Well, the cat has been out of the bag for a few days and I have been too busy to blog about it.
But today as I wait for my team to do a final deploy fixing a bug with too-long URL names for Flash Media Encoder, I have some spare time to mention what’s going on and make some people an offer they cannot refuse.
So, for the past half year of so we’ve been hacking away at a new service to solve a very specific problem in streaming. From 2005-2010 the streaming world mostly settled on Flash as a common platform, which was an unstable equilibrium for everyone involved, but it seemed to work. However, with the amount of codecs, devices and platforms there are today, this equilibrium has been falling. The introduction of iPhone, Microsoft’s heavy pushing of Silverlight (paying companies to stream in it – and funnily enough those companies usually stop using Silverlight when the money faucet closes), GoogleTV, the introduction of WebM, the arrival of HTML5 (ironically pushed by Apple – yay – even though their HTML5 sites usually only work in Safari – boo)… all these movements served to upset the status quo once again.
To the eye of the casual observer, it would seem that all streaming has standardized on H264, and so transmuxing technologies are popping up – taking the same video encoding and just remux it for different technologies. However, in practice, H264 is a collection of many techniques and profiles, different levels of complexity, and not all devices support the same profiles and techniques. If you want to stream to all H264 devices with just one encoding, you’ll have to settle for the least common denominator in terms of quality, and you’ll have to pick a resolution that works subpar for all of them.
Now, content producers hate this sort of situation. They just want to get the signal out there, because that’s what matters. The codec and the streaming is just the technological means to get it across the internet. And now the market is asking them to put a bunch of machines in their facilities, learn a lot of technologies they’d rather not worry about, consume heaps of bandwidth to send each version online, and then have to do it all over again each time something changes out there – a new codec, a new device, a new favorite resolution, …
Our answer to this problem is simple: send us one encoding, we will do the rest. Our service will take your live stream, transcode it to as many different encodings as you want, and hand them off to a CDN. That’s basically it. Want full HTML5 coverage ? We’ll do it for you – H264 single and multibitrate, Theora, WebM, and a Flash fallback. Want Silverlight, Flash RTMP, Windows Media MMS ? All there.
Services like this already exist for ondemand – see zencoder and encoding.com and Panda. Live is just inherently more difficult – you don’t get to work with nice single finished files, and it has to happen right now. But this is exactly the sort of thing a framework like GStreamer is good for.
In reality we aren’t doing anything new here – Flumotion runs a CDN that already provides this service to customers. The difference is that this time, you will be able to set it up yourself online. A standard integration time with any CDN is around two weeks. This service will cut that time down to five minutes. We’re not quite there yet, but we’re close.
What’s that you say ? Something about an offer ? Oh, right. It’s always pained me to see that, when we wanted to stream a conference for free, it was still quite a bit of work in the setup stage for our support team, and hence we didn’t stream as many conferences as I would have liked to. Similarly, it pains me to see a lot of customers not even considering free formats.
So the offer is simple. If you are running an event or a conference that flies under a Free/Open banner, and you’re willing to stream only in free formats (meaning, Theora and WebM), and you’re willing to ride the rough wave of innovation as we shake out our last bugs, we want to help you out. Send us the signal, we’ll do the rest. Drop me a line and let’s see how we can set it up. Offer limited, standard handwavy disclaimers apply, you’ll have to take my word for it, etc…
If you’re in the streaming industry, I will be demoing this new service next week on Wednesday around 2.00 pm local time in New York City, at Streaming Media East. And after that our Beta program starts.
Feel free to follow our twitter feed and find us on Facebook somewhere, as the kids these days say…