Interview with Pieter-Jan Speelmans, Technical Working Group Chair of HESP Alliance
Pieter-Jan is technical Working Group Chair of the HESP Alliance and CTO of THEO Technologies. Over the past three years, he has been working actively to reduce the complexity in video pipelines and improve the viewer Quality of Experience (QoE) from perspectives beyond the video player with the High Efficiency Streaming Protocol, a highly scalable ultra-low latency streaming protocol for the next generation of streaming services.
What is the HESP Alliance?
The HESP Alliance brings together streaming video vendors and media companies with a common goal: to accelerate the development and adoption of the High Efficiency Streaming Protocol (HESP) through our dedicated technical working group. In addition to advancing the technical aspects of HESP, the HESP Alliance focuses on marketing efforts to promote HESP as a protocol, and HESP solutions of the members. Since we’ve launched the HESP Alliance in 2020, together with Synamedia, several members have joined, including Gcore, EZDRM, Mainstreaming, NativeWaves, Hoki, Videon, Scalstrm, MediaMelon, SyncWords, Ceeblue, Arenta.tv and BuyDRM.
Could you explain more about the High Efficiency Streaming Protocol?
The High Efficiency Streaming Protocol (HESP) is an HTTP-based streaming protocol. In this sense it is identical to HLS and DASH, allowing for seamless scaling over standard CDNs. This results in the ability to reach any audience size. With HESP this reach becomes possible at sub-second latency, making HESP very interesting for interactive live streaming use cases such as fan engagement, interactive TV, live sports & sports betting, in-stadium streaming experiences, online auctions etc. HESP however goes further than sub-second latency at scale. HESP really tries to make “high efficiency streaming” ring true, and offers additional compelling benefits. Among these advantages, fast channel change stands out as an interesting capability, particularly for operators aiming to provide a seamless leanback TV experience over OTT. The ability to switch channels quickly also unlocks true multiview experiences where viewers are able to very quickly switch between different camera angles from a live event.
How does HESP compare to WebRTC?
When comparing HESP to webRTC-based streaming solutions, there are several differences to highlight. Firstly, scalability is a significant factor. HESP effortlessly scales to accommodate hundreds, thousands, or even millions of viewers over a standard CDN. If you would want to achieve similar scale with webRTC, deployments become complex and expensive really quickly. This is especially a problem when large numbers of viewers are suddenly joining a channel. Commodity CDNs are already able to handle this easily. With webRTC this requires new servers to boot which takes time, costs money and increases complexity. Another important distinction can be found in terms of streaming quality. WebRTC is UDP based, a type of network packet which has no guarantee of delivery. When a network is bad, users can notice the impact quickly as video frames are dropped. In contrast, HESP uses TCP delivery, just like HLS and DASH. This ensures all frames will arrive with the viewer and gives a more seamless experience. Additionally, HESP excels in providing seamless transitions between channels, including for live streaming. WebRTC-solutions typically have a trade-off between channel change time on one hand and live latency and perceptual quality on the other hand. This is a trade-off which does not need to be made with HESP, allowing for fast channel change with low latency and with high quality. A significant difference. Lastly, Digital Rights Management (DRM) compatibility sets HESP apart. HESP seamlessly integrates with studio-approved DRM standards, meeting the contractual requirements set by rights holders. Today, supporting studio-approved DRM is a challenge for webRTC-based streaming solutions. For video conferencing webRTC is better suited than HESP. However, if you are looking at an OTT streaming solution, HESP outshines webRTC in terms of scalability, streaming quality, fast channel change, and DRM compatibility.
What is the adoption for HESP in the market?
We’re seeing increasing adoption of HESP in the industry. An important milestone was in mid-2021, when HESP was made available as an IETF standard. Since then HESP Alliance members have made available several HESP-ready solutions which media companies can integrate into their OTT workflow. Today, we’re witnessing active utilization of these HESP-ready solutions by customers, both in proof-of-concept experiments and live production environments. The initial customer focus has been on interactive experiences, such as sports betting, online auctions, virtual events, and in-stadium engagements, where there is a high demand for high-quality real-time streaming at scale. Interestingly, the use case of fast channel change has also gained significant traction. Operators are embracing this capability as it allows them to transition from parallel IPTV and OTT workflows to a converged OTT workflow. Not only does this convergence result in substantial cost savings, but it also ensures that viewers continue to enjoy the expected quality of experience. Overall, HESP is making waves in the industry, offering enhanced streaming capabilities and catering to diverse use cases. Its availability as an IETF standard, coupled with the introduction of HESP-ready solutions, positions HESP as a compelling choice for media companies looking to optimize their OTT workflows and deliver exceptional streaming experiences to their audiences.
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