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...