CMAF: is the industry ready for a shared streaming format?

Authored by Damien Lucas, Co-Founder and CTO

Standardisation has always been a tricky issue to tackle in emerging and fast growing industries. OTT is no exception. In particular, the development of multiscreen TV , that lets IPTV customers watch their favourite shows using the device of their choice (TV, tablet, smartphone, etc), in or out of their homes, has created additional overheads for IPTV distribution networks. Indeed, these networks now require a content distribution infrastructure that can produce, distribute, cache and deliver media streams suitable for all playback devices.

This means producing individual files, from one same piece of original content, in at least three different video container formats: HLS for Apple, Smooth Streaming for Microsoft and MPEG DASH for Android devices. Add to this different video encapsulation techniques and DRM technologies and things can rapidly get complicated.

Thankfully, the packager/origin servers and CDNs  on the market streamline most of the work, but this still requires CPU capacity and ample storage space.

One size fits all

One of the most interesting attempt at standardisation came in 2016 with the introduction of CMAF (Common Media Application Format). The objective is to provide a single encapsulation format, with which the different video container formats (HLS and MPEG DASH, most notably) could be made compatible. Today, the project initiated by Apple and Microsoft is supported by key players such as Google, Netflix, Akamai and Adobe, who have all committed to implementing CMAF.

At the same time, a new encryption method called CBCS has emerged, bridging the gap between the existing CTR and CBC methods. To make things simple, widespread adoption by the industry (and particularly tablet, smartphone and set-top box vendors) of the CMAF format and CBCS encryption, would allow IPTV distribution networks to stream one single file for each piece of original content, that will potentially play on any device in the viewers’ hands.

Good or bad for operators?

But will the IPTV and OTT operators play ball? On paper, operators adopting CMAF and CBCS will potentially save a large amount of storage space and reduce network traffic by replacing three existing formats with one.

Also, streaming media files in one single format will eliminate the need for CPU intensive just-in-time packaging . This is particularly true for operators using Anevia technologies, that include the first packager on the market to currently support CMAF and CBCS.

However, adopting the new formats will require operators to temporarily increase their storage capacity for the time it will take the industry to make a full transition. During this undetermined length of time, they will actually need to support four file formats instead of three, with indeed no guarantee that CMAF will ultimately establish itself as a de facto standard.

If this question is still hanging, there is another aspect that may well tip the scale in favour of CMAF. The true driver of CMAF adoption may actually lie somewhere else, as it is today the only format that holds the promise of low and ultra-low latency video streaming.

In this article, we outline the benefits for the players involved and share a perspective of how low latency could well make all the difference between success and failure for CMAF.



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