The Convergence Newsletter From Newsplex at the University of South Carolina
The Convergence Newsletter
From Newsplex at the University of South Carolina
Vol. VI No. 10 (September 2009)
HDTV and Convergence
By Matt McColl, Editor
With each innovation, fewer technical obstacles prevent us from reaching the apex of media intertwinement.
One remaining impediment to true media convergence on a wide scale is limited ability to view high definition television programming through Internet streaming. Edger Huang, a professor at the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis School of Informatics, has researched the current limits of video players to deliver HD streams now that such streams are becoming more convenient through higher-speed broadband connections. This month he cuts through the jargon and lays out simply what HD streaming entails.
In our other article this month, University of South Carolina Professor Augie Grant looks forward to the annual “Convergence and Society” conference coming up Nov. 5 and 6. This year, the conference is headed west with the co-sponsorship of the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno.
The conference keynote will be by Richard Gingras, CEO of Salon Media Group. The conference is being co-chaired by Grant and UNR’s Larry Dailey.
We here at The Convergence Newsletter want to hear from you. We're especially looking for contributors for two coming issues: October’s second international issue of the year and February’s issue on developments in newsrooms.
Contact Matt McColl, editor of The Convergence Newsletter, at email@example.com.
Calendar- Quick Glance (get details)
Oct. 1-3: Online News Association annual conference, San Francisco
October 9: Deadline for proposals for the 68th MPSA Political Science Conference
November 5-6: Convergence and Society: The Changing Media Landscape, University of Nevada, Reno
December 4 – 5: AEJMC 2009 Winter Meeting, Jacksonville, Fla.
March 11-13: AEJMC Southeast Colloquium 2010 Chapel Hill, NC
April 22 – 25: 68th MPSA Political Science Conference, Chicago
May 6 -7: 4th International Conference on eDemocracy Danube University Krems Austria
By Edgar Huang, Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis
Enabling a high-definition (HD) television-watching experience on the Internet is the final step toward true media convergence. A recent Nielsen Co. survey found that online video viewership jumped 71 percent in February 2009 from February 2008. The fastest-growing video sites are those that make traditional cable TV, let alone the shaky newspaper industry, obsolete.
The backbone for such convergence is HD video streaming technology, which is still in its infancy and sounds mysterious to many people. As a result, many online video developers have one of three choices: paying content delivery networks (CDN), such as Akamai or Digital Rapids, to handle their HD video streaming; sending HD videos to YouTube, Vimeo, Hulu, etc., to do non-customizable streaming; or staying content with non-HD online video quality. Since ABC.com started to stream full episodes of its popular TV shows in full screen with HD quality in July 2007, a handful of other media companies, such as CBS.com and NBC.com, followed suit. ABC seems to have pointed to a direction for future media convergence. However, there still are few players in HD video streaming. The technology needs to be democratized so that all online video developers can have the fourth choice: do it yourself.
Streaming video at HD quality requires two things: broadband access and video streaming software. Broadband, in layman’s term, refers to the speed allowed for Internet data transportation. As broadband speed increases, so does the ability to handle, higher quality online videos and more people watching the same HD video without image stuttering.
Global broadband adoption has seen big growth in recent years. A June 2007 report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development showed that 60 percent of member countries’ Web users were on broadband. In the United States, over half of the households (53%) had a broadband connection as of July 2007, which accounted for 72% of all home Internet subscriptions, up from 60% in 2006, according to a Leichtman Research report.
Although U.S. average broadband connection speed is still slow (4.9Mbps) compared with those of countries such as Japan (63.6Mbps), South Korea (49.5Mbps), etc., The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation says it is fast enough to handle HD streaming videos, which are mostly encoded at a bit rate in the 2Mbps range. ABC.com’s full episode HD video streaming with a resolution of 1280x720, 60 frames per second is a good example.
While it will take time for the telecommunications infrastructure to raise broadband speed and for technology and economic development to even out disparities in broadband availability, the biggest mystery to be solved is the best software for streaming HD videos online. Talking about video streaming, people may naturally think of the Adobe Flash Video software package, which includes Flash Video Encoder, Flash Player, and Flash Media Server. Flash streaming video technology has been highly popular since the mid-2000s, supporting YouTube and all major media Web sites. The Flash Player pre-installation rate has reached almost 100 percent. But is Flash video the best technology for streaming HD videos? Finding the answer requires some testing. In reality, Adobe is a latecomer to HD streaming:
• Apple’s QuickTime 7, which supports the H.264/MPEG-4 AVC codec and streams QuickTime HD videos, was brought to market in April 2005.
• Microsoft’s Windows Media Video 9 Series, which includes the VC-1 advanced compression codec that enables WMV HD videos, was drafted in 2003 and made official in March 2006.
• Among lesser-known contenders, Vividas introduced its Java-based HD streaming technology in 2006.
• DivX, established in 1999, showed its capability of broadcasting HD video online in November 2006 through its DivX Codec.
Adobe introduced the Flash Player Update 3 in December 2007 to integrate the H.264 video codec, a standard format for high-definition video, into its Flash Player 9 so that the player is now capable of decoding 1080p H.264 videos. Update 3 also integrates the high-performance AAC audio codec into the same player and supports the hardware acceleration features provided by modern graphic cards so that CPU usage can drop drastically when a Flash video is being played. Together with Flash Media Server 3, which was introduced into the market in early 2008, the updated Flash player is a big step toward high-quality HD video streaming.
An ideal streaming technology is one that presents HD image quality without long initial buffering or any rebuffering. It should be easy, quick, and inexpensive to encode such a video and at as small a file size as possible. So far, Adobe Flash HD, Apple QuickTime HD, DivX HD, Microsoft Windows Media HD, and Vividas HD have been the only online HD streaming technologies to demonstrate their outcomes on their company or commercial Web sites.
Finally, a streaming technology should have easy full-screen support. To find out which of these five technologies is closest to the ideal, in 2008, together with a colleague, I conducted a comprehensive experiment to compare these five technologies.
Based on both in-house and external testing, Adobe Flash HD video became and has remained the biggest winner. It excels consistently, regardless of bandwidth. The almost ubiquitous pre-installation of Flash Player in all Web browsers, its outstanding image quality and almost instant showing, together with the full-screen button (enabled by ActionScript) newly built into some skins, made viewing of Flash HD streaming video a truly hassle-free and enjoyable experience to the testers. Flash HD video is the closest to owning the capability of presenting both high streaming quality and high image quality simultaneously.
In early 2008, Adobe reduced the cost of the newly introduced Flash Media Server 3 to $995. That may encourage more companies, organizations, government agencies, and schools to stream Flash videos by themselves rather than pay exorbitant fees to a CDN, rely on YouTube or live with the poor quality of standard-definition videos. The obvious downside of using Flash video is the Flash CS3 Video Encoder’s slow encoding time and the inconvenience of encoding multiple bit rates in comparison to some other technologies, such as DivX, QuickTime, and Windows Media. Compared to QuickTime, Flash video’s colors are less rich, as many external testers pointed out. However, Adobe Flash HD video by far is probably the closest to the ideal stated above.
For those readers who are interested, the study can be found at http://www.iupui.edu/~nmstream/hd/index.html, where you can also find tutorials for streaming Flash HD and other types of HD videos, and two other studies on streaming live videos and other types of on-demand videos.
Dr. Edgar Huang has taught media convergence, video production and editing, photojournalism, photography, Web publishing, graphic and layout design, research methods, computer-assisted reporting and news writing courses at IUPUI, the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, Northern Illinois University, Indiana University, University of California, San Diego, and Institute of International Relations. Huang started his college teaching career in 1984.
By Augie Grant, University of South Carolina
Longtime readers of The Convergence Newsletter know this is one of the legs of the University of South Carolina’s “convergence perch.” Another is our annual “Convergence and Society” conference coming up Nov. 5 and 6.
This year, we’re taking the conference to the western U.S. with the co-sponsorship of the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno. (Six of the eight annual conferences have been in Columbia, but we head west every few years to make it easier for those on the West Coast to participate.) We’re excited about UNR’s involvement, and we can’t wait for our visit to Reno, “the biggest little city in the world.”
The theme this year is “The Changing Media Landscape.” Almost four dozen submissions have been juried and whittled down to a two-day conference that explores the rapidly evolving state of journalism and mass media in general. The conference includes theme sessions on the nature and impact of the multitude of changes including consolidation, economic challenges, globalization, and regulatory change.
In addition, a set of sessions will explore the practical dimensions of teaching and practicing convergent journalism, all capped off with a keynote address from Richard Gingras, CEO of Salon Media Group. Conference co-chairs are UNR’s Larry Dailey and USC’s Augie Grant, both of whom promise an intense and exciting two-day immersion into the state of convergent journalism. (We’ve been asked whether Saturday has been kept free to allow attendees to explore surrounding areas, including Lake Tahoe; we decline to answer.)
All the conference sessions will be Thursday and Friday on the UNR campus. The conference kicks off with a reception Wednesday evening at the host hotel, the Silver Legacy in downtown Reno less than a mile from the campus. (Rooms start at $49 per night, and early conference registration is $150, which includes lunches and the keynote dinner.)
Anticipating that many researchers and presenters might have challenges obtaining travel funds, we are applying the media technologies we are teaching and researching to create a new type of session for those eager to present their research, but who can’t get to Reno in person. That “virtual poster” session will take place Friday morning and provide an interesting test of virtual conferencing.
The complete agenda, along with a downloadable registration form, is on the conference Web site: http://sc.edu/cmcis/newsplex/09Conf/index.html. If you have any questions or need additional information, please e-mail conference co-chair Augie Grant: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Augie Grant is a professor and the Newsplex academic liaison in the University of South Carolina’s School of Journalism and Mass Communications.
---------------Conferences, Training and Calls for Papers
Online News Association annual conference
Hilton, San Francisco
Deadline for proposals for the 68th MPSA Political Science Conference
Convergence and Society: The Changing Media Landscape
University of Nevada, Reno
AEJMC 2009 Winter Meeting
AEJMC Southeast Colloquium 2010
Chapel Hill, NC
68th MPSA Political Science Conference
April 22 – 25
4th International Conference on eDemocracy Danube University Krems
May 6 -7
---------------Publisher and Editorial Staff
The Convergence Newsletter is free and published by The College of Mass Communications and Information Studies at the University of South Carolina.
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