Video-on-demand goes one step further
Published online 28 March 2012
A*STAR's Scalable Multimedia Platform technology enters a new phase of commercialization, bringing its ‘anytime, anywhere’ high-quality video streaming solution to a wider audience
With the ever-increasing popularity of on-demand media and the continued rise of video hosting sites such as YouTube, which streams upwards of four billion videos per day, there has been a growing need to find innovative and affordable solutions to store, manage and playback multimedia for different devices.
The A*STAR team of researchers who developed the Scalable Multimedia Platform, led by Principal Investigator Jo Yew Tham (third from right)
The Scalable Multimedia Platform (SMP) technology, developed at the A*STAR Institute for Infocomm Research (I²R), is one of the first of its kind to provide an adaptable media coding, management and delivery system that offers enhanced end-user experience. The technology utilizes a single ‘layered’ source file that can adapt automatically to devices ranging from smartphones and personal computers to high-definition televisions. (See Ushering in a new multimedia era.)
Now, the game-changing SMP software technology enters new ground with the announcement that Reachfield IT Solutions, a leading-edge Singapore-based IT business solutions provider, has signed an agreement with Exploit Technologies Pte Ltd, the technology transfer arm of A*STAR, to develop and market the technology.
“I believe the Scalable Multimedia Platform (SMP) has the potential to transform how media content is encoded, managed and distributed over the Internet. It brings significant benefits to content producers such as broadcasters and content aggregators by greatly reducing their total costs of operation and ownership," says Tan Geok Leng, Acting Executive Director of I²R. "With a single encoding process, the scalable files will simplify management of files while slashing expensive server storage space and uplink bandwidth usage. SMP also offers the best quality of viewing experience via its dynamic scalable streaming capability to the end users, on any networks and on any device ranging from mobile, tablet, PC to a full-fledged HDTV.”
A one-stop, scalable solution
Designed from the ground up to be scalable, the SMP technology eliminates the need for the creation of multiple files to cater to a range of bandwidths and device resolutions. Conventional video streaming systems depend on non-scalable video codec such as H.264 (AVC), VP8 and WMV. By relying on a single compressed video file, non-scalable video codec cannot support the type of uninterrupted, high-quality playback experience that users have come to expect in both domestic and business settings. The SMP avoids this problem by providing an intelligent client plug-in, leading to a more sophisticated, adaptive approach to video streaming.
“Scalable Multimedia Platform clients achieve real-time quality-of-experience adaptation for a smooth viewing experience without re-buffering in almost all reasonable conditions,” explains Jo Yew Tham, principal investigator of the SMP projects at I²R. “This is in contrast with many existing video solutions on the market that cause video players to stall and re-buffer repeatedly; as a stop-gap solution, some service providers generate many different video file versions, which are then broken up into smaller fragments. The server is then burdened with switching between these smaller pieces for streaming to each individual client. Such an approach not only increases storage, but can also create a bottleneck for server-side scaling, making it difficult to respond to the needs of a large pool of clients on different devices across fluctuating network conditions.”
The SMP is a comprehensive scalable multimedia platform that leverages the latest ISO/IEC H.264 (SVC) scalable video coding standard, which is the scalable extension of the popular H.264 (AVC) standard. The single compressed video file comprises multiple layers, including a base layer and multiple enhancement layers. Tham draws on the analogy of an onion to describe the base layer residing at the core, with each additional enhancement layer successively improving the spatial resolution, picture quality, and video playback frame rate.
The SMP technology allows a video source to be encoded just once for playback on a range of different client devices, offering an adaptive, intelligent solution that increases quality of experience for end users
“Using a single scalable video file — a layered ‘onion’ — our SMP streaming server can dynamically ‘peel’ and deliver only the appropriate video layers to the respective clients,” says Tham. “For example, a smartphone can receive only the base layer and play back a mobile resolution version of the video. A tablet can receive the base layer and one enhancement layer to render a higher spatial resolution version. A high-definition television can receive even more enhancement layers of the ‘onion’ and display a full high-definition version of the same video at full frame-rate and the highest quality.”
By effectively scaling down the need for data storage space, as well as reducing labor costs associated with file transcoding and management, SMP is an affordable technology that lends itself particularly well to digital archiving, for example at libraries, galleries, museums and heritage sites. Reachfield IT Solutions is continuing to promote the technology to their existing customers, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Singapore, the Singapore Tourism Board, and the National Archives of Singapore.
Anytime, anywhere, for any device
Due to the adaptive and affordable nature of the SMP, there are many promising avenues to apply SMP technology in schools and e-learning networks. Through the tie-up with Reachfield IT Solutions, SMP is being deployed for a next-generation ‘lecture-on-demand’ system as part of an online learning portal being trialled at the National University of Singapore (NUS) High School of Mathematics and Science.
“With SMP, teachers can easily upload new teaching video content to a cutting-edge lecture-on-demand system,” explains Tham. “Each video is automatically transcoded into one scalable video file at the server backend. The scalable streaming server then effortlessly delivers the appropriate scalable video version to the students who can choose to view it on any device — PC, tablet or phone. This allows teachers to focus on creating the best teaching materials and leave it to SMP to create a seamless viewing experience for the students — anytime, anywhere and over any networks.”
The advantages SMP offers to the educational sector are also applicable to other spheres of society and industry. Online communication portals are becoming increasingly important in hospitals, in corporate broadcasting, live webcasts and other on-demand training and testing systems. The scalable technology also has exciting applications for video multicasting, for example, for live coverage of news and sports events. “Our focus now is on live multi-camera event multicasting,” says Tham. “This will allow end-users to choose a personalized combination of ‘picture-in-picture’ live video camera views, even if each camera view is at a different display resolution. Non-scalable video solutions currently on the market cannot achieve this without resorting to simulcasting, which is very expensive and creates issues for the server backend. Using SMP, the service provider need only encode each live video feed once in a scalable fashion and upstream one scalable video file to provide a seamless viewing experience for heterogeneous end users.”
In addition to video-on-demand and live broadcasting, I²R aims to expand the capabilities of SMP progressively to other applications, including video security surveillance and high-quality video conferencing. By identifying strategic partnerships and licensing new technologies, A*STAR continues to develop a wide range of innovative solutions that are helping companies to enhance their growth strategies.
“Reachfield is a good example of how an SME can effectively make use of promising homegrown technology to grow their business,” says Philip Lim, CEO of Exploit Technologies Pte Ltd. “We encourage more of Singapore’s 154,000 SMEs to come forward and work with A*STAR. There are plenty of other good sciences ready for more of you to springboard to greater heights!”
About the Institute for Infocomm Research
The A*STAR Institute for Infocomm Research (I²R) was established in 2002 with the mission of becoming a globally preferred source of innovations in interactive secured information, content and services. I²R conducts research and development in information technology, wireless and optical communications, interactive and digital media, signal processing and computing.
About Exploit Technologies Pte Ltd (ETPL)
Exploit Technologies Pte Ltd (ETPL) is the technology transfer arm of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR). Its mission is to support A*STAR in transforming the economy through commercializing R&D. Exploit Technologies enhances the research output of A*STAR scientists by translating their inventions into marketable products or processes. Through licensing deals and spin-offs with industry partners, Exploit Technologies is a key driver of technology transfer in Singapore. It actively engages industry leaders and players to commercialize A*STAR’s technologies and capabilities, bridging the gap from Mind to Market. Exploit Technologies’ charter is to identify, protect and exploit promising intellectual property (IP) created by A*STAR’s research institutes.
About Reachfield IT Solutions
Reachfield IT Solutions is a fast-growing e-Solutions provider that develops and provides leading-edge e-business solutions for customized web-based applications. It aims to be the leading provider of component based solutions to organizations, enabling them to meet the challenges of fast-moving business needs through the use of highly customizable, intuitive, responsive and user-friendly software business components without corresponding high investment in Information Technology. The company’s strength is in developing and deploying applications for organizations and enterprises, using open Internet technologies such as Java, Enterprise Java Beans, Java ServerPage, Servlets and Web services – XML.