The 5 major speed bumps on the MPEG-DASH highway! Part II

In my last post I talked about MPEG-DASH and two of the associated challenges (Intellectual Property and Rights & Codec) that must be overcome to attain widespread adoption. In this post I will focus on the remaining three challenges. They are (1) Apple and Adobe’s position on DASH, (2) content protection, and (3) interoperability and deployment.

Apple and Adobe’s position on DASH

Apple’s iDevices are very popular for watching video. Apple’s HLS is a widely adopted standard for adaptive streaming on all connected iDevices. This standard provides them with a clear competitive advantage over other device platforms that do not have one. Even Google has implemented support for HLS starting with Android 3.0. Moving to DASH may not be in Apple’s best interest since it gives away their competitive advantage. Adobe, with their Flash technology, has a similar story in the PC browser market – Flash is a popular standard for streaming video on PC browsers.

Adobe has committed to supporting DASH in their products in the future, but has not announced a timeline to support DASH in their Media Server or in their Flash products. Apple has not yet made any public statements regarding support for DASH on their platform. If these market leaders do not embrace DASH then it is unlikely to meet its stated objective – to become a universal standard for adaptive video streaming.

DASH will bring all the players in the industry to a level playing field, which is not exactly in the best interests of these market leaders.

Content Protection

Digital Rights Management (DRM) is a particularly important consideration, when dealing with premium video content. In conjunction with DASH, MPEG is also developing a common encryption standard (ISO/IEC 23001-7) that defines signaling of a common encryption scheme of media content. Unfortunately, the standard does not allow for a common implementation of DRM decryption and playback on the client device. The challenge here is that the DRM license system used to retrieve the DRM keys to decrypt the media is the responsibility of the client application. DASH does not resolve the issue of what DRM scheme the client must use to retrieve keys and decrypt content. The client devices still need to license a DRM technology (e.g. PlayReady, Widevine, Flash Access etc.) to allow decryption and playback of encrypted contents. This is against DASH’s stated goal of unifying the standard for adaptive streaming to Over the Top (OTT) devices.

Interoperability and Deployments

The DASH standard is now published, and it is time for interoperability testing and deployments. The encoder and player vendors need to perform interoperability testing before wide scale deployment can be achieved. The ecosystem of ad servers, analytics, audience measurement and content protection must also evolve to allow content providers and distributors to leverage the new technology and to create business value.

The good news is that the DASH promoters group has a specific task force dealing with interoperability. It is bringing together various partners to perform interoperability tests and to recommend deployment guidelines and configurations. Other organizations such as IMTC have also planned interoperability tests for MPEG DASH in 2012.

Despite the above noted challenges at QuickPlay we think DASH is a good technical protocol for adaptive streaming. Therefore we are in the process of becoming a member of the MPEG-DASH promoters group and is currently working with other members in the ecosystem (e.g. content providers, encoder vendors, media player vendors, CDNs etc.) to evaluate building a video streaming solution based on DASH. After evaluating various component offerings, and identifying the integration points, we plan to build an end-to-end system that supports streaming premium videos to multiple devices/platforms using MPEG DASH. We believe that MPEG DASH will help us immensely in reducing the complexity and cost of delivering video to multiple target platforms/devices. It will allow us to serve a broader audience while driving down cost for our customers.

Senior Product Manager, V-STB Clients & OV App