1. Technical Brief
Live Video Streaming
Reaching a Broader Audience
Encoding Solutions from Inlet Technologies Live Internet broadcasts deliver content
Intel® Xeon® Processors with Quad-Core Technology to mobile and PC-based devices and
increase revenue potential
Visionary broadcasters are catering to digital consumers, who demand content
at anytime, whether or not they’re sitting in front of a television screen. With the
Internet, viewers can watch programs from any screen, at any time and from nearly
anywhere. The web is delivering breaking news, movies, television programming
and sports highlights on mobile devices, media phones, computers and even high
definition television sets in the living room. Today’s technology helps content creators,
programmers and distributors expand their audiences, create new revenue opportunities
and attract advertisers.
Live video streaming technology is being used to serve a large audience of engaged
baseball enthusiasts, who want access to out-of-market Major League Baseball (MLB)
games. These baseball fans can subscribe to MLB.com and keep tabs on thousands
of games in a season – an unmatched baseball experience. MLB.com sends live video
streams that are optimized for their subscribers’ network bandwidth and screen
size. “With such a rapidly growing subscriber base of fully-engaged and dedicated
viewers, we’re always pushing to deliver higher-quality live streaming content with
new, interactive features,” said Joe Inzerillo, senior vice president, multimedia and
Technical Brief Live Video Streaming
2. In addition to satisfying viewers’ quality expectations, video Watching Live Events from the Web
streaming solutions should be flexible, scalable and manageable. High
Before viewers can watch live events on devices connected to the
video quality is essential for creating a true broadcast experience that
Internet, there’s a lot of behind the scenes video processing taking
draws in and retains viewers. Quality is boosted by flexible streaming
place. First, the event is captured and sent to a video encoder, which
systems that offer differentiated quality of service (QoS) for TV
is the Inlet Spinnaker* in Figure 1. Spinnaker receives the content in
and a wide array of new media devices. This is accomplished when
either high or standard definition format, encodes it into different
video solutions stream the optimal bit rate and resolution based on
video stream formats, including VC-1/Windows* Media and H.264.
the capabilities of the viewer’s device. Service providers also want
Next, Spinnaker sends the streams, with different bit rates and
scalable, energy-efficient streaming solutions that increase capacity resolutions, to the media server. Distributing streams to literally
cost-effectively and can be managed remotely to keep systems up thousands of viewers, the media server selects and sends video
and running. streams that best match the bandwidth and screen capabilities of
These system requirements are met by advanced encoding and individual devices.
transcoding solutions from Inlet Technologies that enable content Spinnaker is highly reliable and robust and offers unique capabilities
providers to reach new audiences through live and on-demand for new media broadcast over IP. It was developed by Inlet
professional streaming over any IP network. Encoding is the process Technologies, a leader in advanced encoding solutions for new
of converting uncompressed, unencrypted video captured from media. Supporting resolutions from mobile to web to high definition
professional recording equipment into one of a variety of formats television, Spinnaker is a flexible, multi-format, scalable professional
for playback. This technical brief reviews selection criteria for video streaming solution. It also provides industry-leading quality for
streaming systems and describes how Inlet Technologies tuned live media delivery applications such as live sports and other web
its video processing software for optimal performance on an Intel® streaming; broadband and mobile TV; IPTV; enterprise, public,
Xeon® processor-based server platform with quad-core technology. education and government (PEG) video.
MP4 Laptop PC
HD/SD-SDI VC-1 ASF
Video RTMP Stream
Flash 8 (VP6) Smart Phone
Audio MPEG-2 Transport Stream
Inlet Spinnaker Mac
Audio Remote Encoder Web GUI
Captioning Management SNMP
Front Panel Any IP Device
Figure 1. Streaming Live Events to Web
Video Streaming Trends Choosing a Video Streaming Solution
The sports industry is one of the fastest growing segments for In many ways, the selection criteria for video encoding solutions are
streaming live video content on the Web. Online sports video streams similar to other networking gear, like security appliances and routers.
and downloads served in the U.S. market are projected to more than Video streaming equipment should be reliable and easy to manage,
double by 2012, from 5.2 billion in 2007 to 10.8 billion, according to a features that are essential to maintain service to customers. And
recent study by Screen Digest. service providers need a scalable solution that can easily increase
Video streaming is catching on in all geographies. In the Netherlands, capacity, especially since streaming live video is a relatively new
Cross Media produced and managed ten live streams from the 2008 service category with great expansion potential. A summary of key
Wimbledon tennis championships over the NET5 station Web site. selection criteria for video streaming equipment is listed in Table 1.
Sports content is some of the most challenging to encode due to Selection Criteria Impact
its almost constant motion. Cross Media also streamed a November Video Quality Attract and retain viewers
concert with pianist Jorge Luis Prast at Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw. Flexibility Service a wide array of devices
“We only considered Spinnaker for this particular application due to its Scalability Add capacity cost-effectively
exceptional quality,” said Raymond Garnier, managing director of Cross Manageability Increase availability and lower TCO
Media Ventures. “Europeans are passionate about music, so the sound
Table 1: Video Streaming Equipment Selection Criteria
as well as the picture must be superior.”
Technical Brief Live Video Streaming
3. Unlike other networking equipment, video encoder performance is The Spinnaker interface exposes more of the advanced compression
judged visually, and the lack of quality, like reduced frames per second settings for each of the codecs, allowing unprecedented flexibility to
(FPS), jumps right out at viewers. Some video streaming solutions optimize the output stream for specific content, network and latency
deliver content that’s tailored to the capabilities of the end device; requirements. Inlet encoding software allows service providers to
this is a level of service differentiation and flexibility that is atypical of set critical parameters, as illustrated by one of several user interface
other networking equipment. screens shown in Figure 2. To provide this high level of video
streaming functionality, Inlet uses the latest Intel Xeon processors
Putting Computing Power to Work because they supply the computing horsepower required by its
demanding encoding and transcoding algorithms.
High quality video transcoding, the process of changing digital
content from one format to another, is compute intensive. When
video transcoding is coupled with live video streaming, the processing
requirements increase further because everything must happen
in real-time. To help meet these requirements, Spinnaker performs
preprocessing to provide best-in-class output. Content providers
and distributors can control preprocessing and customize the output
for target devices using features such as scaling, cropping, Inverse
Telecine and compression.
• Scaling – Change the horizontal and vertical resolutions
• Cropping – Reframe the image to accentuate or remove some
content or change the aspect ratio.
• Inverse Telecine – Convert back to the original frame rate of a
movie (e.g., from NTSC’s 29.97 FPS to 23.98 FPS).
• Advanced Compression Settings – Allows for a better quality
video stream in a smaller amount of bandwidth. Figure 2. Setting Inlet Encoding Software Parameters
4. Developing with Intel® Technology Maximizing System Performance
Inlet software runs on hardware platforms equipped with two Intel Inlet software is optimized to run on Intel Xeon processors by
Xeon processors with quad-core technology, eight processor cores breaking up algorithms that compress and decompress data, called
total, as shown in Figure 3. The platform supplies the computing codecs, into multiple software threads. This means an algorithm
power, memory size, I/O capacity and 64-bit architecture required is split into different pieces that execute on the processor
to handle multiple input formats and bit rates. For example, HDTV simultaneously, which can dramatically cut overall processing time.
content may come in at 30 frames per second with a 1280x720 With all eight processor cores working in unison for one broadcast
frame size and 16 bits per pixel. The platform receives the content (e.g., baseball game), Spinnaker can encode multiple bit rate outputs
on high speed I/O ports, copies it into memory, compresses it, and simultaneously – for example, 400, 800 and 1,200 kilobits per second
then sends it back out. The 64-bit Intel® architecture approximately (Kbps) – an optimized end-user experience.
doubles the capacity to both move and process data as compared to Inlet’s latest hardware platform, the Spinnaker 7000, took advantage
32-bit architectures. of Intel® Software Development Products to achieve the marketing
goal of outputting High Definition (HD) video at 1280 x 720
Quad-Core Quad-Core resolution at 30 frames per second. Initial tests showed the maximum
Intel® Xeon® Intel® Xeon®
Processor Processor frame rate achieved was less than 20 FPS, so Inlet used the Intel®
5400 Series 5400 Series
VTune™ Performance Analyzer to search for software performance
issues. The analyzer helped Inlet identify bottlenecks in the code,
Up to 2x
1333 MHz optimize the number of threads and balance the workload across all
eight processor cores, which achieved true HD output capability.
Intel® Intel® 5000P
I/O Controller Controller
Hub DDR2 FB-DIMM
“Inlet’s Spinnaker allows us to produce multi-
Conﬁgurable up to
Figure 3. 64 GB max. memory platform video at up to 1.2 megabits per
Intel Multi-Core Platform Conﬁgurable PCI Express®
with 28 lanes
second, up from just 700 kilobits per second
Twenty-eight lanes of PCI Express* I/O connect to multiple high in 2007, a dramatic enhancement of video
speed Ethernet ports (e.g., 10 gigabits per second), transferring quality and overall user experience.”
data in and out at very fast line rates. This high level of hardware
performance allows multi-format encoding and transcoding to be Senior Vice President
performed in software, not hardware. Conversely, platforms that Multimedia and Distribution
rely on customized hardware silicon for video processing often need MLB.com
additional components for each content format they support, which
adds cost and reduces flexibility.
“Intel’s Quad-Core® architecture
Inlet took advantage of several Intel® technologies that increase enables smaller form factors and
system performance and ease software tuning, as shown in Table 2. lower power consumption, which
reduce physical space
Intel Technology Inlet Software Implementation
and cooling requirements
Intel® Xeon® Processors The encoding workload is evenly divided among the processing
with quad-core technology cores, which fully utilizes the available computing power. in order to help service
Streaming SIMD Extensions The software uses instructions optimized for video processing, providers lower their
(SSE) Instructions which decreases processing time. operating cost,”
Instructions handle 64 bits at a time (versus 32 bits), which nearly
doubles the speed of many operations.
Intel® Integrated Performance Inlet uses Intel software functions, which are highly optimized to Digital Enterprise Group
Primitives (Intel® IPP) yield exceptional video performance. Intel Corporation
Intel® VTune™ The analyzer helps Inlet identify and address bottlenecks in the
Performance Analyzer software, which improves performance.
Table 2: Inlet Puts Intel Technologies to Work
Technical Brief Live Video Streaming
5. The performance advantage from using quad-core processors is uses Microsoft’s Windows Media software development kit (SDK). The
illustrated in Figure 4, which compares two generations of Inlet SDK makes extensive use of Intel® Streaming SIMD Extensions (Intel®
hardware platforms. Inlet’s recent platform, based on two Intel® Xeon® SSE) instructions, which will operate on several pieces of data in parallel.
processors 5410 (Figure 2) with quad-core technology, has double Recently, Microsoft updated their SDK to use Intel® Streaming SIMD
the performance of a prior platform equipped with two Intel® Xeon® Extensions 4 (Intel® SSE4) instructions, and Inlet measured a 10
processors 51402 with dual-core technology. The test measured percent improvement in the overall system performance. “Individual
the number of 640x480 streams1 each platform could output while components probably sped up much more on a percentage basis, but
running Inlet’s encoding software. Intel SSE4 effectively meant we got the equivalent of a one speed
grade faster processor,” says Scott Thorley, senior product marketing
640x480 Streams Higher is better
manager at Inlet Technologies.
Intel Software Library Shortens
3 Development Time
In order to encode a high quality video stream in real
time, the majority of the processor computing power
1 must be dedicated to encoding and compression. But
before encoding can begin, some preprocessing is
required, like cropping the video signal to the right
Intel® Xeon® Processor 5140 Intel® Xeon® Processor 5410
with Dual-Core technology with Quad-Core technology size and applying color conversion, and filtering.
Figure 4. Performance Comparison of Two Intel® Xeon® Processor-based Systems These functions are available in the Intel® Integrated
Performance Primitives (Intel® IPP) library, and Inlet
Parallel Instructions Increase Performance uses them for several reasons, including:
Inlet’s encoding software can convert video content into Microsoft* • The preprocessing functions are optimized for the
Windows* Media format, which supports high quality, interactive video Intel processors, so more of the computing time is
across the Web and mobile devices. To speed up development, Inlet spent encoding.
• Since Intel provides production-ready functions,
Inlet’s developers can spend more time creating
new value-added features.
6. Flexibility Increases Audience Reach
Audience reach depends on the number of serviceable devices, such
as mobile phones, media phones, MIDs, PCs/laptops and televisions.
In order to optimize the video quality for as many devices as possible,
the Inlet Spinnaker encoder allows the content provider to encode
a single video source into four streams. These streams, typically at
different resolutions and bit rates, are sent to a media server, which
selects the best stream for each device. Real-time streaming statistics
are available via Inlet’s user-friendly tools, as shown in Figure 5.
Spinnaker encodes multiple formats in one box, including Windows
Media Video (WMV), VC-1, MPEG-4, H.264, Flash, MPEG-2 and AVI
formats, so content providers can reach virtually any end-user. Since
Spinnaker encoding software runs on standard 1RU servers, it can
support more formats cost-effectively than competitive offerings
that use hardware encoding technology. Software encoding also
Figure 5. Inlet Encoding Software User Interface
7. allows Spinnaker systems to be easily upgraded in the future with Adaptive Streaming in the Future
additional formats as they become available, as opposed to hardware-
The next big technology breakthrough in live video streaming will be
based encoding solutions that charge extra or require a new purchase
adaptive streaming. This is the ability to stream the event at multiple
for each additional format.
bit rates, with the user device automatically switching streams to
Scalability Grows Capacity always play the best quality stream based on the available bandwidth.
Spinnaker software runs on dense, state of the art hardware 1RU If user bandwidth goes down, rather than pausing and buffering, the
rack mount servers. The energy efficiency of Intel Xeon processors user device will opt for a video stream encoded at a lower bit rate.
Once the bandwidth recovers, the device automatically goes back to
with quad-core technology enables this small form factor, which
the higher quality stream. Adaptive Streaming will be available from
accommodates racks of twenty servers. Each server supports
Inlet Technologies in early 2009.
one video source, so a service provider can easily scale to twenty
broadcast channels within a single cost-effective rack.
Extending the Reach
Remote Manageability Improves Operations Live video streaming creates new business opportunities for content
providers and distributors. The underlying video technologies, encoding
No one wants to see a blank screen, so it’s critical that streaming
and transcoding, are computationally intensive and require the high
systems continue to run smoothly. Remote management allows IT
computing performance supplied by multi-core processors, like Intel
personnel to respond to issues quickly and get systems back online.
Xeon processors with quad-core technology. These processors enable
Spinnaker provides a highly efficient management console through Inlet Technologies to offer very high quality encoding performance,
local, web and SNMP interfaces. It can be managed through the flexibility, scalability and manageability. Since Inlet’s encoding solutions
Internet from anywhere using a web based graphical user interface are software-based, they offer greater flexibility than most hardware
(GUI). The interface allows for remote management, configuration solutions without sacrificing performance. The Inlet Spinnaker
and scheduling. There are enterprise class alarms that pinpoint errors encoding solution delivers stunning High Definition picture quality
quickly, such as a dysfunctional video source, a full hard disk drive and across today’s IP and broadband networks. Now, content creators
other system problems. can offer viewers a “living room” experience over the Web, reaching a
whole new set of mobile and PC users.
Technical Brief Live Video Streaming