All 6 entries tagged Streaming

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April 21, 2008

Flash 9 webcam support in Linux

This is a bit annoying – we’d planned to use a number of EEE PCs with our Flash-based media streaming applications for a new kiosk-based project, and after some spectacularly unsuccessful tests today with an EEE PC and a range of webcams (including the built-in one) it seems that the problem is with Flash itself – it only supports VideoForLinux (V4L) and not the current V4L Level 2. V4L was removed from the Linux kernel way back in 2006 so I was surprised to find that V4L L2 isn’t there in Flash Player 9.

Apart from the EEE PC, this also discounts an number of other potential devices like the N800/810 and we’ll have to look at Windows UMPCs instead (which is likely to severely impact the budget), or alternatively install Windows on the EEEs (which is a hassle).

I agree with Aral – there’s an explosion of ultra-mobile, Linux-based devices out there now with webcams that could be used to enable video and audio-based communications and blogging, but at the moment we can’t lever them in Flash, and that’s a shame.

February 28, 2008

Mobile development: moving targets

Based on an enquiry about video and audio streaming from a mobile phone recently, I was researching what’s available last night and came across Qik’s platform allows ‘real-time’ streaming (it looks like there’s a transcode to Flash video happening somewhere – ‘near real-time’ might be more appropriate) from a phone to its web site. At the moment the Qik system is available on a few Nokia phones, with additional handset support being added as time goes on.

Whenever I’ve looked at mobile development in the past, it’s been focused on Flash, and I’ve always concluded that the support was either too patchy and that as phones become more capable, the mixture of Flash Lite and ‘full’ Flash 8/9 made it difficult to identify which one to target for maximum coverage and future-proofing. Sara’s recent work and research for Warwick’s mobile site also threw up some interesting issues; when I looked into support for the top ten phones on that list, Flash support was either non-existent or a fairly even mix of the two. Flash Lite or Flash are no good for this kind of application anyway; Flash now supports video on mobile, but only for playback. For capture you need access to the system APIs, and Flash doesn’t have those kind of privileges. For application and system-level access, Java/J2ME or C++ are generally the only option.

Nokia has a good developer site (Forum Nokia), so I thought I’d have a look at what’s needed to write a small application that grabs video from the device and streams it via RTSP. It’s at this point the platform variation problem became apparent again. Even for a single manufacturer (albeit a big one like Nokia) there are a number of platforms and entry points (Symbian, Maemo, Python, S60, S40, S80, Flash Lite, Carbide etc.) which means having to choose from a long list of SDKs and carefully identifying your target device/s, before getting started. Once you’ve done this however, it’s relatively easy to get your chosen SDK into Eclipse (including a nice emulator for testing) and start writing, and I had something basic written quite quickly.

I have no prior experience of mobile application development whatsoever, so I may be completely wide of the mark in saying this, but what strikes me from looking at the Nokia Developer information is that mobile development consists of a high number of constantly-shifting targets. I guess once you’ve written an application for a platform or target device it’s likely that porting it over isn’t difficult, but actually getting started seems to require that you narrow your choice down to a relatively small subset of devices and start there, then work your way across/through your list of target devices, hoping the next generation isn’t too far removed from the current one and doesn’t arrive before you’ve finished. Qik appears to be doing just that, adding devices as quickly as it can port its application, but for a (currently) limited use-case such as mine it seems like a lot of effort. Maybe Android fixes some of this, but then you’d only have to start learning the iPhone SDK as well. Sigh…

February 06, 2008

Please Adobe, drop ASAO

We’re currently developing solutions that enable people to record video and audio using Flash Player and a webcam. As far as it goes this provides a great way to allow end-users to record without complication, and the technology works very well. However, Adobe’s continued use of the closed Nellymoser ASAO audio codec for streaming from the Flash Player to the server is extremely limiting. Despite pressure from the development community and the obvious benefits of switching to MP3 it has continued to use ASAO.

Flash Player, Flash Media Server 3, Wowza/Red5 (soon) have the capability to stream H.264 video and AAC audio, both of which could be easily converted (and in some cases used as-is) to formats suitable for podcasting/vodcasting via a simple server transcode, but because ASAO is proprietary and closed the only viable solutions available for conversion are Nellymoser’s own CRISPA converter costing several thousand pounds (which only converts to WAV/RAW, so a further transcode would be required) or one of only two other converters I know of that are capable of extracting ASAO, neither of which are viable mainly because no-one seems to be able to say if they are actually legal to use, or are Windows-only solutions.

You can stream right now to an FMS-compatible server using On2VP6 and MP3-encoded audio but only using the Windows-only Adobe Flash Media Encoder. H.264 streaming is in the works with a coming version of FME but Adobe is likely to limit its use to FMS3, with a change in the EULA that will prohibit using it with Wowza and other 3rd-party solutions. I’m amazed how short-sighted this is on Adobe’s part, especially given the potential for using Flash as a platform for podcasting applications. There are valid reasons other than cost for using alternatives to FMS3; it is only available for RedHat or Windows, whereas Wowza and Red5 are Java-based. We have other use-cases beyond podcasting too – users being able to get their recordings into an editing package or mastering a DVD for instance. Few standalone converters can currently cope with ASAO.

I wish Adobe would just drop ASAO and use MP3 instead, but I’m not holding my breath given that we’ve just seen a major revision of FMS and the previews at MAX of Flash Player 10 (‘Astro’) suggested a concentration on text and 3D support. Opportunities are being missed here, so please Adobe, why can’t we just have MP3 instead of ASAO in the Flash Player? Is there some technical reason (e.g. encoding latency)? I know ASAO is a voice-optimised codec (and it has to be said does a great job, even at lowish bitrates) but MP3 would be almost as good and would remove the limitations completely. Or am I missing something else?

February 04, 2008

MS/Yahoo deal: Here comes Silverlight?

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The offer by Microsoft to buy Yahoo for $44.6billion has created something of a stir, mainly because it’s the biggest offer of its kind (one that even MS would have to borrow money for with reserves of ‘only’ $22billion or so).

Should the deal go through, it may also have serious implications for Adobe and Flash; The MS rival technology Silverlight is currently being adopted slowly but steadily, but it’s easy to see how Microsoft taking over the second biggest internet company on the planet would present a prime opportunity to push its own platforms more aggressively.

Yahoo recently created its Yahoo Messenger application using Silverlight but currently up until recently made more use of Flash/Flex for other major features, like Yahoo Maps. Last week Yahoo released ASTRA, a set of Yahoo-developed components and libraries and in December gave a new Yahoo Flex skin to the development community, so Flex and Flash development is clearly still alive and kicking at Yahoo. It’s easy to imagine a Microsoft-owned Yahoo adopting Silverlight more extensively in future, increasing the penetration of the platform to the point where it gathers enough momentum to become as important and ubiquitous as Flash Player.

With this in mind, I was interested just now to read this interview with David Stubenvoll, the CEO of Wowza Media Systems. Warwick University recently adopted the Java-based Wowza Media Server as its solution for video and audio streaming, as an alternative to Adobe’s own Flash Media Server. As a provider of a third-party solution to an existing Adobe platform, it would be reasonable to assume Wowza is to a certain extent tied to the Adobe roadmap, but it was interesting to see David’s predictions (made in December) for Silverlight, before the bid was even announced:

Adobe has to assume that Silverlight is going to become ubiquitous…What’s the time frame for that? I’d say nine to eighteen months

That’s much sooner than I would’ve predicted, but a successful bid for Yahoo could be a significant catalyst for Silverlight. With this in mind, it’s reassuring to see that Wowza intends to support the video delivery mechanism required by Silverlight in the future, plus mobile formats;

Wowza plans to add support for Microsoft’s media delivery format to Media Pro Server sometime next year. The upstart company also will build in support for Java Platform Micro Edition, which is the most popular video format on mobile phones.

Which is reassuring, but back to my original question – would the deal accelerate Silverlight’s penetration? Almost definitely I think, although I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not, mainly because I haven’t seen Silverlight-based applications do anything significantly better than Flash – it seems to be more about allowing the vast number of .NET developers to create Rich Internet Applications without having to move to the Adobe platform. I don’t think this really affects Flash Player very much anyway; at 83-98% penetration it’s unlikely that people would adopt Silverlight OR Flash; it will simply help drive adoption of Silverlight, at which point the decision on what to use will come down to development preference and features (where different).

December 10, 2007

Wowza Media Server: price reduction, new features

Follow-up to Flash Media Server 3 from [Ux]

Received an email from Wowza Media Systems today, announcing a significant price reduction which is presumably a direct response to the new FMS3 pricing – now the Wowza Pro Unlimited edition costs $995, which is an 80% drop. Some new features were announced too, including its own SecureToken anti-ripping protection and free upgrade to H.264 and HE-AAC once support for this is added (Q1 ‘08).


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