Banish the Spinning Wheel of Death Forever!

If I said to a TV broadcast engineer “I’m going to interrupt your live broadcast signal, freeze the picture, insert a spinning wheel of death, and I’m going to do this frequently and at random” his/her reply would be unprintable! So why has this become acceptable for OTT delivery? The answer is that, until now, there hasn’t been a better solution. We have come to accept that getting “something” to our customers via the Internet is better than nothing. That random de-resolution and freezing are the only way. Despite the fact that the customer isn’t getting what they paid for, or expected. And they’re certainly not getting the best possible picture. In fact, we’re driving them nuts!

The problems are well known. Video has broken the Internet. The current private and public Internet was built for email and web pages. The exponential rise in video was not anticipated. Nor was the exponential rise in picture resolution and quality (4K, HDR, WCG, 8K etc. etc.) Consequently, Telco infrastructure lags significantly. Telco engineers describe it as “threading an elephant through the eye of a needle”. Overlay Content Delivery networks (CDNs) are one attempt to alleviate the problem. Models vary, from servers distributed into Telco exchanges to super-pops blasting from “above”. In the end, as consumer numbers, video views and file sizes rise exponentially, they just add to the problem.

Telco’s are faced with $100’s of millions in investments to upgrade. The argument rages as to who’s “fault” this is and who should pay: content owners or content deliverers. In the mean time, consumers are left peering at fuzzy pictures or screaming at the TV as their beloved movie/TV show freezes at the critical moment and a little spinning wheel says to them “we don’t care enough about you to fix this”.

Well OK that’s a bit harsh. But only a little bit! We would NEVER accept this in broadcast. “Broadcast quality” used to be a by-word for the best possible picture we can deliver. In OTT it has come to mean “the picture we can deliver”. The best solution we had was Adaptive Bit Rate (ABR) and that is what everyone adopted. It worked – sort of. There was something else that worked a little too well: BitTorrent. BitTorrent works brilliantly but it has been fatally compromised by the illegal file sharers. But  as the saying goes, “the cure often grows next to the poison.

Secure Peer Assist (SPA) combines the best of peer to peer and top-down CDN and makes it secure. It uses spare capacity in the Telco network switches, PCs and your home network to fix this problem forever. By converting a world’s best practice DASH stream into progressive download, it allows movies and TV to reach your screen in true 4K, 8K and higher HDR video. It does this by sending video “slices” from neighbouring peers and filling the gaps with a top-down CDN. Securely. Multiple garden hoses become a fire hose. It also allows legal file sharing and pre-positioning of content. All of this requires a huge level of trust from content owners. SPA has been approved unconditionally by a major Hollywood studio and deemed novel and inventive by the patent office.

In other words, a better mousetrap now exists. We can now deliver movies over the Internet in all the glorious quality the producers intended. Without interruption. At ANY Internet speed. And there seems to be no limit, at least in the foreseeable future. The platform scales with demand. In fact, it gets MORE efficient as demand grows.

But wait, there’s more! The exact same technology platform also enables delivery and playing of AAA games, Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR). So now, on one compact, stylish, open platform you can download and play ALL your entertainment. Alongside any app or social media you want. The impossible dream has indeed come true. So “join the resolution” today! Register your interest at http://www.blust.tv/  Coming soon to a retailer near you!

Poetical Science and the Fourth Transformation

I just finished reading “The Innovators” by Walter Isaacson. A while ago I read “The Fourth Transformation” by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel. When you put these two seminal works into the context of recent developments in AR, movies, studios and Telco’s, it becomes clear that we really are at the beginning of a fundamental transition from 2D screen and web based man-machine interfaces to a future of augmented, virtual and other reality.

Isaacson is the CEO of the Aspen Institute, a former chairman of CNN and editor of Time. That CV speaks for itself. He has had the benefit of living the beginning of the web and all its digital impact on the publishing business, plus interviewing many of the people in the book. One of his key themes is the power of collaboration between technology and the arts. The other is that very little of real value is created alone, in isolation. He sums it up beautifully in the final paragraphs of his book:

This interplay between, technology and the arts will eventually result in completely new forms of expression and formats of media. This innovation will come from people who are able to link beauty to engineering, humanity to technology, and poetry to processors. In other words, it will come from the spiritual heirs of Ada Lovelace, creators who can flourish where the arts intersect with the sciences and who have a rebellious sense of wonder that opens them to the beauty of both.

Hence the title “POETICAL science” and the accompanying DaVinci image in his book and above. Warner Bros say EXACTLY the same thing in their AR production patent:

[It’s also going to be] “desirable to develop…new methods.. for [producing and distributing] cinematic content for VR and AR, that… enhance the appeal and enjoyment of narrative content for new immersive technolo­gies such as VR and AR.”

This isn’t going to come from someone working alone in his or her bedroom. It probably isn’t going to come from any single organisation, even Warners. Their patent is co-authored by a producer, a tech guy, an animation guy and a tech production guy. Only 2 of them work directly for Warners.

According to Steve Blank, one of the founders of the Lean Startup methodology, “A company is a permanent organization designed to execute a repeatable and scalable business model. Once you understand that existing companies are designed to execute then you can see why they have a hard time with continuous and disruptive innovation.

The innovation is going to come from people and organisations co-operating across disciplines and across boundaries. Network engineers co-operating with interface designers. Designers who are also gamers. Developers who are psychologists. Cameramen co-operating with AR designers. Studios co-operating with media co’s and Telco’s. Distributors co-operating with technologists to reinvent entertainment and work, how we interact with it and how it is distributed. Taking the best of what works now and transforming it into the future of work, art and entertainment.

This innovation is being enabled by convergence in several key technical areas: the next generation of FinFET silicon architecture that is enabling massive increases in power and decreases in size of graphical computing appliances; quantum leaps in security with DRM embedded in that silicon; rapid advances and investment in AR, VR and MR; new forms of social media; and innovations in network technology, appliances and architecture that overcome the current limitations of distributing and playing the massive AR/VR files at 4K HDR quality via the Internet. Isaacson says the same thing of the innovators in his book: they were enabled by multiple concurrent advances in technology that opened the door to the modern Internet age. A new door is being opened into the “ARnet” age. Let’s all walk through it together.

Rhett Sampson, CEO & CTO, GT Systems
This article originally appeared on http://blog.blust.tv/

The truth is out there!

Nice to see more conversations about the “elephant in the room of OTT”. We need to work together to build the new infrastructure that enables 4K, VR and all the other new media realities to be enjoyed at home and in the cinema in their true glory. As the recent Kaleidoscope showcase in Sydney demonstrated, leading producers are starting to create some truly amazing VR experiences. Chris Milk’s The Life of Us was a particularly ground breaking 2 person VR experience.  Hollywood is already producing brilliant films like the Revenant and the Martian in 4K. The challenge is to get them to consumers at the quality the producers made them. Fortunately some innovative studios, media companies and telco’s are working on this already! “Join the resolution”!!

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/technology/blust-content-platform-a-world-first/news-story/a59d3832a4e414585850b0d23a28930b

Rhett Sampson, CEO & CTO, GT Systems
This post originally appeared on http://blog.blust.tv/

Warner Bros envisions the future of movies and applies for a patent

7 days ago, the Thursday before Easter, a Warner Brothers US patent application was published and the movie business shifted fundamentally into the next era: the era of Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), Merged Reality (MR), and every kind of reality (xR). While everyone was running around looking for a killer app for AR, Warners correctly intuited that the next thing after 3D goggles in cinemas and at home is AR goggles. And a little over a year ago, they patented it. Which is great if you’re Warners but has some pretty fundamental implications for everybody else.

This patent makes immediate sense. As anyone who has experienced VR and AR will tell you, it leaves 3D for dead. So when a dragon flies out of the screen in AR (the illustration above from the patent), your brain is going to believe a dragon flew out of the screen and is flying around the room. It’s going to require some pretty fancy pre- and post-production processing and data synching, but all very doable. This is, in fact, the main subject of the patent. It’s also going to be “desirable to develop…new methods.. for [producing] cinematic content for VR and AR, that… enhance the appeal and enjoyment of narrative content for new immersive technolo­gies such as VR and AR.” Bring that on!

In the “preferred embodiment” (patent language), headsets will be wireless and served from a single server. It may take a while to get to that, but we can easily imagine (and the patent contemplates) an interim step with a small “personal server” mounted under the seat or the TV, with a Hololens, Meta, Google Glass or some new AR headset connected.

The patent includes various control devices and haptics i.e. bio-feedback. Disney have also done a lot of work in this area and filed a number of patents e.g. a “haptic chair”. Visions of feeling the dragon’s tail swipe as it flies past and swiping back with a “sword”!

A lot of attention is paid to co-ordinating 2D and VR/AR content. This is to allow viewers to take the goggles on and off and stay immersed. Necessary for those who get motion sick and of course for the obligatory visit to the in cinema candy bar.

What is significant about all this is that Warners have thought deeply and for a long time about how this might all work. Including the need for new narrative story telling and production techniques. What the patent is silent on is the technical detail of how this will be distributed to, and within, cinemas and “home theatres”, and what it will play on.

If the OTT Internet video streaming boom has shown anything, it’s that this is a very real challenge. AR and VR data files and executables can be bigger than even 4K movies. Especially if they contain a render of the 2D movie as the patent contemplates. As well as significant bandwidth, AR and VR executables need significant processor and graphics grunt. Traditional distribution via CDN may not cut it. Innovative solutions such as peer to peer have been used in gaming and should be applicable here. This would also work well for in cinema distribution and updates. Security will, of course, be critical.

Luckily some other people have been thinking deeply about this aspect of the problem, perhaps for even longer than Warners. We also applied for a patent. If we all team up, work hard and get lucky, you might just be able to experience the Oasis in cinemas in time for the release of Ready Player One. I’ll be first in the queue!

Rhett Sampson
CEO & CTO
GT Systems

 

Tectonic shifts in TMT at the Aussie OTT TV Summit 2017

The 2017 Australian OTT TV Summit last week will be remembered as a watershed moment in the TMT industries. The tectonic shifts in alignment of Telco’s, Media co’s and Technology (TMT) were made apparent. Some key “elephants in the room” were aired, and we were given a true glimpse of the future. The historic AT&T union with Time Warner will give rise to a whole new generation of “Software Defined Entertainment”. If they survive the culture fusion. You need the 100Mbps NBN service (not the 25Mbps service) to watch 4K movies without the “spinning wheel of death”. Peer to peer and UDP will be a big part of the solution for video on the Internet. How media co’s incorporate games and VR will define the future of entertainment. TV broadcasters need to catch up fast. And sophisticated telco’s will outgrow traditional media deals to build new “telemedia” models.

Ed Barton from Ovum reviewed how well the summit has fared in predicting trends, and 2017 was no different. He highlighted the rise of the “new TV household” and that the Comcast Xfinity STB fully integrates all partner content including Netflix, enabling an integrated catalogue and, most importantly, integrated search. Both brands benefit.

Ben Loh from tonton and Anson Tan from viu highlighted just how different OTT is in Asia. From their clean white UX to the fact that 50% of Asia watches Korean dramas such as Descendants of the Sun, Goblin and Running Man. Tim Parsons from iflix showed what a bunch of Aussie gweilos can do in Asia when partnered with some of the biggest western media co’s.

The changes coming in sports “broadcasting” were highlighted by Lynne Andersen from the Aussie Paralympics Committee, Marne Fechner from Netball Aus, and Shannon Donato from the South Sydney Rabbitohs. Women in sport out-rating men. Who’d have thunk it? And $100M earmarked by the NFL for “digital futures”. They were recruiting at a digital video meetup not very far away on Tuesday night! eSports didn’t rate a mention at the Summit but we predict that will be the last time that happens!

On Monday arvo, Eric Kearley gave a hint of what is coming in his very entertaining pres on the marriage between media and telco cultures. “Who do you know?” versus the PowerPoint deck. And the PowerPoint deck on what should be in the PowerPoint deck! “Let’s make something, throw it out there and see if it rates” versus years of planning and decades of execution. Fast fail versus can’t afford to fail. Beginning to get the picture? It made for VERY interesting chats over drinks. Especially if Tremain Wheatley from AT&T was in the conversation. You know, one of the oldest and largest telco’s in the wold who’s buying one of the largest media co’s in the world (Time Warner)!

And that was the first big elephant in the room. The fact that most of the Hollywood studios now have telco deals that will give them global distribution with globally recognised brands. Warner and AT&T, NBC Universal and Comcast, Fox and the News networks (including Sky and Foxtel), Paramount and Viacom. Sony and Disney are the last ones standing alone. The view over drinks was that Disney will “roll their their own” as they often do. They have a strong brand and have already bought the Maker Studios MCN. Sony is the big question mark. They have the advantage of a very strong gaming business, and gaming was another elephant in the room that has the potential to squash all the others for whoever gets it right. The question of who will dominate the mergers, the telco culture or the media culture, came down in favour of media. The question of what the traditional (TV) media co’s do about telco partnerships and distribution networks wasn’t so easy to answer.

Day two proved most interesting. It can best be summed up by the quotes:

In order NOT to experience the ‘spinning wheel of death’ when streaming 4K, you need the 100Mbps service, not the 25Mbps service….” – Sarah Palmer, EGM Products and Pricing, NBN. You heard it here first!

Peer to peer has to be part of the solution” – Shane Keats, Director global marketing, Media and Entertainment, Akamai. Another first! Shane also revealed that Akamai have actually objectively tested the effect of low bit rates and buffering! People were 10.4% MORE ENGAGED at 5Mbps than at 1Mbps!! And buffering caused the following changes in emotive state: surprise +27%; focus -8%; happiness -14%; disgust +9%; sadness +7%!!! At last, quantitative proof of the value of OTT quality!!!!

The inflection point [between streaming VR and local playout from a PC] has to be very carefully managed. Low end will stream via phones. High end will play out from a local PC” – Angus Stevens, Start VR. Angus gave some great examples of what is the “tip of the trunk” of the massive VR “elephant” on “day zero” of its development. The one he was still visibly moved by is Notes on Blindness which highlights the crucial ability of VR: its unparalleled ability to emotionally move the viewer like no other medium.

Software IS the [OTT] product. The result is Software Driven Entertainment” – Tremaine Wheatley, AVP OTT product management, AT&T

Our studies show that the two most watched devices are the TV and the PC” – Liz Ross, Freeview

A massive hint at the future beyond telco and media deals came on the final panel from Serkan Honeine of Telstra, who have been in the media business longer than any telco. As Eric Kearley pointed out, Foxtel is THE international case study for telco-media mergers. But Serkan had something very surprising to say: which was that, while “Telstra understands the importance of premium quality content to sell and fill its pipes, the content business isn’t necessarily Telstra’s strength”………

And finally, the quote of the Summit from Shane Keats’ pres: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete” ― R. Buckminster Fuller.

Rhett Sampson, CEO & CTO, GT Systems
This article first appeared on http://blog.blust.tv