BBC Uses Cloud Gaming Techniques To Test Object-Based Broadcasting at Scale

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The BBC is using techniques from cloud gaming and games production engines as it continues efforts to develop a new broadcasting system based on IP and interactivity.

It has developed a "Single Service Player" capable of switching between video and interactive experiences that are written in game engines (like virtual reality) or handling user interactions for nonlinear programming. The BBC recently demoed its first of these for the technology series Click.

It is also tackling the challenge of delivering such interactivity—also known as object-based broadcasting or OBB—at scale.

OBB unhinges the traditional broadcast paradigm of delivering one fixed, linear experience to many people at once, to giving more freedom and flexibility to media that would allow for more personal experiences.

The BBC anticipate that shortly all media experiences will be created and delivered more like packages of interactive software than traditional file-based broadcast media. It has made OBB a research priority.

The hard question is how to do this at scale, for very large audiences.

"Could we move from a one-to-many, broadcast style of media to a many-to-many, Twitch or YouTube-style of media?" asks BBC R&D in a blog post. "Can we deliver many content types and formats to any device new or old? Is this achievable in a single ecosystem that scales without increasing cost?"

The answer could lie in developments in remote streaming interactive content such as Google Stadia or Microsoft’s Project xCloud.

There, the aim is to remove the requirement for a powerful console and deliver to people on any device with a web browser. Google Stadia does this by running the games on a cloud server, outputting as video, which is streamed to the much less powerful device. The device in turn sends back data—e.g. from a gamepad—to the game. 

The BBC suggests similar technology could be used to deliver interactive scenes through a future version of a service like iPlayer and allow viewers on a phone or smart TV to explore content in more depth.

It is also looking into services that adapt to the computing capability in the user's devices and supplement this with computing power from remote servers. 

"New techniques from edge computing and the IoT mean rendering and compositing could be targeted more sensibly: relying on high bandwidth video streaming for interactivity is not a future-fit solution," it states.

A first step on this path is the Single Service Player. In test internally at the BBC, this switches between remotely streamed and locally rendered content according to the capability of the device and optimises performance for that device using approaches like WebAssembly to 'write-once run-anywhere'—techniques adopted from video game development.

A version of the player is now in use by other BBC R&D teams to test it on a range of new content and service experiments and to determine the limit for acceptable loss in quality in remote game streaming. 

The next goal is to develop examples of experiences that customise to the capabilities of devices by making smart decisions on where to run the code—locally or remotely and to ensure the technology scales.

The BBC is not alone in this endeavour. BT Sport is developing plans for OBB which will enable viewers to personalise and control some aspects or objects of programmes, such as audio or graphics.

Example applications—which could even debut this year for the broadcaster's coverage of the English Premier League—could include the ability to control stadium and crowd noise levels versus commentary and for blind or partially sighted viewers to access audio description of live sport. 

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