Akamai Makes Big HD Streaming Push

Content delivery network (CDN) Akamai says it has developed a new streaming platform which can deliver high-definition online video to a number of playback formats and devices, including Adobe's Flash technology, Microsoft's Silverlight and the Apple iPhone, at a scale that will be meaningful to content providers.

The new "Akamai HD Network" will use the CDN's collection of 50,000 servers scattered in 750 cities around the world to deliver content at what Akamai President and CEO Paul Sagan described as "primetime scale." Sagan said that new platform will also allow online viewers to customize their experience, such as pausing and rewinding with a response times under a second, and timeshift between live and on-demand content.

"We can deliver interactive, DVR-like experiences with real-time analytics," said Sagan, who introduced the new service in a live video Webcast Tuesday afternoon.

When Akamai began pushing HD video delivery three years ago, said Sagan, very few consumers were able to support the bitrates necessary for HD over their IP connections. But that has changed with improvements in both broadband speeds and compression technology.

"TV quality is now possible online at HD bit rates with clips encoded at 3.5 megabits per second," said Sagan.

According to Akamai chief scientist Tom Leighton, some two-thirds of consumers that Akamai delivers content to have a broadband connection of at least 2 Mbps, while a quarter of the consumers it serves have connections of 5 Mbps or faster. That goes a long way to solving the traditional "last-mile problem" that plagued early online video, he said.

HD video still means more bits than SD video, however, and that means more cost for programmers to pump it through a CDN like Akamai. Leighton said that in developing the Akamai HD Network, the company had made a "large investment to minimize the cost impact," but gave few details on how that related to customer pricing.

The Akamai HD Network provides HTTP adaptive bitrate streaming, which seamlessly adjusts to fluctuations in available bandwidth; an open, standards-based video player; and authentication for the Flash, Silverlight and iPhone environments to ensure that only authorized players can access content.

"We are excited to see Akamai's commitment to HTTP adaptive streaming as the future of online video delivery, as we have worked closely over the past year to build a robust end-to-end media delivery platform with IIS Smooth Streaming and Silverlight," said Steve Sklepowich, director for Silverlight at Microsoft, in a statement. "Together, we've proven that these true HD experiences can dramatically increase online viewing times for broadcasters."

"Adobe works closely with Akamai to optimize Flash Media delivery on Akamai's network for the benefit of our mutual customers," added Jim Guerard, V.P. and GM of Dynamic Media for Adobe. "We're pleased that customers who already leverage the Flash Platform as the number one video format online will now enjoy increased scalability and quality gains as a result of utilizing Akamai's vast edge infrastructure via HTTP video streaming."