Tcoz Tech Wire

Discoursing on trends and technologies interesting to Tim Consolazio, sole proprietor of Tcoz Tech Services, specializing in Flash/Flex/Air, iPhone, Facebook, Twitter, and related technologies.

"Technology from an indie software developer's perspective".

Friday, May 29, 2009

"Buffering Video..." takes a hit: Akamai offers Flash Media Server 3.5 Dynamic Streaming

Akamai has recently announced support for Flash Media Server (FMS) 3.5 dynamic streaming; for the video developer muggle, this basically means that while watching a video, if your connection degrades, the player, coupled with the backend intelligence, can switch you to a lower bitrate video transparently. Although a lower quality video, the viewing experience will be interrupted considerably less--ideally, not at all--by buffering.

You can read the announcement here.

You can also see it in action at If you have a decent connection, you can watch videos encoded at bandwidths from 500Mbit to 3000Mbit, and the quality will toggle as bandwidth fluctuations happen. If you have a bandwidth throttler, Charles, Fiddler, whatever, this can be an interesting thing to check out.

This is an opportunity for the higher end Flash developer type to differentiate him/herself from the rest of the pack, which is oh-so-important in the indie software developer world. Read on...

My clients are primarily in the entertainment and media industry; I build widgets, sites, applications, whatever they need. Frequently, this means dealing with video, and if you deal with video on an industrial level, you will sooner or later (probably sooner) run into Akamai.

I don't mind it at all. Akamai has a developer kit that makes it pretty easy to hook into their streams, with passwords, bandwidth detection, whatever (in fact, in their developer sdk there is a class, HTTPBandwidthEstimate, which is a generally useful utility). You can find more out about how Akamai helps Flash developers get up and running with their technology at their Flash developer page.

Anyway, just knowing that--and being able to prove it--has landed me work. But now, Akamai offers more.

Video delivery has become a lot more sophisticated in a very short period of time. Even just two or three years ago, it was enough to serve a catalog of video in a generic player as long as it was relatively stable; all the things we see now, like seeking in on-demand video streams, ways to interact with the player, HD video over the web, and all that, were generally avoided because it was VERY difficult to get right; users didn't have the bandwidth or patience for the buffering, complex video infrastructures are difficult to implement; a video player that does nothing but break when you touch it is just frustrating, and so on (and how many of those have we seen). Nowadays, users want more; ways to interact with video, like commenting and clip sharing, and of course, a smooth, uninterrupted, and easily seekable, experience.

Akamai has always been out there though, working to make enterprise-level video serving less of a headache. The principle is pretty simple. You are not a video delivery company. We are. Pay us to house and expose your video, use our services, feeds, and developer kits, to make them available to the public. Or, try and do it by uploading all your video to in-house web servers, you tube, whatever. That may work for a small effort, but if you have a lot of content and need it monitored, maintained, looked after every day...good luck.

That's not to say Akamai is without its issues; I've heard grumbling about their downloader, and network outages have made many a corporate manager sweat all over their cel phone. Say what you want though, they've survived and grown in the industry, and like I said before, the heavy hitters use them liberally. Whatever they're doing, there's enough value for people to want them to keep doing it.

As an entertainment/media focused developer (which so many Adobe-based developers are), having worked with Akamai is a powerful resume item. Frequently, if you hear "video" in a contract, you can expect it to be followed by something like BrightCove or Akamai. So like I said before, if you have experience dealing with these video hosts, you've got a leg up.

Now, if you have that background, AND know how to take advantage of Flash Media Server's dynamic stream switching, you're at the top of the industry. FMS 3.5, as far as I know, was announced in November, so there's been opportunity to get your feet wet for about half a year. You can read about the release of FMS 3.5 here (note that the current version is 3.5.2, which is a maintenance update):

So Flash devs, get to the Adobe FMS and Akamai sites, and start gearing up; time to break out of the world of banner ads.

As always, thanks for visiting.

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