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Video: Why Adaptive Bitrate Streaming?

As HTTP streaming increasingly dominates the live video space, and purveyors of streaming content need to accommodate a range of network configurations, conditions, and capacities (as well as playback devices) to reach the broadest possible audience, adaptive bitrate (ABR) streaming has become critical to providing a high-quality viewing experience to the full spectrum of end-users. In this clip from her Streaming Media East 2016 presentation, "Adaptive Bitrate Algorithms: How They Work and How to Optimize Your Stack," Streamroot's Erica Beavers explains the mission-critical nature of ABR streaming and the underpinnings of dynamic resolution selection and client-level estimation and bitrate decisions, and identifies the 4 principal design goals for optimizing the user viewing experience via ABR. 

Watch the complete presentation, Adaptive Bitrate Algorithms: How They Work and How to Optimize Your Stack.

Read the transcript of this excerpt:

Erica Beavers: Today, HTTP streaming has become the norm for video streaming, and it's important to keep in mind this has actually led to a two major changes in the way that we actually handle streaming. First, we're taking into account multiple different kinds of network connections, different network conditions, and also a various number of devices that were actually using to stream content today. We're encoding a single video into several different bitrates that the player can then choose from.

Secondly, we've gotten away in recent years from that kind of custom transport-based protocol to a more traditional HTTP TCP stack. That's allowed us to reach more people and scale via CDNs, but it's also kind of created a layering effect that's caused a degree of removal between the player and the underlying network conditions. That has given rise to the need for us to actually estimate the available bandwidth and make that decision logic on the player side.

In terms of design goals, we're really trying to optimize the viewer experience. We've selected three principal design goals that we see throughout the different players.

The first is maximizing efficiency. Obviously, we want to stream at the highest bitrate possible given your network conditions.

The second goal is minimizing rebuffering. We want to make sure that we are effectively pre-fetching and storing segments before rendering them on the screen, in order to not have any buffer underrun or playback stalls.

The third goal would be to encourage stability, to limit the number of switches which can be perceived as quite annoying to the viewer, so we only switch bit rates when it's actually necessary because of changes in network conditions.

A fourth criteria that is quite prevalent in a lot of the research that's been done on ABR algorithms is to promote fairness: a fair allocation of network resources, especially concerning devices that are sharing a bottleneck.

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