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                                                 JOURNAL
PROMOTING COMMUNITY INTERESTS IN COMMUNICATIONS • WINTER 2008 • VOLUME 16, ISSUE 4




             Fiber: Important              IN THIS ISSUE

                                           Health I.T., Rural Broadband,
             To Your City’s                and Common Sense | 8
             Economic Health               PEG Tripod Needs Three Legs;
             PAGE 5                        May Be Lifeboats for Big
                                           Media’s Sinking Ships | 10
                                           Crossing the Digital Divide | 13
            Evolution of Streaming
                 Methodology
                                                 By Bryan R. Halley




                    I
                              n 1995, Niklaus Wirth made popular the idea that
                              “software is getting slower more rapidly than hardware
                              becomes faster.” This became known as Wirth’s law and his
                     law has become indicative of why the methodology behind
                     streaming video has evolved into an industry dominated by the
                     Flash format and its simplicity.
                          The Flash format has become the     AudioNet (later known as
                     format of choice from vendors such as    Broadcast.com) and NetRadio began
                     YouTube, Google Video, MySpace,          using RealNetworks’ RealAudio to
                     ABC and NBC/Universal. However,          stream their content worldwide.
                     Flash wasn’t always the industry         Services by such providers allowed
                     leader. The mid 1990s saw the            end-users to listen to media files live or
                     emergence of RealNetworks’ (then         on-demand. In October 1996, the Real
                     known as Progressive Networks)           Time Streaming Protocol (RTSP)
                     RealAudio and Microsoft’s                standardization initiative launched
                     ActiveMovie. These new ways of           with Netscape Communications
                     dealing with media files and streaming   Corporation allowing a client to
                     media, along with advances in            remotely control a streaming media
                     computer networking, more powerful       server. Four months later
                     computers and the use of standard        RealNetworks introduced RealVideo.
                     protocols, made streaming media               RealVideo using the RTSP
                     practical and more affordable.           standard enabled end-users the ability
                          RealNetworks’ RealAudio became      to use VCR-like commands such as
                     the frontrunner as the most popular      “play” and “pause.” It also allowed
                     streaming format when the Internet       for time-based access to files on a
                     began to emerge. Companies such as       server. RealVideo and its early


28   N AT O A J O U R N A L    WINTER 2008
domination of streaming technologies      ease of use, availability on Windows        and format gave Apple computer users
enabled RealNetworks to pioneer the       operating system computers and its          a multimedia player and format
industry, grabbing a strong foothold      support for any container format using      designed for their specific platform.
and root of users that were not           specific DirectShow filters. Its ability    When version 4 was released, it was
challenged until Microsoft released its   in later versions to offer digital rights   accompanied by the release of the free
Windows Media Player version 6.4          management and support time-limited         QuickTime Streaming Server. This
and later version 7.                      subscription video services ensures         meant upfront cost for providers was
     Yet as the hardware, both from an    Windows Media will continue to be           negligible if they chose to support
end-user perspective and provider         seen by some as an industry and             QuickTime. This gave QuickTime an
prospective, became faster and            consumer favorite.                          advantage over RealNetworks’
cheaper, RealNetworks’ RealVideo               Windows Media’s evolution to           RealVideo format when compared to
began to lose its foothold. RealVideo     popularity however is not without its       the up-front cost of RealNetworks’
had become the format to do               complaints. The first and most              streaming servers.
everything, but it didn’t do anything     prominent complaint is its lack of               Version 4 and subsequent releases
well. Thus giving rise in popularity to   cross-platform support. In fact,            of QuickTime featured such functions
the Windows Media Player and its          Microsoft ceased development of             as cross-platform support, variable bit
default file formats in late 1999. Not    Windows Media Player for the Mac in         rate support for MP3 audio, Sorenson
only was Windows Media already            2006. Additionally, Windows Media is        Video, H.264 playback and export,
installed with all Windows operating      plagued by longer buffering times and       MPEG-2 playback and integration
systems, but licensing fees for a         a worldwide ubiquity rate of only           with Apple’s iTunes.
RealVideo server became overly costly.    79.3%. Users also have complained                However, QuickTime is often
The software development was unable       about the digital rights management         criticized as its implementation of
to keep up with the rising speed          (DRM) system. Windows Media DRM             H.264 is sometimes considered
advancements in hardware.                 tends to lose the ability to restore        inferior. Slow performance in both
RealNetworks also began to push           licenses for WMV files following            encoding and decoding coupled with
more towards a subscription based         reinstalls. Content providers have their    H.264 limitations means files generally
service model. Eventually Windows         doubts about the DRM system too.            need to be given greater bitrates in
Media was able to take away               Walmart recently announced that they        order to have similar quality as other
RealVideo’s market share and became       are shutting down their DRM servers.        formats. As a result, providers and
the dominant format of choice for         This means people who purchased             content producers incur larger files
end-users.                                content from their online music store       and require more storage space if they
     Windows Media Video (WMV)            will lose access to that content.           support QuickTime. Due to the
was specifically designed for streaming        Windows Media Video has always         processor requirements for higher
applications and as a competitor to       been really strict on their codecs and      compression files of H.264, an end-
RealNetworks’ RealVideo and Apple’s       refused to license it out, stifling the     user is often faced with having to
Quicktime. As computing power             ability to distribute it from UNIX          sacrifice quality or higher bitrates.
continued to increase over the years,     based servers, until (ironically enough)    Additionally, QuickTime versions 4
Microsoft developers focused their        RealNetworks reverse engineered it          through 7.3 contained a security
attention on WMV’s ability to support     and put it into their Helix server.         compromise for PC users.
variable bit rates, average bit rates,    Microsoft likely refused to license it           What the world needed was a
and constant bit rates. This was a        out because they wanted to control the      fully web integrated, cross-platform,
response to the growing concern of        DRM market. Microsoft also wanted           flexible, customizable, low friction
bandwidth bottlenecks during the last     to control the systems for licensing        installation web media format. What
mile of connectivity. In January 2003,    everyone’s content, not just the            the streaming media industry received
Microsoft introduced WMV 9. Native        encoding and distribution. On the           was … Flash.
support for interlaced video, non-        other hand QuickTime and Flash both              Adobe Flash (formally, Shockwave
square pixels, and frame interpolation    used existing Sorensen codecs.              Flash and Macromedia Flash) was
were some of the important new                 The QuickTime format became a          originally a popular method for
features introduced in version 9. These   major player in streaming after version     adding animation or creating
new developments solidified Windows       4 was released in 1999. QuickTime           interactivity to web pages. Flash is still
Media as a major player and the           already had a large following of happy      used to create animation, interactivity
software had 14 million downloads in      consumers because originally                for web pages and web
the first month alone.                    QuickTime was designed and released         advertisements, but the ability to
     Windows Media for much of the        by Apple in 1991 as a multimedia            integrate video into web pages has
early 2000’s dominated because of its     add-on. The QuickTime video player          launched Flash into becoming the

                                                                                N AT O A J O U R N A L   WINTER 2008         29
streaming video format of choice.         Flash content reaches 99.0% of Internet viewers
When compared to QuickTime, Real          Adobe® Flash® Player is the world’s most pervasive software platform, used
Video or Windows Media, Flash has         by over 2 million professionals and reaching 99.0% of Internet-enabled
become widespread and created             desktops in US, Canada, UK, France, Germany, Japan as well as a wide
market dominance. Flash’s small           range of devices.
install size, On2 VP6 video codec
support, filter effects and blending                     Adobe
modes, fast initialization time, cross-
                                                                                                                              99.0%
                                                    Flash Player
platform support and better video
quality at lower bitrates are a few                          Java                                                82.0%
reasons why Flash has reached 99.0%
                                          Microsoft Windows                                                  77.0%
of Internet-enabled computers as well           Media Player
as a wide range of other devices.
     Recently QuickTime and Flash                     Apple                                         64.0%
have both adopted standardized              QuickTime Player
codecs and containers, MPEG-4 and                   Adobe                                       58.0%
H.264. Microsoft developed their VC-       Shockwave Player
1 codec but the format was closed                       RealOne                          47.0%
unlike the open nature of H.264. Some                     Player
worry about Microsoft’s history of not
releasing information on, or even                             SVG         7.0%
allowing for, development of                                        0     JUNE 20     30      40
                                          MILLWARD BROWN SURVEY, CONDUCTED10 2008, COMMISSIONED BY ADOBE SYSTEMS INC.
                                                                                                     50     60      70   80    90   100
interoperable products. Examples                                                Percentage of Internet-enabled PCs
include their Office Suite, server
products, Silverlight and the .NET        to even be used in a ‘hands-free’                  and cross-browser support will
Framework. Additionally, VC-1 full        environment. This means content                    challenge Silverlight’s acceptance in the
compliance requires that either           could be recorded, processed and                   industry, especially with respect to
Windows Media Format 11 Runtime           distributed without the need for staff             Flash’s current ubiquity rate.
or Windows Media Player 11 be             to start/stop recordings or timestamp              Microsoft has also introduced H.264
installed on the computer. The VC-1       video. This ‘hands-free’ solution is in            support for future versions of
codec is better known as the SMPTE        place at many American cities. Some                Silverlight, keeping pace with
421M video codec standard and is an       cities using this technology include               something QuickTime and Flash
alternative to MP4 and H.264.             Houston, Irving and Plano, Texas, and              already offer. However, QuickTime
Subsequently, many of QuickTime’s         Concord, California. Even such media               and Flash are now both pushing
customizations to the MP4 container       outlets as WBRZ (ABC affiliate) and                forward with H.264 in the MP4
became the basis for the now widely       The Advocate (Baton Rouge, LA                      container, which will leave Silverlight
adopted ISO standard.                     newspaper) are deploying this ‘hands-              behind even further in development,
     This brings us back to Flash.        free’ ability to stream content over the           but it means the industry is going to
Windows Media and QuickTime both          Internet. The environment of                       end up with a unified format sometime
did fairly well on their respective       providing a true ‘hands-free’ solution             soon. I
platforms because they were               is saving money for such entities by
automatically distributed with their      eliminating the need for additional                Bryan R. Halley is the President of
respective operating systems. Flash       staff or their time, not to mention the            Swagit Productions, LLC. Swagit is a
didn’t have that luxury and yet they      increase in productivity because staff             leading streaming media company
managed to sneak past both and gain       isn’t needed to timestamp, start/stop a            focused on providing media solutions
distribution agreements with browsers     recording or upload content. Typically,            to television stations, newspapers and
and hardware manufacturers because        this technology and its offerings are              local government agencies. Swagit is
they started out as an innocuous web      cheaper to deploy than those using                 the only company that does all your
animation development language. The       formats other than Flash.                          video capturing, editing and processing
video came later after they had                Microsoft’s answer to Flash is                for you, offering a true ‘hands-free’
massive adoption and automatic            Silverlight. It’s too soon to understand           solution. For more information on
update features in place.                 the impact Silverlight will have on the            Swagit or Bryan R. Halley, please visit
     Such adoption has enabled Flash      industry. Flash’s larger cross-platform            Swagit.com.




30   N AT O A J O U R N A L   WINTER 2008

				
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