profile five companies trying to make names for themselves in the emerging mobile video marketplace, each one addressing a different part of the mobile video challenge.
Ortiva Wireless—The Mobile CDN
Essential to enabling any mobile experience is delivering video to a mobile device. True, mobile streaming can be as straightforward as streaming to the desktop, but is that really the optimal way to deliver mobile video? Not according to Ortiva Wireless.
"Traditional CDNs are designed to get content as close to the edge as possible and provide multiple copies to allow for resiliency," says DeWayne Nelon, CEO of Ortiva Wireless. "But there’s nothing a traditional CDN can do for you from that last point of presence down to the consumer regardless of what that device is. And that last length is what causes difficulties when trying to deliver mobile video."
This is the challenge Ortiva set out to solve through the development of what it calls the industry’s first mobile CDN, though that’s admittedly something of a misnomer. "Delivery is not what we’re about; it’s that last little bit of the network. In fact, we’ll often work with other delivery networks for the transport piece," says Nelon.
By leveraging its mobile CDN, Ortiva claims it can reduce the amount of needed downlink and backhaul transport and capacity, increase the reach of the video signal to a broader geographic area, and ultimately enable a better overall mobile experience.
It accomplishes these feats through the use of three tools. First is the point of content ingestion, which looks at the video assets coming in and assesses how they can be tweaked to work under constrained network conditions. Second is their network resource monitoring, which looks at feedback from handsets to determine network conditions. And third is the streamer, which takes the network conditions, looks at the options available to adjust the content, and assembles a stream on the fly that is custom-built for the network conditions at the moment the stream is requested.
"Every other solution takes what was encoded and streams some version of that. It may draw bitrate down, but in almost every case the streamer will stream what the encoder encoded," says Nelon. "We don’t stream what the encoder encoded, we stream what your network and device will bear."
Ortiva constantly measures the network conditions and adjusts on the fly. "We’ll change the ratio of I-Frames to P-Frames, or we may change the quantization levels, or the audio-visual bandwidth mix. We’ll do them all in combination with each other to create a different experience," says Nelon. For example, in unsteady conditions, they may send more I-Frames than P-Frames in order to create a more resilient session, but in good conditions they’ll send more P-Frames in order to get a higher-quality picture.
The important thing is that these adjustments are made every few seconds during a streaming session in real time. "You can’t make these decisions in advance. And through us, you don’t have to create multiple versions of the same content to accommodate these varying network conditions," says Nelon.
The system comes set up with some default biases—for example, stressing fewer stops and stalls over higher-res video—but customers can adjust these to fit the demands of their content. For example, default settings prioritize video over audio delivery, but if you’re sending music videos the audio may be more important.
Ortiva’s Stream Shaper handles on-demand delivery, while TV Shaper covers live video, which they claim to deliver with as little as 15 seconds of latency, compared to the multi-minute latency of its competitors.
Also available is Web Shaper, which applies similar principles to the delivery of rich websites to mobile devices. "With Web Shaper you don’t have to dumb down sites for mobile devices. Instead, you can create sites as rich as you’d like them to be and then tag each frame or item with how important it is for you," says Nelon. "So say you want a site to load in 35 seconds. As the page is requested, in about two or three seconds we’ll measure the network and determine how much we can get down this pipe. Then, in the remaining seconds, based on the priority you gave us, we’ll send the best possible rendering of that page down to the mobile device."
In addition to working with content owners, Ortiva has a number of deals with major carriers on the horizon as their ability to serve content that minimizes the impact on the network has caught carriers’ interest.