How Technology Is Improving The Video Streaming Experience?
When you consider how routinely we access content via apps like YouTube or Netflix, it’s hard to believe that not that long ago it was virtually impossible to view or transmit video of any kind over the internet. There just wasn’t the bandwidth or the speed available in the early days to make it feasible.
According to Cisco, video traffic accounted for an astonishing 70% of all internet usage in 2017, a figure that is expected to climb to 82% by 2022.
It’s proof that if you build it — a robust infrastructure necessary for video transport — they will come. A mature industry now exists, one worth more than $30 billion in 2016, to facilitate the streaming and the delivery of on-demand video across a range of devices, from big-screen displays to mobile phones.
But while companies have invested plenty of treasure and effort to ensure the transmission of reams of data to their customers, far less attention has been paid to the quality of the end product — to ensure that the end user, the human being sitting in their living room, is satisfied with the video they’re watching.
The problem, however, is that the system — the delivery chain that moves video to a user’s device or screen — subverts their best intensions, and that’s because the delivery chain isn’t uniform or seamless. The system that moves a video from camera to end user consists of a linked network of pieces, with each link controlled or owned by an individual player (content creators, broadcasters, cable companies, internet providers, display manufacturers). Each of those players has a unique task and a vested interest in the performance of their own equipment and the ultimate success of their own task, and therefore less of an interest in the entire chain.
Moreover, each has a definition of quality that is unique to their task and that’s often at odds with the needs of the other players in the chain. They all care about quality, in other words, but within the scope of their narrow role.
The result? Far too often the viewer’s experience is one that, in terms of quality, leaves much to be desired. Who hasn’t watched a video and stared in despair as it buffered, or become frustrated when a screen freezes, or ground their teeth because the sound wouldn’t synch with the action? The cost? Unhappy viewers. Exasperated advertisers. Fingers are pointed. Money and goodwill are squandered.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
By working together, by agreeing on a single quality metric that begins and ends with the satisfaction of the viewer, significant improvement of video quality is achievable. This approach, starting from the point of view of the end user, is a new paradigm on delivery measurement, one made possible by advances in signal process and neural science.
Netflix, for example, uses a method called video multimethod assessment fusion, or VMAF. VMAF makes use of machine learning to determine video quality, as opposed to the human visual system method known as SSIMPLUS. The suitability of both methods was discussed at Streaming Media East earlier this year.
From the discussion, VMAF proves to be a feasible quality control for on-demand binge-watching of pre-recorded programming, when there is time to check and recheck the video files. SSIMPLUS, on the other hand, excels with the get-it-right-the-first-time livestream scenarios such as the Super Bowl.
Delivery chain technology is improving, too, which is enhancing the video streaming experience. This includes improved capture cameras at one end, higher resolution screens at the other and the pipes in between. 5G is introducing faster, bigger and smarter TV everywhere networks, while high-efficiency video coding such as HEVC and AV1 promise to deliver high-quality 4k video (and possibly 8k HDR), that is 30% to 40% smaller than before.
Every participant in the video distribution chain has a vested interest in making video quality better. Each one is taking steps toward improvement. Delivery technology and quality measurement technology will continue to advance. In short, the experience of watching video online will only get better.