Streaming Forum Preview: Media Servers—Who Needs Them?

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As Apple’s HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) and the MPEG Committee’s Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP (DASH) gain ground, a number of readers have asked a logical question: If I can serve my video via HTTP, why not use an HTTP server rather than a specialized media server?

That very question will be explored at the 2014 Streaming Forum. The session, titled “Media Servers: Who Needs Them?,” will explore the question in several key areas: a move beyond playlists towards stitching ads into primary content, integration of encoders and server software together, and ownership of the whole workflow from acquisition to delivery.

In addition, the panelists from a diverse range of companies— Steve Allison, technical evangelist, strategic alliances for Adobe Systems; Jaron Viëtor, CTO of DDVTech; Xavier Pouyat, senior program manager for Microsoft, David J. Smith, director global partner platforms of RealNetworks; Arjen Wagenaar, CTO of Unified Streaming, and Chris Knowlton, VP, prodeuct management of Wowza Media Systems—will look at an increasing need for on-the-fly transcoding and format conversions, whether from separate or a single mezzanine format, as well as the ongoing role of RMTP for live streaming.

From a moderator’s standpoint, I personally think that media servers still offer a number of key benefits.

In the world of advertising-supported video delivery, there's a move beyond playlists and towards stitching ads into primary content. A number of server tools are beginning to offer this feature.

There's also a move to combine encoders and server software together into a single unit. RealNetworks is doing this with a few of its products, and the trend is gaining interest for both content delivery networks (CDNs) and operators.

Media server software companies are looking to offer ways for their customers to own the whole workflow, from acquisition to delivery, within the media server environments.

The concept of a single workflow within the media server environment isn’t necessarily universally accepted, though.

“We don't aim for owning the whole workflow,” says Unified Streaming's Wagenaar. “Encoders do what they are good at: encoding H264/H265 raw video streams. Player builders create the app/HTML 5 user experience. DRM-providers create the various protection systems. We look for combining them into a workflow, but do not take ownership of the workflow.”

In addition, while it is true that servers aren't needed in every instance, given the upswing in pure HTTP-based delivery, there's still a need for on-the-fly transcoding and format conversions. These formats are often held in a mezzanine/proprietary format to be served out into standard HTTP-based formats of the user’s choice.

Finally, as we’ve seen in recent sessions at Streaming Media West 2013 and Streaming Media East 2014, RTMP is still very much alive for live streaming. If the majority of live content is still delivered in RTMP, there exists an ongoing need to modify RTMP content to the variety of devices in the market.

The 2014 Streaming Forum will be held at the Park Plaza Victoria in London on 24-25 June.  The "Media Servers: Who Needs Them?" panel will be at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, 25 June.

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