Adaptive StreamingAnd Picture Quality

Ever wonder what could happen to picture quality when a given screen
is displaying a “downshifted” stream
of video, sent using adaptive bit-rate

I did, and was glad to soak up a
session about it at the recent SCTE
Cable-Tec Expo. Short version: Arris
CTO Tom Cloonan and colleague
Jim Allen built an emulator in their
lab to sample what happens when
different types of traffic gets smooshed together on
the Internet-protocol plant.

Refresher: Tons of video is moving over the Internet.
Unprecedented growth. It uses a lot of bandwidth,
comparatively. Everyone’s working on it — by
adding IP bandwidth and by working the end points.
The “clients,” in the lingo, mean your other screens
— laptops, tablets, smartphones.

From a bandwidth perspective, here in the twilight
of 2011 (and the eve of big channel bonding),
adding more IP bandwidth means going beyond the
two to four downstream digital channels reserved
for broadband and voice-over-IP services. (Watch for
this to rise to 12-18 bonded channels in the next
few years.)

Consequently and inevitably, video-service providers
will start increasing the types of traffic sent over
the IP part of the plant. That means plain old Web
browsing, plus whatever’s moving “over the top” on
the public Internet, plus the newer “managed IP”
video services.

On the client (screen) side of the equation, adaptive
bit-rate streaming (a.k.a. “fragmented” streaming)
is big. It works by chunking video streams into
different sizes — in the Arris experiments, 3, 2.1,
1.5 and 1 Megabits per second — so that if bandwidth
isn’t available to play the bigger chunk, the
client can request a smaller chunk next.

Which brings us back to the question of what
happens on your various screens when network
congestion causes a downshift in video bit delivery?

Nice descriptive language in this wheelhouse,
by the way. Example: Things that can go wrong crop
up as “rendering engine starvation” and “videoresolution

Both conditions stem from network congestion
— the former when the software in the end point
device (tablet, TV) doesn’t get enough bits; the
latter when not enough bits arrive to render a goodquality
picture, causing the screen to “dither”
between 1080p and lower resolutions.

Also factored into the simulator: An “aggressiveness
factor” to assess who does what when
bandwidth does become available. As it turns out,
some client software is more aggressive than others
— meaning they jump up to a higher resolution
chunk, lickety split.

Generally speaking, though, the simulator found
that most adaptive streaming protocols back off
quickly in times of congestion. Sort of a digital cacophony
of, “After you. No, after you.”

This just scratches the surface of the 34-page
paper, and companion presentation, titled “Competitive
Analysis of Adaptive Video Streaming Implementations.”
For more, contact the SCTE (

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