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Streaming Media Formats, Public-i's evolution

By August 1, 2013No Comments

Public-i has been offering streaming media services for over a decade now. We have been at the bleeding edge of these technologies and, in some cases, have led the way and helped influence the standards we see today. Since the early days we always used the most up-to-date streaming methods. Originally we used Real Networks in conjunction with Real Networks Real Player, we were streaming over ISDN lines producing webcasts that were available via modem dial up; the ability to view online video over your 56Kbps modem was revolutionary.

We continued to innovate and introduced Windows Media services, which gave our clients choice and allowed for increased flexibility and an improved viewing experience. Windows Media Video (WMV) instantly became the industry standard. Their approach was to allow for customisation within the streamed media, offering simultaneous streams to cater for the varied audience. This meant we could offer various data rates (high/medium/low) allowing the viewer to automatically choose the rate their connection could manage. Slowly, Real Networks was phased out and WMV became the first choice for all clients. Over time the Windows Media codecs improved along with internet speeds, which allowed for higher data rates and improved user experiences.

At one stage all our clients were streaming using Windows Media Video, but this monopoly wasn’t to last that long because – as with every industry – competition drives things forward. The introduction of sites like YouTube and Vimeo meant that a new, more efficient codec was needed. While MPEG2 was leading the way on DVD playback, the ITU-T Video Coding Experts Group (VCEG) developed a new codec called MPEG4 – also know as H264. Originally this was for HD playback like Blu-ray but, due to the nature of its design, it was easily translated to the web.

At first the codec would only really work well at high data rates, but developments improved, desktop encoder applications improved and we were soon able to harness these applications in our webcaster software and offer H264 as a viable contender to the mighty WMV. Industry trends also changed and the movement to this highly efficient codec soon swarmed. At first the obvious playback was via Adobe’s Flash Player, which introduced new features such as on-video displays and rich graphic overlays. Microsoft countered this by introducing Silverlight, which helped push WMV back up the rankings.

This continued for a year or so, and then a new threat to WMV and Flash Player was introduced in the form of the iPad. The iPad clearly changed the market forever, re-imagining the way we use the internet with the the birth of apps. However, H264 was still powerful due to its immensely versatile use and application.

Skip a year or so and mobile tablets were the staple of pretty much anyone buying new technology, and with the introduction of HTML5 we saw an opportunity to utilise H264 and offer clients the ability to stream to any device/platform/OS. We updated the design and function of our pioneering Connect system to be responsive – catering for this change in consumer behaviour. Now our system works across all devices that have connection to the internet.

What does this mean today?

Windows Media codec, which powers WMV, is no longer supported by Microsoft and the codec hasn’t been improved or developed for sometime now. It doesn’t work on mobile devices, such as Android and iOS, and the quality is inferior to H264 at similar data rates. HTML5 is also powering on as the standard for video distribution and windows media isn’t supported. So Public-i has taken the decision to move away from offering WMV as a service and will be looking to migrate all our existing clients away from WMV to H264.

While we’ll be talking all our clients through this, it won’t have any impact on the service – rather it’ll improve it, enabling people using any device to watch webcasts.

Time scales around migration will be communicated soon, but ideally within the next few months all clients will be streaming live in H264, all archive files will be supported for the duration of their contract period.


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