How I have introduced in my previous post , Smooth Streaming is an innovative technology based on IIS Media Services and Silverlight, which the scope to simplify and make a reality delivering video content at high quality level through Internet up to true HD for Live and VOD. Using this technology RAI.IT, the internet company of RAI, the Italian broadcast host of FIFA Confederations Cup South Africa 2009, in cooperation with Microsoft Corp., Inlet Technologies and Level 3 Communications, offered exclusively for Italy (video content was geo-blocked to Italian IP) on www.raisport.rai.it and www.rai.tv free, live Web broadcasting in high definition television quality (720p) of the Italian soccer team matches during the tournament.
In the next picture an image of the player used during the streaming of the event:
RAI.IT use already Smooth Streaming for VOD on RAI TV portal (http://www.rai.tv ) in the High Quality area (not in HD but to 480p) and now starts to adopt this technology for Live sports event.
Smooth Streaming permit to solve one of the most significant limits in Internet video streaming connected to typical behaviors of the last mile for reproducing High Quality videos with high bitrates. When we think to the way that the content is delivered to the client, we have a lot of parameter that change every second during the client reproduction. In particular bandwidth and CPU power availability conditions change every second and causing a video glitch and buffering during the reproduction of the content, especially for the content at high level of bitrates, generating a poor user experience.
During the reproduction of the content Smooth Streaming dynamically detects current network and local PC conditions, and seamlessly switches the video quality of a media file that a Silverlight player receives. Consumers with high-bandwidth connections and newer hardware can experience HD quality streaming, and others with lower bandwidth speeds or older hardware receive an appropriate stream for their conditions, allowing the audience to enjoy an uninterrupted streaming experience with the highest quality possible.
The original video source was acquired by specific encoders and transformed in a set of separated streams at different quality (one for different bitrates level) based on a contiguous sequence of 2 sec of video chunks, and an XML manifest with the metadata. These streams are published to the client through a set of servers based on IIS7 with IIS Media Services . In Live streaming all the streams are offered to the client via HTTP and archived automatically in a set of file in the storage of the origin servers. Archived files are republished automatically to the client offering DVR capability to the client in addition to Live Stream offer. For the Confederation Cup matches RAI use the new beta version of IIS Media Services that support Live Streaming.
Video streaming is delivered to the client trough a sequence of HTTP call with REST style and for this reason it is possible leverage all the classic Internet HTTP Cache Infrastructure to increase streaming scalability.
The client part of the Smooth Streaming based on Silverlight detects current network and local PC conditions, and seamlessly switches the video quality of a media adapting the experience at the actual conditions in the client permitting the best experience possible, eliminating buffer and glitch .
The streaming starts with the first REST call from the client to the source and the response from the server with a manifest that describe chunks and streams level offered with the streaming.
The client reads this information and in order to start the download of video chunks and initiate video reproduction requesting the chunk with a too low bitrates for first.
During the download of the first chunk, client code calculate the current bitrates and CPU conditions and in base at this information proceeds with requests of the others chunks, adapting continuously the bitrates of chunks requested.
As written before streaming works with a sequence of HTTP client requests with a REST style to a stateless server and this permit to insert the origin server behind a CDN with a classic HTTP Edge Caching, improving in a simple way the scalability of streaming. For the same reason all the intermediate http caching level (for example enterprise intermediate cache , etc ) can act automatically as a cache for our chunk and contributing to the scalability of our solution.
The client code can offer a lot of services leveraging the capability of the programming platform offered with Silverlight and can consume and presents a lot of contextual data and information with the video. The smooth streaming player element can send back to the server a lot of logging information can be captured using logging functionality of IIS Media Services. It is possible build to service that can permit start and stop of the event and services for control and limit bandwidth consumption from the client.
In the client of RAI event we have start and stop control, bandwidth control and list highlights in the match that can permit to navigate and replay in the archive to the most important point of the event quickly. In this picture you can see the highlights box in overlay on the video in the player.
highlights future leveragin the fact that all the streams are archived automatically in a set of file in the storage of the origin servers. Archived files are republished automatically to the client offering DVR capability to the client .
In the case of RAI Confederation Cup streaming the architecture in place for the event is represented in the next picture :
The original HDTV 1080i signal in input is encoded in 7 different bitrates streams composed by a contiguous 2 secs video chunks codified in VC-1, created by 2 encoders Spinnaker 7000 from Inlet. Each encoder creates 3-4 streams and synch through the encoders are achieved with a timecode generator in input in the encoders with the source video. Encoders push the streams to an origin server farm in load balancing were the Level3 Communication CDN pull for distribute Live, archive streaming and XAP code and offers these to Silverlight client player published on RAI.IT and RAI.TV portal .