Video: Browsers, Codecs, and Standards in a Transitioning Post-Flash World
Tim: Welcome back to Streaming Media East 2017 we're nearing the end of the second day, I'm Tim Siglin, contributing editor with Steaming Media magazine and media strategy principal at Reel Solver, a company that I just recently joined. With me I have my good friend Robert Reinhardt who used to come to everything in a white lab coat but he's now upgraded to Mr. Rogers cardigans and actual sweater vests. Well now you haven't done sweater vests.
Robert: No I don't do sweater vests.
Tim: I'll tell you my sweater vest story at some point after the interview.
Tim: So VideoRx, tell me what you do and I know you do a lot of ninja stuff but it's with Wowza not with the actual throwing star.
Robert: It's a difficult question to answer for lay people because I generally just call myself a video solutions architect.
Robert: And that's pretty broad and encompassing and honestly a lot of my work is, I'm usually I don't want to say I'm the fixer like Harvey Keitel but I am sort of like that kind of, or the cleaner, was he called the cleaner?
Tim: The cleaner, yeah.
Robert: The cleaner. I clean up other people's messes. People who thought they were doing it right, they call me in to fix it up and it could be I mentioned those three silos all the time, there's encoding, deployment, and playback.
Robert: I know there's a whole lot more to each of those.
Robert: But, generally speaking, I do work in all three of those.
Tim: It's an interesting model, you're saying essentially rather than going out and doing something from scratch for somebody, they have tried it, they haven't quite been able to master it and they call you in to fix what they're doing.
Robert: 99% of my work falls into that, or maybe 90. I would say there are bigger projects I get involved on, it's usually about one big project a year where I am working with, I do assemble other subs of mine to work on a project for a company, but those are bigger budgets and they're not too plentiful, I'm gonna be honest. Once a year I feel really good if we get a big project.
Tim: So I know Wowza recommends you as a consultant on some of the things you've clearly done Wowza workshops and things like that, why has that become sort of a go-to for you from a media server standpoint?
Robert: Well I put a lot of investment in the server end of it, I started as a Flash app developer and all that kind of stuff and so the flash aspect to adobe media server which was originally was called Flash communications server through Macromedia.
Tim: Right. Sure.
Robert: At a certain point I start, you know and I got in deep with media server but it had its restrictions.
Robert: And when I finally took the leap to look at Wowza, I knew Chris Knowlton for a long time and he said, "You should take a look at this.” When I started to look at it, I thought, "Wow, I can do a whole lot more than I could in this other technology." And so for me it was just more that it enabled the people I work for to do things or for me to suggest to them "well hey if you want to do this we can actually do that in Java" we don't have to cause like flash media server you either wrote that in server side action script or C++--both very difficult languages.
Tim: And you went from AS2 to AS3 you'd have to change up things and a number of those kinds of issues.
Tim: So were you involved with things like flash on the beach and max?
Robert: I used to do 12 Flash conferences a year.
Robert: And so I do a lot less travel and I'm okay with that. I live in a wonderful place in the world so I don't.
Tim: What's your take on Flash's demise? I understand even those of us who write we sort of go back and forth on Flash is dead, now it's not dead, yes it is dead and no it's got some life. I mean what's your take on Flash as a player technology and what will ultimately force the supplanting of it going forward?
Robert: At this point, historically, we're going to see the trend of the other big companies--Google, Apple, and Firefly--anyone who's got a browser is really the one, they're responsible for killing Flash. It's not like Adobe said, "We're gonna stop releasing Flash Player." You could still download Flash Player and they keep updating it.
Tim: Are you still seeing clients who want to deliver in Flash?
Robert: That's a very good question. I brought that up in one of my sessions this time. I'm in the middle of three projects that all have active Flash elements still in them.
Robert: All my clients want to move away from Flash, but one of my clients right now is a real-time auction environment, and they're not going to spend money on mobile app yet they make enough money thankfully, it's more of a B2B auction model.
They hired me to move them away from an all-Flash Adobe Media Server setup to Wowza--just handling the video aspects of it--and now we've got a little video player and publisher. So they publish from the auction site in and they play back. We could do HLS and all this other stuff, but for a live auction you're not going to have the latency, the latency is too high.
Tim: The latency would definitely be too high and so would they still use RTMP?
Robert: It's all RTMP. And if they wanted to go mobile and this is what I complain about a lot in my articles in the magazine: it's easy enough to say "Yay, Flash is dead," but where is the money coming from now to take over the replacement of that tech and so you know, you're gonna be even if you're hiring offshore to build maybe you could get decent mobile app for 10 grand but probably not, if you're a smaller company.
Tim: Sure. Sure. Sure.
Robert: I mean this is Streaming Media, we're in the haves and the have nots where. You've got enterprise, where it’s just like, “What do you mean, have a budget for a mobile app? We've had a mobile app for years.” Well of course not, you're a big company, you're a Fortune 500.
Tim: And you were willing to pay $400,000 to have that built.
Robert: I do work all across the spectrum, big companies hire. I've done work for Nike, ABC, you name it--but when it comes down to you know the more nuts and bolts of things, people need cheap solutions.
Tim: It's interesting to hear your perspective on Flash, because it's clearly something that the browser companies as you say Mozilla, Google, Apple are actively trying to suppress in favor of HTML 5 video. But there are limitations.
Robert: I guess no plug ins. I mean they're not picking on Flash--it's pretty much all plug ins. Like let's make it virtually impossible to have any features to our browser. That's a very negative slant on it--it's like, "Hey, don't mess with our tech."
Tim: In doing so that means that you have to have replacements for that in the browsers or people are going to be forced to the apps and that point you know.
Robert: And the Google and Apple want that, I mean that's not conspiracy theory it makes financial sense and I mean.
Tim: Absolutely it makes financial sense.
Robert: And it allows them to control content.
Robert: I mean I'm not you know I mean I, when you look at like you know devices and those kind of web services, I'm not saying I'm you know a fan of any of these things but gambling, adult anything that has to do with like what I still call the blue laws of this country and the mentality, they can still be gatekeepers. That's why I don't like this whole, well if you can't do it in mobile just make an app. Well show me it, show me a gambling app, like show me one. I haven't seen one yet.
Tim: Okay so let's talk about future technologies, what future technologies do you see, I mean HTML5 is finally sort of getting traction but in and of itself that's not that interesting.
Robert: That's the whole standards approach: we just need people to agree. WebRTC's looking good, Google and Mozilla are behind it, you got Microsoft sort of supporting it. Apple, once again, if it's not something they've invented they don't really want to be at the table right away. Although I was just told by someone who was at my session on live streaming, like, where are we now with live streaming? I talked about WebRTC. He's actually trying to make a business around WebRTC solution and he said Apple is finally at the table but they're not making any commitment on when they're actually going to say cause that's not how they roll. They're not going to say, "Oh yeah, our next release is Safari." You're going to find out if it’s supported when they release Safari.
Tim: And, in fact, people who work at Apple will probably find the same thing out at the same time. We had somebody from Streamroot. Streamroot is peer-to-peer, and it is based around WebRTC so they're clearly people making business around that.
Robert: If you're on an old version of IE, then you have to install our plug in to make it work otherwise we don't have these nice things available that the modern browser stack has so I think it's just a matter of time. Like and there's so much in our industry it's about having patience.
Tim: You know we've had format wars, we've had player wars, we've had browser wars, we're back to browser and plug in wars, so you're right I mean there's that sort of constant back and forth as we think we get one piece fixed then the next piece comes in. Codecs. What do you see in Codecs?
Robert: Again we're in this transition timeline. No one wants to invest now in a having any Flash in their system and if they do it they want to minimize, as minimal as possible.
When it comes to codecs, we're in this hybrid world like, okay, you might need Flash, you might need WebRTC if you want to do some live offering. It's just more money cause you have to keep spinning branches of software that's going to work on the platform. Codecs are going to be the same way in that you know I'm hoping you know, this guy, Jan Ozer keeps talking about AV1. I'm really excited about this idea of an open codec and I wouldn't lose any sleep if HEVC suddenly evaporated in two years because along comes AV1 and it's gonna solve everyone's problems. I'll believe it when I see it.
Tim: Do you think AVC has legs?
Robert: Oh yeah I don't think it's going anywhere fast. You've got so much content already encoded in that form
Tim: Great Robert, thank you very much for your time.
Microsoft's announcement that its removing Adobe Flash from Windows 10 is the final nail in the coffin, but the robust RTMP-based ecosystem that's grown around Flash is still thriving.
Most content publishers have already moved on from Flash, but those who need ultra-low latency have stuck with it. Now that Adobe is ending support for Flash, it's time to move to WebRTC, but it won't be easy.
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