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Open Source Streaming is happening Now

Open Source is about to enter the Streaming Media market. The dominants have for a long time been Windows Media and Flash. But this is about to change. Thanks to H.264 and HTTP Streaming.

The fall of Windows Media

In my opinion Windows Media will loose its dominance because ... MS is charging for the new Expression Encoder. Simple as that. (Correction: It seems that Expression Encoder 3 comes in two flavours: free edition and smooth streaming edition.) But if I can get it for free then there will be some limitations to it. One obvious is the lack of smooth streaming capabilities. But does that matter? ... because Flash is dominating on the desktop, HTML5 is around the corner, MS will not release the smooth streaming protocol to the public domain, HTTP Streaming is open and just as cool, iPhone and other mobiles will not have Windows Media Player, they will play H.264/MPEG4, and the demand for Open Source Streaming Tools is growing. (OK, this new fact forced me to find some arguments)

Also when I tried to push a live stream to my Windows Media Service the Expression Encoder did crasch! Not a good first impression (I have filed a bug report). For many years I have used the free Windows Media Encoder 9 which is still a rock solid tool for live events and ODM encoding. Why should I switch? And if I do, why stick to Windows Media? 

Flash is late to the party

Last year(?) Adobe released the Flash Media Live Encoder which I see as a down turn for Windows Media. With the Flash player domination on the Internet this is the clear choice for my customers (if I give them the option). They want to go with Flash. 

But what does this have to do with Open Source?

H.264 - the common denominator

Both Expression Encoder and Flash Media Live Encoder can generate H.264 video format. Just as ffmpeg can! H.264 is hence the bridge over from the proprietary domain to the Open Source domain. But not alone. The streaming function on the server has also been a proprietary business. 

YouTube-like pseudo streaming

Many "streaming" services on the net has been simple progressive downloads. I think YouTube is one, and it works. The disadvantage is that YouTube-like services consumes bandwidth that is never used. The average viewer does not look through the whole videoclip but still downloads the complete file to the harddisk. (Tip: Did you now that you can find the downloaded YouTube MP4 clip in the browser cache?) 
Someone need to pay for the (wasted) bandwidth and for YouTube alone there must be enormous amounts. 

Apple is throwing in the free alternative

I heard in an Apple session that the iPhone will only progressively download a video file if the web server does support byte-range downloading. This is a first step for pseudo streaming for the iPhone and other devices/players. But it is not usable in a live situation and it can not be used for seamless bitrate/quality change. The new HTTP Streaming technology introduced by Apple at the time for iPhone 3.0 solves this. And this is the second key element in the future success of Open Source Streaming!

And I have not mentioned HTML5 yet!


References

Apple Insider: Apple launches HTTP Live Streaming standard in iPhone 3.0

IONCANNON: iPhone HTTP Streaming with FFMpeg and an Open Source Segmenter

Wikipedia: H.264/MPEG-4 AVC

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