Category Archives: Ustream

CDN & Video: What is a Content Delivery Network?

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CDN Video Delivery

Video streaming and delivery is a resource intensive process. This is attributed to the various networks a video stream must pass through as well as the quality of the video, as higher bitrates and resolutions require more information related to that stream to be sent to the end viewer. As a result of this requirement, it’s not recommended to broadcast video using your own server. For companies, this can result in bottlenecks from the servers hosting or unnecessary costs to scale a server infrastructure.

One solution to avoid both, though, is through utilizing a CDN (content delivery network). This piece talks about the basics of delivering content over the Internet before why it’s important to have a CDN when streaming video content.

If you are already familiar with CDNs and would rather learn more about how Ustream offers a more robust solution for video streaming, read our live video scalability white paper.

The Delivery Process

Before talking about what CDNs are, it helps to go over the delivery process to understand how they might help.

Assets of various sizes, from images to video streams, are delivered from a computer or server to a receiving device. For efficiency, this content is “cut up” into packets. Those packets will then be assembled by the receiving device. So while the video stream might feel like a single asset to the end viewer, it’s actually a culmination of many packets (or video chunks, which will be explained later) in order to deliver that content. How long this process takes depends in part on the physical distance between those connections. While data can be sent at the speed of light, generally there are routing decisions and conversions occurring that impact speed, for example converting from light to electric signals.

Latency

With this whole process boiled down, it will take someone from the United States longer to access content from a server located in Japan than it would accessing that content from the same type of server located in the United States. Delivering content is a two way process as well. For example, one packet traveling from Japan to the United States might take 80ms (milliseconds) from a process called one-way latency. To cross over and back, called round-trip latency, takes twice as much time at around 160ms. This process likely sounds very fast, and it is, but when factoring in the volume of packets being sent, which can be in the billions, latency can become an issue. Both sources have to be in constant communication as well. It’s not uncommon for a few packets or even a series of packets to be lost as part of the transmission process. Packet loss occurs even more frequently over wireless networks as well. Consequently, there needs to be communication between the two about which packets need to be resent.

CDN Video Delivery Latency

Consequently, latency is an issue services on the Internet have to deal with one way or another. Generally speaking, lower latency gives an improved user experience. The lower the latency, the more improved and faster the communication is. The path is also more tolerant to network glitches. This tolerance is because of faster recovery from random packet loss due to the communicating parties being able to quickly figure out where they left off in regards to a missing packet. This process of communication back and forth is called the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP).

The Streaming Video Process and the Delivery Hurdle

Streaming video content is resource intensive for both the sender and receiver. In order to deliver a smooth video stream, a constant flow of data is required between both participants. To help facilitate this, an approach was devised to divide packets into various chunks. Often called video chunks, these can be encrypted and decrypted independently. These chunks can also be assembled back-to-back to form the “original” packet. This gives video streaming a bit more flexibility, especially as so many packets are required to form a video.

To aid further in this process, video chunks are generally preloaded before playback begins. This process is called buffering and is found on video streaming, including live streams which will have a few seconds of delay to accommodate this. Despite the word buffering having a negative association, the technology aids in minimizing playback disruptions. Rather than the video halting each time a video chunk is lost, the player can instead playback from the preloaded video chunks while it attempts to recover the missing one.

As mentioned, though, there is a clear negative association with the process of buffering. Once the spinning wheel appears, denoting that the player is preloading more video chunks after it reached a point in playback where the appropriate video chunk was not received in time, it’s very likely for viewers to become frustrated and abandon the content they had originally planned to watch. Consequently, any methods that allow for reducing latency to speed up delivery and avoid the video player reaching that missing video chunk before the preloaded chunks are used is a major benefit.

The Solution: Content Delivery Networks (CDNs)

To address this need to reduce latency, CDNs were created. While CDNs address a multitude of other issues, such as helping transit providers and ISPs to handle traffic, from an end user perspective what matters is:  how fast the web page or application responds and whether the audio/video playback is constant or not.

CDNs are great at solving this problem to help improve the user experience. In a nutshell, and among many other benefits, they aim to reduce the physical distance between the user trying to receive the content and the server sending those packets or chunks.

What is a CDN?

A CDN is a large network of servers that have copies of data, pulled from an origin server. The servers are generally geographically diverse in their locations. The user or organization will then pull the needed resources (content) from the server that is closest to them, which is called an edge server. So if there is an edge server in Los Angeles and an edge server in New York, and the end user is from San Francisco, normally the Los Angeles server will be the utilized edge server.

This process of selecting an edge server for the viewer can be handled in various ways. Among the several different techniques used is a method called anycast, which decides topologically where the user will connect. Another technique is handling request routing at the DNS (Domain Name System) request level. Based on the geographical location of the resolver, a geographically close edge will be sent in the response and the client will connect to that edge to obtain content. There is also a more advanced method, which has been in the adoption process for years, where the actual IP address of the end user is passed along by the DNS resolver and the closest edge server will be determined based on the actual IP of the client.

CDN Video Delivery: Worldwide

Based on the use case, edge servers also employ a technique called proxy caching. This process stores content on the server itself in order to share those resources among incoming requests. So when a request comes into an edge server, that server will first check to see if the content requested was cached there recently. If the content is present in the cache, it is served directly. If the content is not present, or the cached resource has expired, the edge server will request it from the origin server (or an upstream midgress cache, that has the content).

Going Beyond a CDN

Utilizing a content delivery network brings with it a lot of benefits for multiple types of content available over the Internet. Video streaming, being one of the more resource intensive types of content available, benefits even more from utilizing this approach.

However, sometimes a single CDN approach is not enough. As a result Ustream offers two additional measures to help form a complete solution for delivering video content at scale.

The first of these is called SD-CDN (Software Defined Content Delivery Network). This technology utilizes many CDNs for improved performance. Through spanning a higher-level orchestration layer on top of these existing lower-level techniques it is possible to reach even more granular, more accurate traffic control with load balancing and quality assurance while the business logic remains 100% server side. Ustream patented this solution and it is in use for content delivery decisions on the platform. To learn more about SD-CDN, read our live video scalability white paper on how Ustream achieves this.

While SD-CDN is used for global streaming, another approach is aimed at addressing the unique challenges faced by enterprises. This challenge is a local issue, owed to the fact that local download speed is a limited commodity. It can easily get bottlenecked when a large numbers of employees try to access a video asset at the same time. A perfect use case for this issue would be an all hands, town hall meeting. Called eCDN, this add-on addresses this issue through caching a single version of a video asset that can scale to meet internal needs. To learn more about eCDN, check our eCDN product page.

Ustream utilizes both of these methods to deliver content more effectively than a single CDN connection. Aren’t already a Ustream customer? Try out Pro Broadcasting to take advantage of reliable and scalable video streaming.

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eCDN Benefits, Deployment & System Configuration

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eCDN Benefits, Deployment & System Configuration

Ustream has improved its eCDN (Enterprise Content Delivery Network) technology through simplifying the initial deployment and configuration process. This includes a new, friendly UI and also easy ways to export this configuration for VMware® ESXi or Microsoft® Hyper-V™. This article explains the new process and also gives an overview of what an enterprise content delivery network is, eCDN benefits and use cases for the technology.

What is eCDN?

eCDN is a virtual appliance. It is installed on a server and allows caching and distribution of assets to large audiences without requiring each individual to take up connection resources to download that asset. For example, a high definition (HD) stream being watched by 1,000 might normally require 1.7 Gbps total. If a local download speed or ISP link, however, is only 1 Gbps that causes issues. With eCDN, that requirement is reduced to one stream (or a few so it can support adaptive streaming) rather than 1,000. As a result, in the example above that strain on the ISP link might only be 6.8 Mbps (3 Mbps for 1080p + 1.9 Mbps for 720p + 1 Mbps for 480p + .6 Mbps for 360p + .3 Mbps for 240p).

eCDN Benfits: Edge Server ReadoutTo execute this, there are four main components of the eCDN system:

  • The Ustream player
  • eCDN edge(s)
  • Backend infrastructure
  • eCDN admin portal

Aspects about the player and its quality of service (QoS) elements are found in our Live Video Delivery System Built for Scalability white paper. This includes explaining the SD-CDN (Software Defined Content Delivery Network) approach that can change between sources to deliver content to avoid congestion. When using eCDN, it joins as part of this solution. This is important as people outside of range of an eCDN edge can still access video assets, as long as they are authorized to do so. For example, employees working from home can access video streams from their mobile using a traditional CDN. The white paper discusses how the player makes these choices when a viewer connects to watch content, as the analytical performance data is sent back by the player that is used for quality of service to optimize for uptime.

The eCDN edges are virtual appliances that will scale and send the video assets to local viewers. The backend component has two main tasks. The first of these is to maintain an internal database with the information of the all eCDN Edges and provides a API for the user interface. The second function is that it enables users to choose where to store the DNS records of the eCDN Edges. Storing them on an external DNS server gives additional flexibility, while storing on internal DNS server gives higher security. Finally, the admin portal allows an organization to to both get a health check on eCDN edges and also see the amount of concurrent connections. Clicking further can even give a performance history for the edge, showing if traffic is peaking, consistent or declining.

eCDN Benefits

The enterprise content delivery network allows organizations to optimize internal video delivery without having to upgrade their own network. This is especially important once further upgrading a location’s connection is either too costly or not available from current providers.

Deployed as a virtualized appliance, the solution allows the delivery of video assets to scale as needed. For example, an office of 5,000 could all watch the same CEO town hall broadcast at the same time, even if the combined strain on the connection would normally create bottlenecks. This process also empowers viewers to be able to watch at the highest quality, ideally high definition, as opposed to a lower bitrate quality to reduce network strain. Furthermore, Ustream’s eCDN edges function as a fleet that can accommodate multiple offices or locations, on both a state or even country level.

Ideal installations involve more than one instance or edge of eCDN on premise for failover. This is done as the solution contains automatic routing logic to reduce strain on an instance and improve scalability on location.

eCDN Deployment Process: Edge Instances

Ustream’s eCDN is installed as a virtual server. Server platforms supported include VMware® ESXi or Microsoft® Hyper-V™ for Windows. This process has been improved, with the addition of a graphical interface that makes it easier to setup an edge instance.

The new initial eCDN configuration for an edge instance can be separated into four steps. The process before these steps includes establishing a range of IP addresses and also establishing initial locations.

  1. Set Location

The first part of the deployment process for adding a new eCDN edge is simply selecting a location for that edge. This will be used for the eCDN admin panel, as one option is to sort by locations.

For example, a multinational company might have offices in Budapest, Hungary and a US based San Francisco, California location. So there might be two locations for their configuration: a Budapest and San Francisco location. The naming conventions are up to the organization, though. For example, it can be done by function like “Engineering Office” and “Sales and Marketing Office”.

Note that setting a location can be changed in the future if needed. This is done by clicking on an edge server in the admin portal and doing “Change Configuration”.

  1. Set Domain Name

The second step involves designating a domain name for the new edge server. This can be through a custom host name (example: XXXX.mycompany.ecdn-ustream.com) or a fully configured domain name. Both have to create a valid URL, so alphanumeric characters are accepted along with other web friendly characters like “-” and “_”. As a result, a sample custom host name might be “sf_edge01.mycompany.ecdn-ustream.com”

eCDN Benefits and Deployment: Domains

Please note, though, that if your company has internal DNS server(s), the security settings of the internal DNS server(s) must allow the host name to be resolved to an internal IP address by external DNS servers.

On the fully configured domain name side, an example of this might be: sf_edge01.mycompany.com. In this case an A record needs to be manually added to the internal DNS server.

Another way that the host name or domain name comes into play is through the admin portal. These portals allow an organization to drill down to specific edge server instances, letting them get a health check on that node and also see the amount of concurrent connections. In this panel, these edges are denoted based on their host name and/or domain name. So being able to differentiate between edges at the same location comes down to the unique names given to them during this step.

  1. Configure Edge Server

The third step walks through selecting an IP address  and adding the optional DNS server and NTP server settings. IP address selection can be Dynamic (DHCP, aka Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) or Static (manual).

If Dynamic is selected as a method, only the optional DNS servers and NTP server fields are are shown. When Static is selected, three additional fields are added for Local IP, Netmask and Gateway.

  1. Download Configuration File

The final stretch of the configuration process. This involves selecting your server, either VMware® ESXi or Microsoft® Hyper-V™ for Windows, and downloading a virtual CD (ISO file) / VM image. After making this selection please note that it can take up to 30 seconds for the appropriate file to generate.

eCDN Benefits: VMWareOn the VMware® ESXi side, first ensure that the host is powered off. Next select a virtual machine from the group provided or search and select one. Now in the Virtual Machine (VM) Hardware panel, click “Edit Settings”. Go to the Virtual Hardware section and choose the “CD/DVD drive” option. Make sure the drop down is set to “Datastore ISO File” and not “Client Device” or “Host Device”. Following this, make sure that “Connected” and “Connect At Power On” are both selected. Finally, under the “CD/DVD Media” option, there will be a method that lets you browse your files. Use this to choose the ISO configuration file you downloaded earlier.

eCDN Benefits: Hyper-VFor Microsoft® Hyper-V™, after creating the virtual machine, access the “Settings” for the desired VM. This is done through starting the Hyper-V Manager, clicking on the virtual machine and in the bottom right frame clicking on Settings to launch a new window. Now change the location to boot from by selecting the “IDE Controller 1” option. Now choose “DVD Drive” and under the “Media” section change from “None” to “Image File”. This will let you browse your files to find the ISO configuration file you downloaded earlier.

Support for Citrix® XenServer™ through this method is upcoming.

eCDN Use Cases

Essentially, any organization with a large amount of on premise staff could benefit from eCDN. Specific use cases do benefit more than others, though. Below are some uses that are perfect matches for the eCDN functionality.

Enterprise: Corporate All Hands Meetings

The poster child use case: CEO town halls and other all hands meetings are a great way to engage a large employee base. A method to give a high ranking executive a voice and personalize both their passion and strategy for those who work at the company. Through an included Q&A module, participants can also give feedback that can either be addressed as part of the meeting or answered through text. Through utilizing eCDN, these all hands meetings can easily accommodate larger offices, empowering all employees to watch these assets in high definition. Through multiple instances of eCDN, multi-national companies don’t have to pick and choose between which office to prioritize but can cater to all of them to allow each to tune into the meeting simultaneously.

Enterprise: Training and Development Courses

Organizations looking to avoid costly travel can remotely train and educate a workforce to improve their understanding of their competitive space and better execute their jobs. Through eCDN, employees can all participate in live video training sessions. Furthermore, the solution gives them viewing flexibility. In fact, staff have a variety of viewing options ranging from their laptop to mobile device. Through delivery scale, employees are also not mandated to sit in a conference room crowded around the same screen to reduce WAN strain. With individual viewer tracking, managers can also see if employees watched and completed training assets. This same tracking can also be done on a content basis, highlighting those assets that are more successful at training or more widely used than others.

Enterprise: Offering Updates and Sales Enablement

eCDN Benefits: Edge ServerVideo is an engaging way of exchanging information. In fact, when Wainhouse surveyed 1,512 executives 81% felt that online video was an effective form of business communications. Consequently, it’s often used to convey important details about new offerings and products within an organization or updates to existing offerings. This can enable and empower a sales team to sell the product effectively. Travel costs can also be eliminated versus presenting this information in person, while eCDN can let the staff of multiple offices all virtually attend at the same time. Thanks to auto archiving, that same presentation is also available as an on-demand video asset as well. So employees who join the company later can still partake in the information provided.

Education: On Campus Lectures

Hoping to hit a large audience of students on campus? An eCDN instance on school grounds can be a great way to scale to reach a large student body with lectures. This can give them the freedom to attend remotely, on a mobile device or laptop, while also accommodating viewing by a large audience on campus as well. Through auto archiving, these lectures can also be available on-demand. This giving students flexibility in their learning choices, both from location and time perspectives.

Summary

eCDN is a powerful solution that enables organization to take advantage of some aspects inherit with an on premise video solution, but from the flexibility of a cloud based video platform. As a result, companies can scale video to reach their entire office or offices without impacting their WAN. Meanwhile, they can support remote employees or stakeholders, including on virtually any device.

This new update takes that product and makes it easier to configure. As a result, organizations can support even more offices with this solution while utilizing a faster and easier process to deploy additional eCDN edges.

Interested in learning more about eCDN and how it can be deployed as part of your internal video solution?

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Slack Chat Integration for Internal Video Channels

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Slack Chat Integration for Internal Video Channels

Looking for Slack Chat integration for your internal video channels? Ustream has added Slack integration to Align Secure Video Streaming channels, available to all Align users. This feature allows content owners to consolidate team communication, placing important information in a central, searchable location for cross functional application.

Slack Chat for Video Assets

When enabled, this feature adds a Slack Chat module to the right of the player for internal facing video assets. Content owners select which Slack channel, after connecting with their Slack account, will appear inside the chat module. This allows viewers to participate in the chat while that same conversation will appear in a channel on that Slack account. This process enables people not actively watching to answer questions as needed. For example, if a video asset is created around training for product support then it could be linked with a Slack channel like #product-support or #product-support-training.

This module can include just the Slack chat or be combined with an info column and a Q&A module, which would be a dedicated conversation for this asset.

The Benefit of Slack Chat Integration with Video

One of the primary benefits of Slack as a service is to consolidate team communication into one place. This means avoiding trying to get the full story by checking over email threads, Skype conversations, Google Hangout chats, and other venues where discussion is occurring.

In contrast, Slack communication happens all in one place. This makes it easy to follow these conversations on your desktop or mobile device. If you are new to Slack, these conversations can occur through direct messages or over channels. Channels are typically created around a topic of interest or a department.  For example, there might be an HR channel or a channel created around a specific product. Channels allow for segmenting conversations that might be most relevant to particular groups and also can help prevent messages from being lost in the shuffle, or stuck in the inbox of someone on vacation.

Bringing this functionality to video conversations creates a more responsive experience. As a use case, let’s say an HR department runs a variety of compliance training sessions for a global organization. Rather than having to check each video asset, a single Slack channel can be used for all of them, quickly notifying the team when a new question is asked. This can not only make the team faster to respond to inquiries, but also reduce the manual labor that was previously involved in checking each of those assets for new enquiries.

Slack Chat Integration with SearchOne of the immediate values of consolidating conversations is creating a searchable database. Did someone ask a really good question for the HR team, but not sure if that was asked over email or in response to an internal video?

By bringing in conversations done over video assets that’s one less place to search for answers. The built-in search functions of Slack make it easy to locate specific excerpts and then expand to read the entire conversation if needed. Some of the advantages of the built-in search include:

  • Various filter options that include letting you search by date range and other properties
  • The option to sort results by recency or relevancy
  • The ability to search all conversations at once
  • The way search results are in a compact list with highlighted areas with an option to expand to read the entire conversation

Accessible Anywhere

Today’s world is highly connected at all times. Slack taps into this by making it easy to check the chat application from a desktop and a variety of mobile devices. In fact, there are apps available for both Android and iOS that make it possible for a workforce to stay connected even when traveling or working remotely.

In this same vein, the Ustream player and chat module are both accessible over mobile devices as well. On the video site, this is done through taking the original source, ideally a high definition feed sent over as an RTMP, and doing live transcoding on the stream to make sure it’s accessible over virtually any device. This process also includes adaptive delivery, creating additional bitrates to serve optimal video quality dependent on their connection speed.

Setting Up Slack Chat Integration

Content owners can easily integrate a Slack channel on a Ustream Align account. Align channels are internal facing assets that require authenticating through Single Sign-On (SSO) or email verification. This same principal applies to Slack channels as well, so unauthorized viewers will not see Slack conversations until they correctly authenticate.

Slack Chat Integration Channel SelectionIn order to execute:

  1. An administrator logs into their Ustream Align account.
  2. The administrator goes to the Connections tab under Account. One of the connection options on this tab will be for Slack. Clicking the connect button will redirect to an authorization page, where authorize can be clicked to redirect back to the Connections tab.
  3. After connecting the account someone would click the Ustream channel they are interested in and go to Chat. This will bring up the ability to select the Slack channel they want to associate with that asset.

Administrators can change the Slack channel associated with the Ustream channel at any time. For example, maybe a video asset that covers sales training directs to a more general “#training” Slack channel up until someone else creates a more dedicated “#sales-training” channel. However, naturally, any conversations had prior to the channel switch would still be present in that original channel. As a result, it’s best to forecast in advance so that a Slack channel doesn’t have to change, in order to keep that particular conversation occurring in the same channel.

Slack Chat Integration and Slack Live Notifications

This feature joins the earlier released Slack integration for live notifications. That feature allowed content owners to notify others on Slack when a channel went live or when a new video asset was added. Sample messages would include “Live now [channel name]” and “New video on [channel name]”.

These two features can be used in tandem, allowing for notifications to be sent when a channel goes live while also integrating chat onto the same or a different Slack channel. The best use case for this can be a centralized Slack channel, be it #general or something like #company-broadcasts, which could be used to notify a workforce when a live stream starts while other channels would contain feedback and questions.

Slack Chat with Q&ACombining Modules

Presently there are three modules available for Align content. These include:

  • Info Tap (also contains chapter navigation)
  • Q&A Tap
  • Slack Chat Tap

All three of these modules can be used together, as seen in the image to the right. Doing this creates a tab navigation to the right of the player. Viewers can shift between all three, creating an oppurtinity to see more free flowing conversation through the Slack Chat module while also checking questions that come in directly related to the content through the Q&A module.

Summary

Slack chat integration brings another method for enterprises to help foster engagement from their workforce. It also offers another way to consolidate business conversations into a single, searchable medium that can help improve efficiency.

Want to try out Slack chat integration for internal video channels?  Request a demo of Ustream Align to unlock an end-to-end solution for engaging and collaborative streaming video to internal audiences.

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Ustream Wins Streaming Media’s Best Live Streaming and Enterprise Video Platform and More

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streaming media readers choice awards

streaming media readers choice awards

That’s a wrap, folks! Thank you all for joining Ustream at Streaming Media West 2016. It was a whirlwind of a trip, and we are thrilled to announce that we came home as a Streaming Media Readers Choice Awards winner in 4 categories, some of which are our first year receiving! Thank you to all of our customers for voting. We couldn’t have done it without you:

  • Live Streaming Video Platform
    • Streaming Media Readers Choice Awards Winner: Ustream4th consecutive year: After taking home this award for 4 years running, Ustream is the undisputed champion of live video. Our open platform and affordable solutions are designed to support all of your video needs, from novice to professional.
  • Enterprise Video Platform
    • Streaming Media Readers Choice Awards Winner: Align2nd year in a rowModern enterprises are turning to live online video as a flexible tool to expand their reach and engagement. So it’s not surprising that organizations agree Ustream Align is custom made for internal communications by keeping your video secure, minimizing the impact on your network, and reducing the need for IT support, making it the perfect internal communication solution for your business.
  • Media & Entertainment Video Platform
    • Streaming Media Readers Choice Awards Winner: Pro BroadcastFirst time award winner: From transcoding to transfer, broadcasters, cable networks and service providers need to be able to get their content where they want it to be. Fast. That’s why Ustream was recognized by Media and Entertainment companies as the must-have tool to help them master their metadata and tame the multi-format challenge with an automated solution.
  • End-to-End Workflow Solution
    • Streaming Media Readers Choice Awards Winner: Pro BroadcastFirst time award winner: Whether it be for entertainment or enterprise, Ustream Pro Broadcast is the premiere full soup-to-nuts video workflow solution. From our professional services and consulting to our reliable network and flexible publishing options, Pro Broadcast let’s you broadcast, record, publish, manage, and measure, all from a single integrated platform.

In addition to stuffing our suitcase full of Readers Choice Awards trophies, we also had the privilege of joining our friends over at Intuit on stage for a LIVE case study panel about best practices for live streaming internal communications. During the discussion, David Martin, Sr. Manager & Solutions Architect at Intuit show us why they turn to the power, scalability and simplicity of Ustream’s cloud-based online video streaming platform for their internal and external communication needs.

And last but not least, thank you for joining us for an evening of beer, wine and snacks and wrapping up your first day at Streaming Media West at the Streaming Media West Happy Hour and Networking Party, hosted by Ustream. It was a pleasure to see you all, and we hope to see you next year!

Join Ustream at Streaming Media West 2016

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smw

Join Ustream, an IBM Company, at Streaming Media West and celebrate our 7th consecutive year of being named a Streaming Media Readers Choice Awards finalist. As a finalist, our IBM Cloud Video platform secured enough votes to be placed in the top three of each category it was nominated in.

Ustream was named a finalist in the following categories:

  • Live Streaming Platform
  • End-to-End Workflow Solution
  • Enterprise Video Platform
  • Small/Medium Business Video Platform
  • Media & Entertainment Video Platform

A full list of finalists can be found here.

Ustream Beer Garden at Streaming Media West:

Raise a drink with Ustream and our fellow finalists at the Streaming Media Beer Garden & Networking Event, November 1st at the Lighthouse Courtyard in the Hyatt Regency from 6:00 – 7:30 PM. Ustream experts will be there to show you why businesses are all turning to the power, scalability and simplicity of Ustream’s cloud-based online video streaming platform for their internal and external communication needs.

Ustream + Intuit Case Study Panel:

Live From Intuit, It’s a Global Meeting: Best Practices for Live Streaming Internal Communications

Wednesday, November 2nd 11:30 am – 12:00 pm

Join Ustream and Intuit as we examine the best practices for using live streamed video within a major corporation. Panelists will share key learnings from live-streaming global conferences, routine business meetings, and investor calls as well as explore the wide array of use cases for live-streaming within the enterprise, and opportunities for innovative applications of streaming technology.

Book a meeting to speak with a Cloud Video Expert:

IBM Cloud Video will be on the scene to give attendees demonstrations of our newest innovations. Book a meeting and schedule a time to say hello and discover how video has become a global communication medium for entertainment, information and applications.

Schedule meeting

HTML5 Video Player vs. Flash: Support & Features

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HTML5 Video Player Facebook

In a broad sense, delivering video content over HTML5 is what many broadcasters strive for. A quick search engine query can back that up there is an assumption that HTML5 equates to being able to reach mobiles. This is at the base of the conversation, and most often stemming from Flash being incompatible over most mobile devices, but the answer is notably more complex.

This article talks about a recent shift at Ustream that adds HTML5 video player support on almost any device, not just mobiles. It then covers why this is the right choice through looking at the current landscape of HTML5 video and Flash on browsers.

Expanding HTML5 Playback At Ustream

This month, October of 2016, Ustream introduced expanded support for HTML5. This includes delivery at the desktop level, with the exception of those using 608 and 708 captions.

Through adding desktop support, video content over Ustream now has three ways that the content can render on the viewer’s side.

  • HTML5 HLS: For mobiles and tablets, they will continue to receive streams in HLS as they have before.
  • HTML5 MSE: For desktops using compatible browsers, they will receive an HTML5 based solution using mp4 chunks for delivery.
  • Flash: For desktops that aren’t using compatible browsers, they will a Flash based solution using FLV chunks.

Regardless of which way the content is being rendered, the same UI (user interface) and feature set is available.

Broadcaster Requirements

In order to playback HTML5 content, it requires that the video content be broadcasted with H.264 as the video codec and AAC as the audio codec. As part of this update, Ustream is expanding its adaptive streaming offering with more options, each of which is automatically transcoded with H.264 and AAC (read more on adaptive streaming at Ustream). So even if the source is not using the required codecs, the transcoded bitrates will and these will be used as a source for viewers using the new HTML5 player.

If a content owner wants to disable this feature, using the Flash player, this can be done under Player Settings for that channel by not enabling “HTML video playback”.

HTML5 Video Player Settings

Viewer Requirements

On the viewer’s side for desktops, it requires that the browser support HTML5 video and MSE. A few elements go into if a viewer can watch an HTML5 stream or if they will be served a Flash version. For a quick and constantly updated resource, this article will detect the active browser and if it’s compatible while also giving a quick list of supported browsers.

For a more complete story, read on for more details.

Note: This update does require a change to legacy embed codes in order to continue compatibility for fullscreen features. Check here for details on updating.

HTML5 Video Compatibility

All major desktop browsers support HTML5 video, in particular with support for the <video> tag. The browser version that brought that compatibility ranges a bit, here are the versions where HTML5 video first became supported:

Browser Version Release Date
Chrome 4.0 January 2010
Firefox 3.5 June 2009
Internet Explorer 9.0 March 2010
Opera 10.5 March 2010
Safari 4.0 June 2009

H.264 Compatibility

Support for HTML5 video is only part of the picture. In reality there are codecs involved in delivering that media content on both the video and audio side. One of the most popular video codecs is H.264, aka AVC, which is a codec defined in the MPEG-4 specification. Its popularity is due partially on its ability to produce what is often considered “better quality video” in contrast to other codecs like VP6, but also largely due to support from the iPhone early on.

Due to Apple and Microsoft being apart of MPEG LA group, which owns the patent on H.264, their browsers were early supporters. Below is a list of the first desktop browser versions that included support for H.264:

Browser Version Release Date
Chrome 4.0 January 2010
Firefox* 21.0 May 2014
Internet Explorer 9.0 March 2010
Opera 25.0 November 2014
Safari 3.2 November 2008

The big caveat to this list is Firefox, as noted with an asterix, as it depends on the OS that the browser is working on. Support for Windows was added with version 21.0, which requires Windows 7 or later. Support for Linux was added with version 26.0, which requires the appropriate gstreamer plug-ins to be installed. Mac was the last to get H.264 support through Firefox with version 35.0, which requires Mac OS X Snow Leopard (10.6) or later.

An individual list of browser support for H.264 is available here. This goes all the way to listing gaming console support. For example, the Nintendo Wii does not support H.264 through its Opera browser, but the Nintendo Wii U through its NetFront NX browser does.

H.264 Browser Penetration

With the exception of Opera and Firefox, H.264 has been available in most desktop browsers for the better half of a decade. Looking at a global view, across a multitude of devices and not just desktop, it is projected that at this time 91.09% of browser usage is done from those that support H.264.

The biggest hold outs, in terms of current market share, are Internet Explorer 8 (0.84% market share) and Opera Mini (4.73% market share). The latter is popular on devices like Blackberry, leading to its continued high use in contrast to other solutions that support H.264.

MSE Compatibility

Most broadcasters are likely to be familiar with H.264 as a video codec, due to being a requirement for mobile delivery. Media Source Extensions (MSE) is another piece of the puzzle, and one that might be new for some. MSE is a specification that allows JavaScript to send byte streams to media codecs, allowing for advanced implementation such as adaptive bitrates and live streaming entirely in JavaScript.

Unfortunately, MSE is where browser support starts to get a little dicey at current market shares. Below is a chart for when each browser introduced support for MSE:

Browser Version Release Date
Chrome 23.0 November 2012
Firefox 42.0 November 2015
Internet Explorer* 11.0 October 2013
Opera 15.0 July 2013
Safari 8.0 October 2014

The asterix here is on Internet Explorer 11, which only works in Windows 8.1 and above and is not supported on Windows 7.

MSE Browser Penetration

HTML5 Video Player ScreenshotIn contrast to support for HTML5 video or H.264, MSE is a much more recent phenomenon. The only major desktop browser to have supported MSE before H.264 is Opera. Many browsers, in particular Firefox, have only recently started to support this specification.

Taken as a ratio of market share, it’s projected that 67.35% of all browser usage supports MSE as of today. 6.07% of this, though, belongs to Internet Explorer 11, which requires being used on Windows 8.1 and above.

The plus side to this statistic is that many of those that don’t support MSE are mobile based browsers, like those found on iOS which thankfully has a fallback of Apple’s custom HLS streaming protocols. This changes the conversation, in context of streaming with Ustream, to just the desktop browsers. Of those, the pain points are Internet Explorer 8, Internet Explorer 9 and Internet Explorer 10. For February of 2016, those browsers accounted for 16.46% of the total browser usage market for desktops.

The Case for Flash as a Fallback

16.46% of all desktops is not a small percentage. While that number continues to decline, it’s too large of a potential audience size for broadcasters to ignore. Consequently, it makes sense to continue to support Flash as a fallback solution for instances where a part of the HTML5 chain (be it MSE or another component) is not supported.

So in supporting legacy browsers, the logical choice is to utilize a technology which has been around long enough to be supported by them. In that context, it’s hard to find something more appropriate than Flash. The technology is already compatible with popular codecs as well, such as support for H.264 which was added after Adobe purchased the Flash technology from Macromedia.

The Controversy With Flash

For a long time, Flash technology was the standard for video delivery. That conversation has changed of late where some find it to be a less than desirable solution due to controversy surrounding it. To that point, it’s hard to pinpoint an exact date that Flash became controversial. The most famous incident is in relation to Steve Jobs and the iPhone, which blocked access to Flash technology on those devices. This came with it an open letter in 2010 from Jobs, which attacked several areas that included security and performance and how the latter would affect the battery life of a mobile device.

The letter and decision began to open a growing divide between supporters and critics of the technology. It took almost half a decade later, though, for the technology to suffer a huge, public facing blow in the form of a critical vulnerability, discussed in an open Adobe bulletin from July 10th of 2015. The vulnerability, which allowed an attacker to take control of the affected system, was patched four days after Adobe made its open statement.

Unfortunately, the incident left a real scar with rather large ramifications for the future of the technology. While critics will be quick to point out that other Flash exploits have been discovered in the past, rarely have they gained the mass attention from the media that the July exploit garnered. The issue became so hot that Mozilla Firefox temporarily blocked Flash by default.

Residual Impact on Flash

The lasting impact to Flash is a browser ecosystem in which not all viewers are likely to have a method to view Flash content. Unfortunately, finding Flash statistics are tricky. Adobe’s marketing department used to regularly publish reports touting it. The last such report was in 2011, claiming a 99% penetration rate for desktops while they were projecting about 65% market share by this time in the mobile space, a statistic that is likely far from the mark due to neither iPhone or Android supporting the technology now.

It’s hard to say where either statistic is now, although it’s generally assumed that mobile viewers have to have a non-Flash version of video content for viewing.

Even those that have Flash installed doesn’t mean they are guaranteed to be able to watch Flash content, though. Many browsers, such as Safari, have blocked versions of Flash surrounding the incidents in mid 2015. However, some browsers have taken it a step further like Firefox. Mozilla’s browser is, in fact, actively banning versions of Flash. As of this writing, they have banned at least one version of Flash every month since the exploit in July, with the exception of August and November. So even if a user has Flash, their browser might block it if they aren’t actively updating it. Here is a current list of plugins blocked by Firefox.

There is also the long standing issue of Flash being blocked on a network, be it by a corporate or school entity. Flash had long been the poster child for online games, and was blocked by many for this reason. The added security concerns during the July incident, however, gave yet another reason for entities to block it. This all leads up to Google announcing that Chrome, starting with Chrome 53, will begin to de-emphasize Flash content as it slowly marches toward blocking it in some instances in future updates. 

Twitter Inline Playback

One of the casualties of the Flash controversy was playback on Twitter. Video content on the social network has been a popular application, but the popular network cracked down on the type of content that could be played there. This includes mandating HTTPS URLs for the iframe embed codes, which Ustream supports, but also mandating that content must not require a plugin for playback. This includes Adobe Flash, which they reference by name on their developer site.

So the move away from Flash opens up being able to deliver video content, both live and on demand, directly on Twitter again.

Current State Of Video Streaming

Streaming is being pulled in two different directions due to events in the past few years. The tried and true approach used to be: Flash on desktops, HTML5 based solutions for mobiles. This offered maximum compatibility.

That conversation has changed due to browsers now actively blocking older versions of Flash; consequently, so has the solution changed, with a better approach being to utilize HTML5 methods first on desktops and fall back to Flash if this is not supported. This is an approach with longevity, as HTML5 video is all but guaranteed to increase in support in the near term while evidence points toward Flash having a bumpier road ahead.

Summary

Ustream is happy to release its new HTML5 video player, opening more opportunities for seamless playback to viewers. As demonstrated, the circumstances where a viewer will not have access to Flash will increase only time, and this update looks to address this on the desktop side of the equation. However, due to slow adoption cycles, there is liable to be a small but important segment of the market that will continue to use this technology. Consequently, Ustream continues to utilize methods to fallback to Flash based players to service these users.

Interested in checking out the new HTML5 video player for yourself? Request a demo of Pro Broadcasting to unlock an end-to-end solution for engaging virtually any audience with streaming video.

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HTML5 Video Player

Join IBM Cloud Video at SMPTE 2016

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The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, or SMPTE to us industry folks, is the organization that has supported a century of technological advances in entertainment technology, and is the host of the SMPTE Annual Technical Conference & Exhibition being held in Hollywood, CA October 25th – 28th. SMPTE 2016 is a three day event packed full of technical sessions and special events such as the SMPTE-HPA Student Film Festival annual Awards Ceremony, an exhibition hall with all the key players in video technology and a pre-conference Symposium that gives you the opportunity to build relationships with top video professionals in the industry.

Mark your calendar and make sure you catch the IBM Cloud Video team at the second annual SMPTE Oktoberfest reception on Wednesday, October 26th in the Centennial Hall, from 5:00p-7:00p. Complete with imported beer and German-themed nibbles, the Oktoberfest will surely be a time to remember! (Dirndls and Lederhosen are optional.)

  • SMPTE 2016 Oktoberfest
    • Wednesday October 26th 5:00p – 7:00p
    • Centennial Hall at the Hollywood and Highland Center
    • Open to registered attendees, speakers, and vendors
    • Sponsored by IBM Cloud Video

While you are there, stop by and visit the IBM Cloud Video team in person by visiting us nearby at booth #12 and learn how video has become a global communication medium for entertainment, information and applications. Meeting times are limited and won’t last long! Act now and reserve a time to speak with one of our video experts, we look forward to seeing you there!

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Meet Ustream for Happy Hour at Streaming Media West

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It’s almost time to break out the flip flops, grab your shades and make the trip to sunny California for Streaming Media West! We are excited to see all of our old friends and make some new ones, on November 1st – 2nd in Huntington Beach, CA.

Make sure not to miss the Streaming Media Beer Garden & Networking Event on Tuesday November 1st 6:00p – 7:30p located on the lawn of the Lighthouse Courtyard at the Hyatt Regency, brought to you by Ustream, an IBM Company. Join us for an evening of beer, wine and snacks and wrap up your first day at Streaming Media West by networking with broadcasters, content creators/providers, equipment manufacturers, and your peers in the video industry. Ustream experts will be there to show you why businesses are all turning to the power, scalability and simplicity of Ustream’s cloud-based online video streaming platform for their internal and external communication needs.

  • Streaming Media Beer Garden & Networking Event
  • Tuesday November 1st 6:00p – 7:30p
  • Lighthouse Courtyard at the Hyatt Regency
  • Open to registered attendees, speakers, and vendors

We hope to see you there!

Five Building Blocks for Enterprise Streaming Success

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Whether you use video for employee training, town hall meetings or HR updates, technology is transforming how executives get the word out to their remote workforce. In a recent Ustream & Wainhouse Research survey of corporate executives, more than four out of five respondents (81%) describe online video as an effective tool for communicating work-related information.

If you are in the midst of evaluating your streaming technology options, this report can help identify the key features to look for and the capabilities of enterprise streaming platforms that should be considered during the process. For organizations serious about laying a solid foundation for using online video, these issues should be viewed as the building blocks for enterprise streaming success.

Download the research to learn:

  • What IT executives view as the most critical features a video platform must have.
  • Why 48% say that secure content distribution is very important while evaluating their video provider options.
  • How to leverage viewership analytics to make the case for video in the workplace.
  • What factors to consider when producing high quality corporate videos.
  • Using VOD content archives as a key business benefit.

With the ability to create more engaging corporate communications, it’s no wonder that video is being used for a broader array of business applications than ever before. Executives contemplating an investment in video streaming technologies should be aware of the building blocks of enterprise streaming to address the issues most relevant to their specific organizational needs. Download our exclusive research to learn more.

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Data Privacy and Governance Update

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Ustream, an IBM Company, is an end-to-end solution that organizations can leverage as part of their video strategy. This can be for both external and internal facing assets, which might include marketing activities or corporate communication. Content can range from live broadcasts to on demand video assets. The platform is a global solution, supporting multi-national corporations while also being able to effectively scale to cater video content on a huge, worldwide scale. Because of this level of inherit flexibility, Ustream needs to take into account data privacy laws not just in the United States, but also every country where we store personal data or from which we access personal data.

Video Data PrivacyIBM has prepared an EU Model Clauses agreement for Ustream customers to facilitate the transfer of personal data outside of the EU in accordance with the EU data privacy laws. EU Model Clauses are relevant to all customers sending personal information relating to EU citizens to Ustream.

To request an EU Model Clauses agreement or for any other information or assistance around the transfer of personal data, customers can contact our dedicated EU Model Clauses team via email.

The EU Directive 95/46/EC sets out rules concerning processing of customer’s personal data. As the data controller, customers appoint IBM as a data processor to process (e.g., store, transmit, archive) any personal data which may be included in the customer’s content. In turn, customers are responsible for obtaining all necessary consents to include the content (including any personal data) in IBM Ustream DBaaS solutions.

A list of countries where content may be held or from where content may be accessed for the purpose of delivering and supporting a Cloud Service is available at: www.ibm.com/cloud/datacenters.