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Mobile Video, The New Gold Rush

Eric Fontaine (@EricFontaine_)

April 24, 2013 Resources

More and more people are watching videos on their mobile devices, thanks to high-quality touchscreens and powerful connections. This trend is even more evident in countries where 3G/4G data service is common.

In 2012, mobile video views rapidly climbed to 300%, with tablets presenting a 360% growth. People enjoy watching videos on the go and content providers know this, offering more and more video content in mobile video format.

Mobile video has clearly become the new Eldorado and, because of that, video encoding technologies have to change.

Smartphones And Connectivity

There was a before and after the iPhone. Let's be honest, the Apple device is the one that made mobile video popular. A high resolution display and shiny colours allowed people to really watch video on a mobile device, even though their old handset also supported video. The iPhone brought comfort, an easy-to-use interface and dedicated features to the market. So, 2007 was the birth of Mobile Video.

Since then, smartphones have consistently improved and become more powerful, supporting HD playback, displaying deeper colours and offering incredible video resolution. Similarly, tablets came to life with the first iPad. These two devices definitely gave mobile video its new reputation.

The First iPhone and iPad

Source: Apple Inc.

Equally, connections are the not the same any more. The oldest ones, such as GPRS or Edge, were not at all suitable for video playback and it was impossible to watch a video without severe video lag. The arrival of 3G signifies a new era for the mobile video landscape, with the capability of playing and watching long-form videos in HD and not in SD.

And it's only the beginning for mobile data, especially with the recent release of 4G. The fourth generation of mobile phone communication standards brings so many promises of mobile ultra-broadband Internet access. For instance, 4G will increase download speeds by up to 10 Mbps and upload by up to 5 Mbps. These 4th generation mobile networks will definitely contribute to making mobile video the next standard for online video. Less and less people will watch video on their computers and more and more on the go.

4G Connection Speed

Source: Apple Inc.

But wait, 5G is on its way already! Mobile telecommunications engineers are working on it, even though there are no specifications yet. However, specialists are agreed in the belief that peak download and upload rates will go beyond 1 Gbps. Exciting!

Mobile Video, The New Eldorado

The mobile video market drives content providers crazy. It is the new goose that lays the golden egg as VOD services pop up everywhere like mushrooms. YouTube, HULU, HBO Go, Netflix, iTunes, so many video-on-demand platforms now offer video content that is dedicated to mobile playback. Content providers have quickly realised that people don't only watch videos from their sofas, but from almost anywhere on earth.

Mobile is now a big part of the global online video strategy. According to a recent survey from ComScore, people spend 63% of their time online on computers and 37% on mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets. Even more recently, Adobe released a report indicating that mobile devices have been driving the online video industry, accounting today for more than 10% of all video views to date. Video consumption on both smartphones and tablets is on the rise and has tripled year after year.

Video Content Providers

Source: HBOGO.com

This growing mobile audience provides better commitment and bigger revenue opportunities for premium content providers. Besides, tablet viewers are quick to get on board and consume more video content, therefore spending more money.

Content providers know what matters; mobile devices are permanently connected. Therefore, it's the best way to sell videos to any connected user, in real-time and in a more intimate way.

New Devices, New Content, New Video Technology

Video technology has always been the gateway between user and content. And it is the same for the mobile world. Delivering video content to any connected mobile device around the world is not an easy task. Mobile devices have their own specifications: video codec, video container, video bit-rate, resolution or audio codec. To meet all these requirements, content providers have to encode their video libraries into the specific video formats that smartphones can support.

For this purpose, they can outsource this large and time-consuming process to a third cloud-based video encoding service, specialising in mobile video transcoding. That video content will now be viewable on any mobile device. Typically, H264 codec and MP4 container are the best match if you want to make video playable on the majority of mobile devices.

Unfortunately, enjoying a great viewing experience on your device does not only depend on the right mobile video format, but on the equally as important connection speed. Edge, 3G, 4g or Wi-Fi does not offer the same available bandwidth. Thus, the video stream needs to be adjusted to the right network capacity, so that viewers never suffer from video lag during playback. For this purpose, Apple Inc. developed a media-streaming communications protocol called HTTP Live Streaming, or HLS.

This powerful and adaptive bit-rate technology allows the built-in player on the connected devices (iOS and Android platforms) to automatically switch to the right stream in real-time. Thus, using HTTP Live Streaming for your video project guarantees the best video quality for your audience.

This protocol has specific requirements:

  • video container: MPEG-TS
  • video codec: H264
  • audio codec: AAC or MP3

The HLS process consists of three steps: Multi-Encoding, Segmentation and Delivery.

Multi-Encoding means encoding your original files in several video formats, with different bit-rates to suit any type of connection. Then, you split the video file into chunks (between 5 and 10 seconds in length) and generate a playlist (m3u8 file), listing each segment. At the end of the process, all the small pieces of video are sent to the streaming provider. So, for a fast connection, such as Wi-Fi or 4G, high-quality video will be streamed; otherwise, low-quality video will be delivered.

HLS - HTTP Live Streaming

Source: Blender Foundation

HTTP Live Streaming or HLS is definitely a game changer, as it alters the way people consume video online. Before, online video meant web video. Today, online video is completely cross-platform and can be watched from any device, especially mobile ones.



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