HEVC, HLS To Transform Multiscreen Delivery

The multiscreen, multiformat, multi-codec world of sports-content distribution continues to grow more complex. So how, exactly, is it possible to streamline operations when it comes to reaching those screens in a wide variety of formats and operating systems?

The complexity of the problem is shown by looking at ESPN3, the over-the-top and broadband service that delivers more than 6,500 live events a year at seven bitrates over two content-delivery networks to 28 discrete Websites.

Paul Gavalis, senior director of digital video technology and operations, ESPN, says the HEVC compression holds the promise of delivering the same picture currently being delivered but at half the required bits.

“That means less chance of buffering on lower-bandwidth networks, and buffering is always the tough part,” he says. “But it is a reality on handsets.”

However, he adds, until HEVC is widely deployed, there is little incentive to embrace it.

Keith Wymbs, VP of marketing, Elemental Technologies, expects the challenges of HEVC on both the decoder side and the chip-development side to be sorted out early in 2014. That will begin a cascading effect allowing HEVC to trickle down through the entire ecosystem.

“We think someone can make back the costs on going HEVC in three or four months as the CDN costs [will be lower],” he says.

Another reality? For all the buzz around HEVC, Apple’s use of HLS or HTTP Live Streaming for its video- and audio-streaming needs will continue to be a major focus of attention. Even with the use of HEVC, there will be a need to send out content via HLS as well.

“That means spinning up another 13 or 14 streams per event in addition to serving legacy devices,” adds Gavalis.

As much as two-thirds of all viewing is on iOS devices, according to Eric Weinstein, director, digital media solutions, iStream Planet. And there is still no ecosystem to support HEVC delivery. That means there is still plenty of work to do to have these new technologies serving consumers more efficiently from a bandwidth perspective.

Scott Katzdenoff, VP, Northeast Region, Haivision, says the goal is to, eventually, offload one source to many destinations. That is one reason cloud-based and software-based encoding and decoding is so attractive.

“Haivision and Elemental are transcoding live in the cloud,” he explains, “so that the bandwidth constraints are dealt with in the cloud rather than on the device.”

Gavalis adds that one advantage of cloud-based encoding and decoding is that, ultimately, it will be the only way sports-content producers can reach users with simultaneous individualized experiences.