Media, Technology

Help put together an open streaming platform!

I have been following the discussion started by Cory Doctorow regarding the use of open standards for public broadcasters. It is an important discussion and most of us agree that the use of an open standard that is not controlled by any corporation is the best solution when public broadcasters choose their system for making content available on new platforms.

The discussion has brought back issues that touch the problem with current business models, the way the internet can be used to stream private content all over the world and the big ugly question of digital rights management (DRM).

The internet and powerful sites like BoingBoing and Slashdot are excellent places to bring discussions like these on the agenda. Because Cory used the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation’s new service for media centers as the example to bring this discussion back into motion I have been following this one with an extra attention to detail.

A very short summary:
- Public broadcasters should use open standards
- People in general agree on this
- Microsoft Windows Media is not an open standard
- The public broadcasters should choose something else
- People question the knowledge of the broadcasters

I work for a public broadcaster, and believe me – we follow this closely. We look for alternatives. The completion of H.264 as a codec gives an alternative when it comes to quality, stability and use of bandwidth. The VLC-player is an interesting and open player that it should be possible to build something user friendly upon. Depending on CPU-useage and storage space available it is even possible to encode into several formats simultaneously in real time. Etc. Etc.

Still, I fail to find one single blog, comment or article that actually suggest a complete, working alternative.

Yes, this is the responsibility of the broadcasters themselves. They should find the solution. They should not just take the easiest way out. However, the public broadcasters would die if they where kept from competing with the commercial broadcasters that already operate with a system that reach more than 90% of the users (but is controlled by a big corporation). So, while waiting for an open alternative I find it vital that the public broadcasters are competing through the existing solutions.

But – to speed up the work, could we use the power of the internet to gather forces and draft a solution? Something that we could point broadcasters to when they say that there is no alternative? Because, I am afraid that this discussion is quite ineffective as long as the general opinion is that no alternative exist. If I could reach out to the BoingBoing and Slashdot crowd, the brains, geeks, programmers and utterly talented people out there. Maybe we could find the solution that is as real as Firefox is for replacing IE?

The internet is an excellent tool for doing more than pointing out what’s wrong. It’s absolutely capable of helping find a solution as well.

I will be more than happy if this results in the broadcasters realizing that they are simply not informed, and that a complete and working alternative is right there in front of them.

Regardless of what suggestions this lead to, this effort could give valuable input to the roadmap of what has to be done to create an alternative.

These are some simple guidelines of what a broadcaster needs:

1. Encoding
- Video input through SDI
- Audio input through AES/EBU, SPDIF and analogue
- Possible to encode several qualities in real time simultaneously
- Video quality comparable to WMV9 on the same bandwidth
- Audio Quality comparable to WMA on the same bandwidth
- Support for 5.1 sound
- Support for HD-content
- Time code and metadata in the video/audio stream

2. Streaming server
- Support for high volumes on unicast (typically, several thousand simultanious users)
- Prepared for multicast
- A user friendly interface that can be operated by non technical staff to manage content
- Detailed statistics
- A system for automatic caching of content out to several servers

3. Player
- Easy to install
- Multi plattform
- Must support an API to make it possible to build several different presentation layers utilizing the same player and codec
- Support for 5.1 sound
- Support for HD-content

I suggest that we try to draft three levels for the solution:
a. One completely open. No DRM. No payment.
b. One with a working DRM that the big studios and content owners accept
c. One with both DRM and a payment solution

One very important factor for all levels is the cost of the encoding, streaming server and the player.

These are not by any means the complete requirement specifications. It is a set of guidelines. And please also submit suggestions that doesn’t meet all of them.

Post suggestions directly as comments here, as a trackback from your own blog or as a link to a web site describing the solution. Del.icio.us tag for links in addition to posting them here: “opencast