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The Key Streaming Video Challenges the Industry Faces Today
…and how to solve them. Bandwidth limitations, latency issues, and device compatibility challenges prevent viewers from experiencing ideal video streaming. Here's what to do.

We’ve seen the meteoric rise of streaming video across every aspect of modern work and entertainment. However, despite significant technological breakthroughs over the past two decades, there remain specific hurdles that video providers continue to face. In particular, bandwidth limitations, latency issues, and device compatibility challenges prevent viewers from experiencing seamless video streaming. With continued innovation across devices that can deliver 4K, immersive or augmented reality, and 360° video, how can we make the technology powering video more reliable?

Bandwidth Limitations

In the past two decades, we’ve seen major advancements in broadband technology, high-definition video, and streaming media. However, higher resolution videos and larger bandwidth capabilities present new challenges, as networks are more likely to experience a bandwidth crunch.

For example, it’s common for a 720p video to be streamed at 2.5 to 5 Mbps, or for a 1080p video to be streamed at 5 to 10 Mbps. However, with 4K resolutions and beyond, that ratio doesn’t scale. If video providers are using H.264 AVC, they need the capacity to stream 40 Mbps. As a result, the newer codecs of HEVC, VP9, or AV1 are critically important in today’s streaming video landscape, since they can compress to half the size of H.264 AVC.  

With the recent net neutrality rollback and overall cord-cutting movement, bandwidth limitations are only going to become more prevalent. We’re seeing more and more consumption of video content on a daily basis across a variety of devices, and consumers want to be able to view that content in the best possible quality.

The only way to provide the highest quality video at anytime and anywhere is to have tight, lossless compression. And that’s not an easy task by any means. Not that long ago, Dirac and other similar compressions were the way to go, but not anymore. Today’s two-pass compression addresses all of these constraints, unlike the old two-pass VBR compression. Two-pass compression provides an overall package compression, followed by a secondary compression that helps with delivery of the higher compressed video inside. You can think of it as removing a few lines of interlaced video while transmitting, or removing information that is similar, instead of transmitting unique information once for every frame. Overall, this allows providers to send what is needed and then rebuild the frame from the known information.

There havealso been recent advancements in new compression technologies, butmany are still ages away from being adopted or combined into more established codecs. One example is a recently released codec that processes video from the center out. It essentially starts with a rough picture and then fills it out from there, versus the traditional bottom-up or top-down approach. This approach is interesting because it allows forstarting the motion estimation and quantization processing sooner, thus reducing the overall encoding time and improvinglatency.

Latency and Reliability Issues

With higher resolutions and bitrates, massive amounts of data are being delivered—and this volume of activity can result in latency and reliability issues. As viewers, we’ve all experienced that all-too-familiar scenario where the video stream lags or completely drops out at a crucial moment. And as video professionals, we’ve been on the other side and have seen firsthand how difficult it is to deliver high-quality video to viewers at scale.

The solution to preventing latency lies in using a multi-CDN or SD-CDN approach. By tapping into more than one content delivery network, streaming providers can access the best network with the shortest video packet times when they need it most. This solution allows for intelligent players that can analyze user activity and determine when switching networks will improve the viewing experience. Think of multi-CDNs and SD-CDNs as load balancing across CDNs versus servers. Ultimately, this solution allows for more ingest points and optimized delivery, helping to make the overall process extremely resilient and robust.

Metadata and Search Challenges

Human error accounts for most of the mistakes we see in cataloging video. That miscategorized information then sits in archives forever, making searching for specific content a nightmare. Additionally, inmostcases, metadata taggingislimited to basic information about a video such as the title, actors, and genre. This lack of detail can ultimately lead to bad search results, andlead to poor qualityrecommendations. Advancements in AI, however, have made it possible to automate metadata tagging to deliver enhanced search and discovery capabilities, which can feed intofacial recognition, object recognition, and closed captioning capabilities.

With AI you can train the system on people, places, spellings, and more. Useful metadata leads to fruitful searches for your viewers, and helps with recommendations, all of which leads to better monetization opportunities for the providers.

Device Compatibility Challenges

Ensuring that video streams are compatible with—and optimized for—the myriad devices on the market is another challenge that providers face. Today, fully adaptive streams can adjust to any bitrate and resolution, making it easier to deliver the right stream to every screen. However, video providers still need to decide whether to distribute multiple streams to a service provider or send one stream and transcode it.

To effectively deliver the highest quality video to multiple devices, the optimal solution is to send one stream to a service provider and have it transcode for the devices as needed. This approach ensures that the bandwidth required is available to match the highest quality stream. Distributors can then take the stream and adapt it to various quality requirements, which ultimately saves bandwidth and prevents overall latency, while reducing the cost for customers, as well.

Today’s technology and advancements have made it possible to overcome these issues and deliver high-quality streaming video to users anytime, anywhere. By using newer codecs, a multi-CDN or SD-CDN approach, and AI technology, as well as intelligently transcoding video streams, providers can improve the user experience and keep viewers engaged. In today’s crowded media landscape, technology challenges must be addressed to retain viewers and drive profitability. While we all know that creating high-quality content is a key differentiator for streaming video providers, that content is worthless if viewers can’t find it or don’t have a smooth viewing experience once they do. Ensuring that massive video files can be delivered quickly—without lags—and viewed on any device is paramount to a streaming provider’s success.

 [Editor's Note: This is a contributed article from IBM. Streaming Media accepts vendor bylines based solely on their value to our readers.]

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