Wowza Brings Network DVR Functionality out of Beta

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Over the weekend, as part of the 2012 National Association of Broadcasters' show (NAB), Wowza Media Systems introduced an updated version of its Wowza Media Server 3 (WMS). WMS 3.1 and includes the ability to add on a network digital video recorder (nDVR) as part of the plug-in architecture that Wowza debuted at the 2011 NAB show.

Now that nDVR is out of beta, server customers that have purchased WMS3 or 3.1 outright (known as Perpetual Licensees) will pay the full price for the nDVR AddOn, with a single-server license costing $495 with a $50 per unit incremental savings for purchases of between 2-4 nDVR AddOns and $100 off for 5+ AddOns purchased at the same time.

In addition, Wowza also offers Daily and Monthly WMS 3 "rentals" for those who might want to upgrade their media delivery server capacity for a number of days or weeks; for those customers, the nDVR AddOn usage will now be billed at full price, starting in May 2012.

Two other options are new to the Wowza Media Server 3.1 feature list: the ability to serve up transcoded audio-only streams using the transcoder AddOn—which previously only allowed video and audio combination transcodes—as well as the ability to insert dynamic overlays on the transcoder AddOn output.

During the beta phase, we worked on a number of scenarios with the nDVR, with a primary test being the implementation of a time-shifting solution for a two-campus church in northeast Tennessee. While a longer case study is forthcoming, here are a few of our initial findings:

Wowza nDVR and Live Streaming

The use of nDVR and live streaming don't have to be mutually exclusive. The reason we were asked to implement the time-shifting capability—and the reason Wowza's nDVR AddOn made the most sense—was to allow ministers at both campuses to choose, at any given service, which campus to deliver their sermon from.

In other words, it was quite possible the senior minister could choose to be physically present at  either of the two campuses for any of the three weekly services. When the minister delivered the sermon from either of the two locations, the other location would remotely view the streamed sermon on a projection screen.

To add to complexity, each location would also have local talent providing the music prior to the sermon. As is the case with any event coordinating between locations, one musical group may run a little longer or shorter than the music group at the other campus. This uncertainty, meaning that that minister's sermon delivery may start five minutes before the other campus was ready to view the remote stream, was a primary reason to consider the nDVR solution.

If this were the sole issue—a five minute delay—the time-shifting feature of the Wowza nDVR solution by itself would be ideal to accommodate the time-shifted nature of delivery. As a matter of fact, there wouldn't necessarily be a real reason to use a media delivery server. Yet, the reason that WMS 3 and the nDVR AddOn made the most sense was the ability to choose between a live stream (when the music groups at each location ended at the same time) or the nDVR playback (when the minister began speaking earlier at his local campus).

The way to accomplish this was to have two players, one which was geared toward live and the other geared toward nDVR playback, with each player available as a simple URL click with hard-coded information about the live stream or nDVR file segment location.

Wowza nDVR as Asset Management System

The second thing we discovered is that the nDVR can be used as a poor man's asset management system. Readers who have followed the complexities of the time-shifted campus delivery may ask a logical question: what happens if the minister is delayed in delivering his sermon to an extent that the other campus' music group has finished their songs and are ready to view the sermon five minutes before the minister can actually deliver it?

A number of ideas were tossed around, including forcing the minister to cut the music group's portion short, but those were deemed as too intrusive. The final solution, though, showcased the power of the nDVR AddOn.

To accommodate this extremely fluid scenario, without resorting to bending the time-space continuum, we used a third single-click player: the media person has a third URL available that is coded to play back the previous sermon from the nDVR cache.

For the 11 a.m. service, then, if the local campus music group has completed their songs and the congregation is ready for the  minister's sermon, the media person can click this third URL which calls up a player to play back the 9:30 a.m. sermon. While this may sound similar to playing back the five-minute time-shifted sermon, it's actually quite a bit different, as the nDVR has already recorded end-of-file information for the stream which ended almost 20 minutes before the next service begins. In essence, the nDVR's cache, which can be set for any number of minutes—or even days—allowed us to use the time-shifting to its full advantage.

In the end, the combined feature of nDVR and live is transparent to the media person responsible for playing the sermon at the second campus. To this person it's a simple 1-2-3 decision based on whether the minister is on-time, five minutes late or five minutes early in terms of his sermon delivery. The solution also can scale to several campuses, which opesn the door for the church to use the same worship service format to any number of campuses around the area.

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