Live-Streaming apps for smartphones have seen a surge in interest in the last year. Meerkat and Periscope (now Twitter) leapt onto the scene nearly at the same time and captured the imagination of a new crop of people anxious to share their experiences as they are happening – in real time.
Why the sudden interest?
Mobile Live-Streaming has been attempted many times over the years. From Justin.Tv to Yevvo, Stringwire … and independent projects (LiVu, Cine.io) there has been plenty of interest. In the last year a confluence of technology trends has permitted the mobile broadcasting experience to become easy and reliable.
- Hardware Encoders
- LTE Networks
- iPhone5 class processors
1) Hardware Encoders
Meerkat and Periscope surfaced ( :-) around the time that Apple made the hardware h.264 encoder available in user-space. The significance of this should not be underestimated. Now, anyone with an iPhone5 can produce high-quality h.264 video efficiently – both in terms of computation and power consumption. The ownership of your own “personal encoder” clears up any doubt about whether the software you are using includes rights to the “proper codecs” and ensures that the industry supporting this standard is fairly compensated.
I say hooray for Hardware Encoding!
This move has also benefited the implementation of mobile WebRTC, with most projects rapidly adopting the HW codec as the WebRTC project itself ratified the h.264 standard.
2) LTE Networks
I live in San Francisco. There is a high-quality WiFi almost everywhere I go, and where there isn’t, I have a good strong LTE signal. I’ve performed throughput measurements at numerous locations and have been able to sustain 50-100KB/s uploads continuously. Exceptions to this occur when there are large crowds, or in certain weak spots. I was not able to measure this level of consistent throughput on 3G networks.
The iPhone5 and iPhone5c both use the Apple A6 processor and include 1GB of RAM. The new processor runs at 1.3GHz, and I believe that the extra RAM is helping in keeping the processor fed. Video broadcasting apps move a lot of data through the memory architecture, and this device is up to the task.
Yesterday, Facebook introduced Live-Streaming … for celebrities [see techcrunch]. I think that Facebook is recognizing the Live-Streaming movement, but is grappling with the cost of large-scale video streaming. Celebrities can bring the viewership, and advertising revenue. Live-Streaming is still expensive, and the advertising helps pay for it. Some Live-Streaming architectures are more expensive than others.
In 2013 I wrote an article using the term “MicroBroadcasting” (see http://www.tsheffler.com/blog/2013/09/04/microbroadcasting/) to describe Live-Streaming to a small audience from a small device. The term is borrowed from more typical use describing Pirate Radio Stations. There, the “micro” refers to the small power output (Watts) of the transmitter.
In that article, I described the use of Video MicroBroadcasting for small-scale broadcasters. We may need a new business model to pay for it however. Bandwidth is getting cheaper, but live-streaming video is still expensive. A significant cost remains the cloud processing to convert video formats. Technology to enable cheaper transmission could enable small-scale Live-Streaming outside of the major social networks. And with it, perhaps a new business model could emerge.