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RealNetworks Launches DASH-Compatible Helix Server

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At last week's Streaming Media Europe, a panel of representatives from various streaming server companies talked about the benefits and shortcomings of their server options. While we've already covered that session from the Video Infrastructure Summit in detail, one comment by a RealNetworks representative stuck out.

"We've already built DASH support into Helix Universal Server," said RealNetworks global partner director David Smith. "We are ready for DASH."

Smith was referring to MPEG DASH, or dynamic adaptive streaming over HTTP, a topic that's enveloped the streaming industry as it moves toward a standards-based adaptive-bitrate scheme.

Smith's comment was timely, as RealNetworks has announced that DASH support is baked in to its newest Helix Universal Server. Version 15 (v15) of the Helix server will be available in November for customer launch on Windows machines, and soon after for Linux machines.

Helix v15 offers DASH support for both live and on-demand profiles. More interestingly, it will also offer support for both ISO Base Media File Format (ISO BMFF, or fragmented MP4) as well as MPEG-2 Transport Streams (M2TS).

The trend in the industry is towards support of live- and on-demand profiles for fMP4, with limited support for M2TS streams—at least until Apple decides to join the DASH party and convert HTTP Live Stream (HLS) to DASH-compliant output.

Real, however, says it wants to support all fMP4 and M2TS DASH profiles today.

"Our delivery server for MPEG2-TS and ISO-BMFF profiles is key to our universal format approach," says Mike Womack, senior director for the Helix product line, as part of a Real-sponsored interview trip in late September. "Our Helix Client SDK for Android was fully tested with Helix Server v15 and supports ISO-BMFF(MP4) DASH streaming."

Helix v15, said Womack, builds on RealNetworks' move towards simplification.

"HTTP is the desired delivery protocol for over-the-top (OTT) and web-based video delivery," says Womack. "The industry is moving away from proprietary delivery systems, but still needs universal-format servers to deal with legacy content.

While many pieces of legacy content are encoded with an H.264-compliant codec, allowing Helix to repackage content for DASH, HLS, and even RTMP delivery, Real also sees a large addressable market of content owners who still have content in one of Real's early proprietary formats.

"Helix can transcode that RealVideo content to H.264 content," says Womack, "so that it can be delivered via DASH or HLS. We don't know of any other server capable of providing legacy support for all content formats."

According to Womack, the Helix Client SDK for Android can be used in Android applications to create an end-to-end delivery solution that includes the Helix server and a client app. Interestingly, the Helix SDK can be used to deliver HLS content to Android OS 2.2 and higher. Google has added integral support for HLS in Android OS version 3 or higher, but has not addressed the larger addressable market of pre Android OS 3.0 devices.

Helix v15 also allows for IP stream ingest, with the ability to ingest video from a single-source IP stream.  On the output side, Helix can also stream via the legacy MPEG2 Transport Stream protocol, allowing customers to stream video to legacy set top boxes, and can use the HLS derivative of MPEG2 Transport Stream to allow what Real calls "HLS time shifting".

Womack also notes that H.264-encoded content can be streamed as RTSP or RTMP in addition to HLS and DASH.

"We've tested a variety of encoders to confirm that Helix v15 is compatible," says Womack, including "Envivio, Digital Rapids, Haivsion, MediaExcel, and Viewcast encoders."

Finally, Helix has digital rights management (DRM) support for a number of device types, including devices based on several key operating systems: Android, iOS, Mac, and Windows.

"V15 provides simultaneous secure key exchange," says Womack. "Individual live or on-demand content can be encrypted on-the-fly for HLS delivery to viewers on a wide range of devices including set-top boxes, connected TVs, smartphones and tablets."

Real's DRM leans heavily on Verimatrix's DRM solutions, using Verimatrix VCAS for HLS devices—via the ViewRight plug-in—as well as the ViewRight Client on PCs and set-top box devices. In addition, Real says that PlayReady support should be available in an upcoming dot release.

Pricing was not immediately available, but Real says it conforms to general industry pricing offered by major competitors.

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