Investing in application development to meet demand for real-time interactive video streaming isn’t the speculative crap shoot it once was.
Today, developers weighing the benefits of utilizing an experience delivery network (XDN) infrastructure to support new real-time video applications can easily assess the opportunities at hand. All they have to do is look at the vast range of use cases that are running on any of a growing number of commercially operating XDN-optimized cloud software platforms.
An arresting case in point is the software-as-a-service (SaaS) cloud-based visual engine developed by Norwood, MA-based Skreens Entertainment Technologies. Skreens is employing the XDN infrastructure developed by Red5 Pro across multiple public clouds to provide real-time multidirectional streaming support for a host of diverse applications.
1. Support for a Cloud-Based, Real-Time Video Production Studio
As described by Skreens founder and CEO Marc Todd, the PaaS serves as a streaming video engine that anyone can use to combine multiple video, graphics, and text feeds in support of interactive experiences that can be personalized on a per-user basis. Along with providing support for new approaches to watch parties, feature enrichment, sports betting, and other broadcast-quality interactive entertainment experiences, the Skreens PaaS is supporting applications designed for a wide range of non-entertainment segments, including smart cities, enterprise collaboration, telemedicine, and residential security.
“Our basic thing is giving people the ability to actually curate live content on the fly,” Todd says, noting Skreens has obtained several patents for its video manipulation techniques. “We’re supporting very sophisticated, ultralow latency engagements, doing all the heavy lifting with studio-quality production mechanisms that can be called through our APIs from the cloud.”
The service supports browser-based access to cloud-hosted broadcast-caliber production mechanisms that can be used to enable just about any video-rich application, Todd explains; anyone anywhere can “produce content for any size screen from mobile to 4K 60fps.”
The Skreens platform makes it possible to quickly ramp up and deploy new video-intensive software applications that can be integrated with machine learning “right out of the box.” This allows producers to apply off-the-shelf or custom algorithms to analyze video frame by frame and trigger action to prioritize content or dynamically update displays.
The Skreens service also lowers production costs by facilitating collaboration in real time across multiple remote locations. Raw A/V feeds from event venues, dispersed commentators, and graphics production centers can be processed in the cloud in real time, eliminating the need to mount dedicated production operations at every venue. “Our service covers how you shape the video, enable people to comment on it as well as produce the whole show,” Todd says.
All elements are collected, decoded, combined, and reencoded into single live production streams by way of operational commands to the cloud from the Skreens UI on producers’ computers. Customers can use the PaaS to put pre-integrated mechanisms to work in configuring whatever the service or application might be, or they can leverage APIs to access any other mechanisms they need to “roll their own” productions, Todd notes.
2. Combining the Cloud, Real-Time Streaming, and Advanced Processing
Interactive video streaming with real-time, end-to-end latencies in the 200 to 400 millisecond range can easily be added to traditionally linear end-user experiences. “A customer can be broadcasting to millions, and anyone in that audience can send a video up to us for distribution to everyone else,” Todd notes. “Or you might have a guy doing a cooking blog who wants the audience to be able to participate in a recipe with their own videos.”
Conveying the possibilities isn’t the hard sell it once was, he adds. “XDN technology is becoming much more understood so you don’t have to explain as much,” he says. “With the power of production we’re making accessible from the cloud, people understand what it means to have browser support for streaming in real time to all devices.”
The reference was to the fact that the XDN platform typically streams to end devices in real time via the WebRTC protocol, which is supported by all the major browsers. This plug-in-free environment opens the possibilities of real-time interactive streaming to anyone, professional or amateur, who wants to launch Skreens-supported live productions. At the same time the XDN supports real-time streaming with internal production handoffs via the Secure Reliable Transport (SRT) protocol that’s widely used in broadcast contribution.
The XDN protocol diversity also extends to the Real-Time Streaming Protocol (RTSP) used with mobile video and to a wide range of commonly used non-real-time protocols as well. The platform preserves both real-time and non-real-time protocols, including Real-Time Messaging Protocol (RTMP), HTTP Live Streaming (HLS), and MPEG-TS, to match the native protocol when the device doesn’t work with WebRTC.
Along with exploiting the multidirectional, massively scalable interactive video streaming capabilities of Red5 Pro’s XDN technology, Skreens has designed its software to take full advantage of the accelerated processing capabilities of advanced microprocessors. Wherever possible, Todd says, Skreens relies on the field-programmable gate array (FPGA) semiconductors supplied by Xilinx, which are widely deployed in public cloud data centers and have been pre-integrated to work with XDN technology.
“We run on several clouds and use whatever resources they have,” he says. But Skreens does press cloud operators who don’t use FPGAs to do so, because “our code isn’t written for regular processors; we’re giving producers more horsepower to make more sophisticated productions.”
3. New Approaches to Driving Live Content Differentiation
Augmentation of live-streamed sports, esports, and other event productions is an especially low-hanging fruit, Todd notes. Producers can use the Skreens platform to compile multiple video, graphics, and data feeds synchronized to the unfolding event in a unified screen rendering that can be personalized for each viewer. They can give viewers multiple viewing angles to choose from, the ability to order up their own event highlights, and access to stats relevant to their fantasy leagues, favorite players and teams, and other interests.
Producers can also bring into play new types of watch parties. Amid intensifying competition in a crowded field of OTT providers, the ability to differentiate through support for real-time, interactive video watch parties is drawing a lot of interest according to Todd.
With everyone viewing the same content simultaneously, participants can interact through video communications streamed to each other in real-time. Taking the watch party syndrome even further, Skreens also makes it possible for individual users to pull together multiple event streams for a multiscreen watch party experience.
All of these capabilities are especially germane to productions in the fast-action, highly socialized multiplayer esports environment. With so much going on at once in the typical esports tournament, producers can make the viewing experience more engaging by enabling interactive video communications synchronized in real-time to game action, which goes well beyond the usual text-chat socialization with unsynchronized, latency-ridden esports streams.
Multiple viewing options allow viewers to focus on what most interests them at any moment in the multigame competitions. The same goes for personalization of stats and other information.
“With a production studio at your fingertips, you can be resizing video on the fly in real-time,” Todd says.
Another aspect of the esports phenomenon involves individual professional players, so-called streamers, who have built mass audiences often paying subscription fees adding up to millions of dollars annually to watch the most popular players. Applications running on the Skreens PaaS make it possible for professional and casual gamers to blend gameplay and engage in video communications with split-screening control over how everything is displayed.
4. Fostering User Engagement through Micro-Betting
Skreens is also among the interests that are utilizing XDN technology to enable online gambling. The Skreens platform is ideally suited for sports betting that goes beyond simply betting on final results of a competition, Todd says. “We have some customers supporting live sports micro-betting, where people bet on things like whether the next pitch is going to be a ball or strike,” he explains, noting such real-time use cases could become commonplace as deregulation of online sports betting accelerates.
Small amounts of money might be involved, but it doesn’t take much to draw deeper engagement in what’s happening, he adds. “If you can make it possible for people to bet ten cents on whether a three-point shot will score in the next minute, you have an opportunity to draw and retain the causal sports fan who might not be particularly interested in personalized stats,” he says.
5. Real-Time, Video-Based Collaboration for a New Work Environment
Beyond entertainment, “there are big vertical markets for our service,” Todd says. “There are many use cases where you need live interactivity with high-quality video. Any time that’s the case, you need the XDN.”
One case in point involves remote collaboration, which has become the workplace norm during the pandemic. While low-quality, latency-filled group conferencing supported by the likes of Zoom, Google Meet, and Skype are adequate, if barely, for some situations, in many cases video clarity — as well as real-time interactivity — is essential, not only for better renderings of participants’ faces but also for making it possible to display image and video screen captures without having to stream such material separately.
This is especially important to collaborative work across disparate locations that extends beyond occasional group meetings to encompass ongoing projects in engineering design, architecture, advertising, training, medicine, and other pursuits. Remote collaboration can improve productivity and save money, but it needs to be as close as possible to in-person collaboration if it’s going to be seen as more than a pandemic-driven necessity. “You want it to be interactive at ultralow latency,” Todd says.
6. Extending the Real-Time Interactive Video Benefits to Other Use Cases
There are many other ways the mechanisms available through the Skreens PaaS can be put to use with XDN support, he adds. “People in many fields can be creative with the fundamental foundational functions we offer,” he says, naming telemedicine, smart city operations, and household aggregation and management of connected devices, appliances, and cameras as additional examples.
It’s a new development environment that will find ever more uses as it becomes better known to would-be providers of services in various niches. “People will use the APIs and build up their own workflows,” Todd says.
“Today applications development takes device capabilities into account along with the cloud,” he adds. “But if you look into the future, people who want to manipulate content and share it with others won’t need anything but a dumb piece of glass. Everything will be handled in the cloud.”
For now, Todd says, “we’re in an emerging market, an emerging market impacting every human being on the planet. I’d suggest everybody get out there and pioneer. Try more stuff!”
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