Friday, December 16, 2011

Does Logitech Revue Android 3.1 Honeycomb update intentionally eliminate video playback options?

In a series of well-publicized comments last month, Logitech CEO ..., lambasted Google for providing "beta software" (his term for Google TV) for the Logitech Revue. The remarks were widely publicized as a condemnation of Google TV in general, and I was even swayed that way for a article.

Yet when the Revue firmware update rolled out earlier this week, ostensibly supporting Google TV 2.0 (Android 3.1 or Honeycomb) on the Revue, it lacked some of the basic Google TV 2.0 video features that rival set-top box manufacturer Sony chose to include these codecs in its award-winning NSZ-GT1 (a Wi-Fi-enabled 1080p Blu-ray disc player featuring Google TV).

It appears Logitech may have no one to blame but themselves for the Revue sales fiasco. In research for a new article about the Revue update, to be published later this week, I came across two interesting facts: first, there appeared to be frustration within Google with Logitech even before Google TV 2.0 was announced; and second it's now apparent that Logitech itself chose to eliminate some of the support video codecs and protocols from the Revue update.

What was the frustration that Google faced with Logitech? According to a blog poster a little over a month ago, at least one Googler expressed frustration with the fact that Logitech wasn't implementing the full Google TV 1.0 specification:

I spoke to a friend who works at Google last night. He said that even though Google TV may support a format, the Logitech Media Player is the gating factor and at least in 1.0, this has really sucked. . . . Here is the official Honeycomb/TV 2.0 format support. It's satisfyingly complete, but it remains to be seen how well the Logitech player does.

This isn't a validated claim, but reading through a few interview answers from a Google TV product manager, Larry Yang, in the days following the most recent Revue update, it's easy to infer that the same level of frustration is still below the surface.

So what did Logitech choose to eliminate from the Revue? Two major findings, as noted in a new article reviewing the Revue update, are M2TS (MPEG-2 Transport Streams) and the MPEG-2 codec.

One could argue, I suppose, that it is logical that these were eliminated, as the Revue itself lacks of  DVD or Blu-ray player. Yet that falls short in two areas in my mind.

First, the lack of a DVD player means that many consumers may choose to play backup copies of their physical DVDs on a media player precisely like the Logitech Media Player on the Revue. To do so at original quality, though, they'd need to transfer their wedding or bar mitzvah or graduation DVDs using a non-intermediate codec and a container format that supports both.

Using a program like the one recommended by PC World, which copies either MPEG-2 or H.264 codec-based content bit-for-bit into the open-source Matroska (MKV) container format supported by Revue, the user should be able to view this backup content on the Revue at the same quality as the original DVD.

Yet, while this scenario works on the Sony  NSZ-GT1, it no longer works on the Revue, because Logitech doesn't allow MPEG-2 content to decode on the Revue.

Second, the ability to support popular MPEG-2 transport stream-based streaming delivery is another key reason for the Revue to support M2TS, .ts and the MPEG-2 codec. Anyone out there own both an iPod, iPad or iPhone AND a Logitech Revue? Thought so.

In an email interview with GTV Box Player creator, Alexander Kolychev, I learned that the original Google TV Honeycomb beta supported M2TS and Transport Streams and Primary Streams on the Revue, but that Logitech has chosen to "shut off" that support.

Read the portion of Alexander's interview where he fingers Logitech for turning off MPEG-2 and .ts support at, but read on for a few more comments he'd made...

Q.  If I used the same GTV Box app on both the Sony and the Revue units that I have sitting here for testing, only the Sony would play a DVD turned into an MKV-based format file, correct? 

AK: Yes, the same app will react differently on the Logitech Revue or Sony NSZ-GT1.  If you watch  an MKV file [with H.264 codec-based content], it will play on both Logitech Revue and Sony NSZ-GT1, but... if you have MPEG2 video codec inside your MKV, you will have only sound, not video on Logitech. The Sony NSZ-GT1 will play it perfectly. 

The same is true if you try to play VOB or TS file: it will play on Sony, as the NSZ-GT1 has native support for M2TS, but it will fail completely on Logitech.

Q: Can you get any more information on why Logitech would eliminate the ability to use the MPEG-2 codec or primary / elementary streams (PS / TS)? It seems odd that they'd eliminate a key ability in Google TV as they try to "improve" the Logitech Media Player...

AK: Google's developers are having Hangout next week with some senior engineer of Google TV. I am going to ask them questions about all this things... 

[Update: while we've not received a statement from Logitech, it's interesting to note that Amazon is now selling refurbished Revue units at $79.99 with Prime shipping, pushing the unit to #22 in overall Amazon Electronics sales. It's not dead yet...]

Thursday, December 15, 2011

DASH it all?

MPEG-DASH has been ratified by 24 national bodies, a topic covered in a recent article and also at (run by Jan Ozer).

Now that we, as an industry, have reached a tentative agreement on how to handle adaptive streaming over HTTP through consistent parsing of manifest files (MPD or Media Presentation Description in MPEG DASH parlance) there's another question remaining: what's next?

The next two steps, as noted in both the Streaming Media article and our own white paper, is the acceptance of a common file format and a common encryption scheme (CENC).

Following ratification of CENC and adoption of the common file format, there's a huge need to deal with interoperable, DASH-compliant players. In fact, this element may be the biggest challenge of all—getting encoded content to consistently play back on every device or platform.

It's the same issue we faced during the two reports (1, 2) on Android handset and tablet video playback, where core services of Android didn't necessarily translate into consistent playback of RTSP or even YouTube videos on a variety of playback devices from the same handset manufacturer.

So Transitions is issuing a challenge, as part of our 2012 Q1 Best Workflows testing: bring us your DASH-compliant player, whether it's in beta or gold master, and we'll put it through its paces against other DASH-compliant players, using consistent fMP4 and M2TS content. Here's looking at you, Qualcomm, Ericsson and even Microsoft and Adobe...

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Laws Of Gravity Do Not Apply...

When the AT&T and T-Mobile USA merger was announced back in March 2011, the reaction was different between two rivals: Dan Hesse, CEO of Sprint, declared it would be bad for competition, while the CEO of Verizon Wireless, Lowell McAdams, said it was inevitable.

McAdams went so far as to say, at an analyst meeting in September, that it would happen just like a particular force of nature always occurs. He spoke of it in the past tense, according to Boy Genius Report, as if it had already occurred:

“I have taken the position that the AT&T merger with T-Mobile was kind of like gravity. It had to occur."

Apparently the rules of gravity no longer apply, as AT&T last week withdrew its application to the FCC to merge with T-Mobile USA.

Is it a dead matter? Not yet. See this article on the nature of the issues facing AT&T.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Why are fMP4 and MPEG-DASH so important?

Quote from a white paper Transitions just completed on fragmented MP4 (fMP4) and MPEG-DASH:

Proponents say that the Common File Format (CFF) and Common Encryption (CENC) scheme will represent two important steps toward large-scale online video distribution via adaptive delivery of fragmented elementary streams.

Since CFF can also be used outside of the bounds of UltraViolet, significant interoperability may also exist between UltraViolet disc-based playback and online video platforms, in much the same way that the DVD Forum’s published specifications for DVD playback guaranteed interoperability between DVD players. It’s not out of bounds to think of CFF as the DVD standard for the web.

To get a better understanding of the power of fragmented MP4, first look at the sidebar in the white paper on "combinatorial complexity" for which Netflix contributed a real-world example. Even without CFF and CENC, Netflix is proving the case that fMP4 scales much better than the HLS approach (with a far lower asset management impact).

The white paper has been several months in the making, starting first as separate concepts by two key companies in the streaming space: Adobe Systems and Microsoft Corporation. Each has their proprietary solutions, but both are committed to seeing fragmented MP4 (fMP4) offer a potentially viable alternative to legacy streaming solutions.

After several meetings, both companies chose to jointly work with Transitions to create a white paper noting the benefits of fMP4 and, to a slightly lesser extent, the potential benefits of MPEG-DASH (a proposed standardization of dynamic streaming over HTTP that I mentioned in a prior blog post).

Special thanks to Microsoft and Adobe for providing financial resources and access to subject-matter experts, who spent time expanding on key concepts and the ever-changing nature of fragmented MP4 and the MPEG-DASH ratification process.

The full white paper can be found here.

[Addition: Adobe and Microsoft have both published blog posts, outlining their support for fMP4 and mentioning reasons for working together: Adobe's Kevin Towes blog post  Microsoft's Chris Knowlton blog post]

Friday, November 11, 2011

Flashless for Mobile? Not Exactly

There's quite a bit of confusion about the impact of Adobe's decision (or what exactly the decision was) in regards to Flash Player of Mobile. Rightfully so, as the company didn't spell out its intent to its users at the same time it pushed out news to analysts during the 9 November analyst day briefing.

Besides the article titled "Into (not so) thin AIR" (self-plug) there are two Adobe blog posts that may help explain where the company is going...or at least what it plans to still support:

Pritham Shetty's "Adobe Flash for Premium Video" blog post spells out what's in and what's out.

Mike Chambers's blog post, "Clarifications on Flash Player for Mobile Browsers, the Flash Platform and the Future of Flash" does a good job explaining the "why" of unsustainable growth in complexity Adobe faced in the wild-west atmosphere surrounding Android forking.

We conjectured, in the "thin AIR" article posted on, that Android forking complexities could cause Adobe's costs to run rampant. It was helpful to get confirmation a few hours later, when Mike posted his Clarifications blog post, that Adobe had indeed seen this Great Wall of Android that it had to scale, and chosen a wiser path.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

DASH of this, DASH of that...

It's apparent that MPEG-DASH is getting traction—or at least attention—if attendance at the 2011 StreamingMedia West show's panel on MPEG-DASH is any indicator.

It wasn't just standing-room, as alluded to in the article, but was sitting-room only. It's been quite some time since I've seen this level of interest in a topic.

A few notes that didn't make it into the article:

MPEG-DASH will never define a codec, but with DASH-264 there's a move to use an H.264 codec in an MP4 container with a common file format (CFF) and common encryption (CENC).... There's also a possibility of adding DASH-264 into the HTML5 standard, since W3C requires a codec to be considered in HTML5 but MPEG-DASH itself is codec agnostic.

Interesting note about who has been participating and who has not:

Apple has been participating in MPEG-DASH from the beginning; they have contributed actively. We've not seen Google participating in DASH, but our codec agnostic approach means that WebM could be used within DASH (we can already do with profiles around M2TS).

What about royalties? An audience member's question got this reply:

From a licensing standpoint, there is a requirement to notify ISO of their intent to license; Qualcomm and Cisco have announced they'll offer royalty-free since HTTP adaptive streaming has been done for a number of years but to get to a standard we need to see a path forward to royalty-free licensing.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Netflix or Blockbuster: Do Either Offer Total Access?

When it comes to online streaming of premium content, it appears that less is less instead of more.

Netflix stumbled badly, announcing this week that 800,000 subscribers left the service last quarter—over 200,000 more than the company had predicted as its "worst case" scenario. Part of the stumble was an assumption that customers would pay the same amount for online video access to a limited number of movies as they would for a much broader library of DVDs delivered by mail.

I covered this topic two days ago in an online article for, a newsletter and magazine for which I have freelanced for a number of years. After the article was published, a radio station in Seattle, KOMO, requested a phone interview which I did on the 26th.

In addition, the editor of, Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen, was also asked to be part of a section on Netflix on PBS Newshour show this evening.

To say this topic is hot would be an understatement, and Eric did a good job bringing to light—in a public forum—what we've often said on the online premium content world is still nascent and needs to grow to match the expectation (or hype) that many in our industry have pushed when trying to make streaming inventories equal to offline availability.

There's a need for a consolidated approach to online video libraries, ideally through a broader offering of content by a single provider; in the meantime, I'll also cover another approach that indexes what's available on multiple sites. Look for that article in a few weeks.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

2011 Streaming Media Europe: Challenges for Android Video Delivery

In between trips to Nigeria and Ghana (for pro-bono work) I was able to speak at today's Streaming Media Europe 2011 conference, on the topic of Android video delivery.

The session presentation is available for download and may eventually post the session video.

The presentation was a walk through the findings we reported in two white papers on the battery impact and performance impact of Flash Player for Mobile 10.1 (first report) and Flash Player for Mobile 10.2 / 10.3 (second report).

The findings, however, were the same for both tests: the native applications don't work nearly as consistently for video playback, and the impact of Flash Player for Mobile on battery life is a small price to pay for consistency in delivery (as in the actual ability to use hardware acceleration to play back full-screen, full-motion video).

Friday, September 16, 2011

2012 Q1 Best Workflows

Transitions has been hard at work on several continents (four and counting) over the past three months, after publishing attributed results for one company that participated in the 2011 Q1 Best Workflows research report.

Within the next two months, we expect to release invitations for the follow-on 2012 Q1 Best Workflows report, based on interest expressed by a number of companies. Stay tuned for more details.

Friday, July 22, 2011

2011 Q1 Best Workflows: Elemental Technologies

In December 2010, we published the 2010 Best Workflows report, a generic version of testing Transitions performed for a number of transcoding and live encoding hardware/software solutions. The report mentioned a few invited companies, but did not detail any one particular participant.

Elemental Technologies has requested that their findings be published, as the company did exceptionally well in a number of categories. The report, labeled as 2011 Q1 Best Workflows: Elemental Technologies, containing the same test results from the December 2010 final report, reveals a company hitting its stride on several fronts.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Flash Player 10.2 for Android Handsets and 10.3 for Motorola Xoom Tablet

Devices powered by the Android OS are gaining in popularity, with first quarter 2011 sales of Android-powered devices far outstripping those of Apple's iOS and Research In Motion's BlackBerry OS.

Yet the success brings with it a major issue—OS forking and code modification—inherent to open-source operating systems. The biggest area where this divergence can be viewed (or not viewed, as the case my be) is in the area of media consumption.

Our most recent report, titled The Right Fit? Video Playback Performance on Android Handset and Tablet Devices Using Adobe Flash Player 10.2 and 10.3 delves into the question of Adobe's Flash Player as a potential universal player for various media types on Android phones and tablets. 

We found that Adobe Flash Player seems to be progressing, alongside advances in the Android OS itself, to a point where we're seeing full frame-rate, high-quality playback on a number of devices.

While this sounds like a no-brainer, our last set of tests found few devices capable of playing 24 frame per second (fps) content at 24 fps, let alone playing back traditional video content at the 29.97 fps required to match fluid television playback.

Yet the past two months have significantly upped the ante: Adobe Flash Player 10.3 on the Motorola Xoom tablet was able to match native content's frame rates (both 24 and 29.97 fps) once the Motorola Xoom was upgraded to Android OS 3.1. This is an increase of 10-15% in frames-per-second playback, compared to Flash Player 10.2 on Android 3.0.1—the original shipping Xoom operating system.

In addition, the Motorola Atrix handset, which contains the same dual-core Tegra 2 processor and GPU, turned in impressive results. The Samsung Galaxy S also improved over its results in our initial tests of six Android handsets and now takes advantage of hardware acceleration for decoding.

The combination of an updated Android OS and an updated Adobe Flash Player seems to provide a much more consistent media experience for the average user.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Review: Video Compression for Flash, Apple (iOS) devices and HTML5

Jan Ozer, a colleague and friend who writes for Streaming Media magazine and a number of other online and magazine publications, has just released his most recent book: Video Compression for Flash, Apple Devices and HTML5.

The 258-page book covers the title's topics in detail, looking first at the evolution of the H.264 video codec (also known at AVC as well as MPEG-4 Part 10 for ITU and ISO) and how it has been adopted by Adobe for Flash Player, Apple for its past and current player (QuickTime 7 and QuickTime X, respectively) and Microsoft for its Silverlight player.

Jan then moves on to the questions of royalties (a topic I've covered in multiple articles, including one on H.264 and one on WebM) and then moves into the meat of the book: tips and tricks for working with a variety of compressor tools, including Apple's Compressor, Rhozet's Carbon Coder, Sorenson's Squeeze, Telestream's Episode and several others.

When it comes to specific environments where H.264 content will be played back, Video Compression for Flash, Apple Devices and HTML5 really shines. Whether it's encoding for the specific vagaries of Blu-Ray discs, Apple's multiple iOS devices—including the variations for iPhone/iPod versus the larger screen size of the iPad—or just the basics of Flash or Silverlight playback, the book examines processing and protocols necessary to make your streaming or offline delivery of H.264 a success. 

Jan's focus is on software-only encoding solutions, but the principles are the same for hardware-based encoding and transcoding solutions, such as the Elemental Server, Elemental Live and Inlet Spinnaker products tested during last year's 2010 Best Workflows report. 

I highly recommend Video Compression for Flash, Apple Devices and HTML5 for anyone needing to refine their media compression workflow, as the tips and insights Jan Ozer provides are pertinent to a variety of today's hottest consumer electronics devices.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Thunderbolt workflows

In a article about the new MacBook Pro, published two weeks ago, we discussed the potential of camera connectivity through the new Thunderbolt port.

Today, Intel announced that Canon—makers of the fine EOS D-SLR cameras as well as consumer and professional video cameras—will be supporting the Thunderbolt technology.  An Intel press release reads, in part: 

Hiroo Edakubo, Group Executive of Canon’s Video Products Group stated, "We are excited about Thunderbolt technology and feel it will bring new levels of performance and simplicity to the video creation market."

Read additional thoughts on this topic—and the implications for live production equipment sizes—on our follow-up blog post at

Roxio Toast Turns 11; But Can It Add?

In September, 2010, we posted an article about the issues highlighting the problem that Roxio Toast 10 Titanium Pro had with basic addition. The addition problems caused the program to underestimate how much content it could fit on a Blu-Ray disc. After eight hours of encoding, the actual number that Toast presented would be wildly off—to the tune of three or four gigabytes (3-4 GB).

This week, Sonic Solutions, who owns the technology and the Roxio brand name, announced the release of Roxio Toast 11 Titanium. Titanium is a lower-cost version of Toast (which also comes in a Pro version) and Titanium now contains the Blu-Ray plug-in that was only available in the Toast 10 Pro. This move saves users about $40 off the cost of purchasing Pro if Blu-Ray is the primary focus of your Toast usage.

Yet the question remains: can Toast 11 Titanium add any better than the previous Pro version? We're hearing initial reports of similar issues, which really brings into question Sonic's quality control on the Toast products, but we'll let you know what we find when we do a thorough review next week.

We are also hearing Toast 11 has speed issues in burning discs, where the speed of a 16x burner is reduced to 2x (even though the same burner runs at 15-16x in Toast 10).

Stay tuned to find out if remedial math works for Toast.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Flash Player 10.1 for Android: Performance King or Resource Hog?

A little over a month after completing our 2010 Best Workflows comparison, Transitions has decided to tackle another vexing question: does Flash Player 10.1 on the Android OS platform really impact battery life of mobile handsets?

If it does, is the performance gain worth it?

Read the results of our initial five-day test period, on a number of Android-based devices, including the the original Droid, Droid2, Droid Incredible, EVO, Nexus S and the core Galaxy S.

To put all the fuss about mobile Flash Player usage in perspective, consider that smartphone shipments accounted for 101 million units per quarter at the end of 2010, an increase of 87% over the same period in 2009. According to research firm IDC, smartphone shipments in 2010 outpaced PC shipments for the first time, with PC growth only progressing at 3% for the fourth quarter of 2010, on shipments of 92 million units.

It’s also worth noting how fast mobile Flash Player penetration grew: 28.7% of US smartphones are based on Android, an increase of 7.3% in market share over the last quarter. By the end of 2010, Android-based handset shipments surpassed the number of shipping iPhones devices: Apple’s iPhone market share is now only 25.0% excluding iPads (of which over 7 million were sold in the fourth quarter, while Android-based tablets are just emerging).

In other words, Flash-equipped smartphones now outnumber iOS handsets. Adobe’s intent to bring the Flash Player plug-in to other mobile OSes (Blackberry, et al) will only widen that gap.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Clutter Cutter: NeatDesk for Mac

Our increasingly interconnected, automated and digitized world offers many benefits for businesses large and small. Yet one frustrating business situation seems almost impossible to solve: mountains of paper.

In the form of printed documents, receipts, expense records and all those business cards gathered from new contacts and business prospects, paper documents are one of the few things we can't seem to dig our way out from under.

I have tried several systems to deal with the mounting piles of pertinent information that still land in my home office, from the “desk stack” chess game to the “Pendaflex shuffle” in actual filing cabinets, to the “toss box” with the current year’s date marked on the side.

All of these systems have some merit. Looking back from the beginning of 2011, however, I still don’t know exactly what I have stored in all these collection areas from 2010. Throughout the past year, I found myself saying aloud all too often, “Is that contract in this pile? I’ve got to get the Scope of Work written!” and “Where is the receipt for last week’s prospecting lunch? I need to expense that.” I’ve also grown tired of storing all those business cards I collect, a desk drawer full of them.

One thing is certain at the dawn of a new year, I’m losing precious office space, time and ultimately money trying to keep up with all these dead trees. I'd happily recycle them all if I could just find an efficient and cost-effective way to organize the information in an easily accessible—preferably digital—form.

I’ve been looking for an automated solution that can feed all this stuff into my Mac and, ideally, integrate the data with Google Apps cloud-based document management that my consulting business uses.

With that end in mind, I recently decided to try the NeatDesk for Mac Desktop Scanner and its Digital Filing System.

Installation of the NeatWorks for Mac software and Neat Desk ADF scanner was easy and straightforward. The application even asked to autoupdate the first time I opened it. Nice touch.

During the installation, NeatDesk automatically created a Neat Library database file in the root of my Documents folder. When accessed through the NeatWorks for Mac application, this Digital Files System (DFS) provides a "cabinet" and a collection of customizable Folders within the cabinet that store all of the documents, receipts and business cards I scan. Working with the same paradigm in the paper world, NeatWorks use of the cabinet metaphor is helpful, as it’s getting hard to teach this dog new tricks.

NeatDesk scanner was fast and easy to use. For receipts and business cards, the OCR capabilities of the NeatWorks software does a good job in analyzing and segmenting the data off the scanned documents into their appropriate fields. No surprise here, as the original incarnation of this product, NeatReceipts, was geared towards generating expense reports.

All scanned items, whether a document, receipt or business card, land in the NeatWorks “Inbox” where you begin the filing process, with the software automatically identifies the type item you just scanned. Using the OCR data, NeatWorks automatically gathers metadata from the item to better identify its contents.

The application does have some problems with business cards that have colored backgrounds or unusual layouts. In this case you can easily edit and add the metadata yourself.

Interestingly, you don’t have to depend on the NeatDesk scanner to get data into NeatWorks. Anything that can be printed on the Mac can be sent to NeatWorks via the Neat specific options in the "Save to PDF" button in the print dialog box. This is helpful for me, personally, as a way to store some digital items I used to convert to paper for organizational purposes.

A few other features stand out. First, the data NeatWorks gathers from business cards creates contacts that can be exported to Apple's integrated Address Book, handy if you are synching Address Book with Google or Yahoo.

Second, receipts can be exported in .qif files for accounting and tax purposes in Quicken, or as individual PDFs to send to cloud-based apps such as Expensify. Scanned items can also emailed, through Apple's Mail application or other third-party applications such as Entourage or Outlook for Mac.

Lastly, by configuring the Folder Sync settings in the properties of any NeatWork’s Folder, you can automatically export the Folder’s contents from the Neat Library to the Mac’s local file system as individual PDFs. This feature is useful in that you can maintain copies of your critical data outside of NeatWorks, “just in case” the Neat Library file becomes unavailable. You can also upload these PDFs to Google Docs, for example, so they can be accessed via the cloud. Given these export and data movement options, I’m not concerned about all the scanned data living in the Neat Library database file.

All in all, I am happy to report that The Neat Company has put out a system that I believe can help me to slay “the Paper Monster” as they so aptly put it. While I don't think I'll ever be able to get to a "paperless" mode of working, I look forward to providing an update on my "less paper" resolution some time in the next few weeks, including whether it integrates well with Google Apps for cloud-based storage of documents I need on the run.