Part 2: LiveCast and BYOD TV!
Last week we outlined the cabin wireless developments at LiveCast, the folks who major in streaming connectivity in the cabin. After an overview last week, by the LiveCast CEO, William Mutual, we thought we would get the story on their BYOD TV product. Therefore, we asked Jennifer Blome, LiveCast VP Marketing, what products and services are offered to airlines by LiveCast and she told IFExpress: “BYOD TV is a new low cost, turn-key platform that enables airlines to provide real-time and updated on-demand entertainment content to passengers’ own devices, which can include smartphones, laptops, tablets and other personal media players. It can be deployed quickly as a light-weight, carry-on system with a local server and a Wi-Fi network that does not require certification, or optionally, can be installed on an existing Wi-Fi or IFE system. Today, news, sports and other video content is updated and refreshed throughout the flight over Inmarsat’s SwiftBroadband or other IP network.”
She went on to say: “BYOD TV’s content management system allows airlines to customize content and choice of content providers, allowing unique service offerings and tailoring by region and/or flight route. Content can be uploaded live, and updated as often as the airline chooses. Further, a unique feature of the BYOD TV platform is that it also supports an out-going live feed to be sent from the aircraft to the ground to be viewed in real-time, through a secure video distribution system by authorized viewers on any device.” We also asked her what are some of the key issues surrounding the development of streaming content wirelessly to passenger owned devices and she noted; “Ensuring that the streaming video plays seamlessly using the built-in media player on any device with a variety of operating systems that are continuously being updating, is an ongoing challenge. Also leveraging existing Wi-Fi or IFE systems that may have a 5-10 years lifespan in the eyes of the airlines requires that the onboard video streaming platform can operate within the confines of the available processing power of the airline’s media server. And regardless of what mobile device is being used by the passenger (today or tomorrow), the BYOD TV system must be able to adapt to the ever-changing mobile device ecosystem.”
IFExpress was curious about how to best overcome these and other issues. LiveCast indicated that the best way to accommodate for the expensive ground-to-air connection is to send up a single stream to the aircraft’s onboard server, as is provided by the BYOD TV platform. The stream is then transcoded (in real-time) into the variety of formats as is required to support the myriad types of passenger devices. When a stream is requested by the passenger, the type of device/browser/OS/codec is detected and the optimal format is served. If the first priority format (currently HTML5) is deemed incompatible with the device (or more correctly, the devices’ default browser), then the next best format “fall back” is delivered. This process must be handled quickly and provide a seamless experience to the passenger. A comprehensive database that tracks the various media players that are resident on passenger devices (and their ever changing ROM versions) must be maintained.
To accommodate the reality that most of the certified media servers in aircraft are several years old (i.e. servers are generally low powered CPUs with modest RAM and storage), BYOD TV has developed an extremely efficient proprietary video streaming codebase; one that has proven to work on numerous, third-party, media servers. The BYOD TV server platform integrates the management of the streams, content transcoding and formatting, as well as handling the bandwidth controls related to content acquisition (from ground based media servers) and integration procedures to allow stream distribution via WISP’s existing Wi-Fi network.
DRM content can also be delivered via the BYOD TV platform. However, as with all DRM enablements, it requires that an application be downloaded and installed on a passenger’s device. The application then accesses the BYOD TV authorization system, which is also installed on the onboard media server. There are a number of industry accepted solutions available and these can accommodate DRM for the majority of passenger devices. That said, Apple iOS devices require their own flavor of DRM (and concordant application that must be downloaded from iTunes store) in order to provide secure HLS streaming. BYOD TV platform architecture was designed to provide such an integrated system.
Our readers may wonder what technologies airlines should look for (either currently available in the market or up-and-coming) in order to provide a best-in-class connectivity solution? “Airlines need to plan in advance,” noted Jennifer, “if they wish to leverage the quantum leap in bandwidth connection speed that will available to their planes within a couple years. A 45 Mbps satellite pipe will totally change the type of services airlines can provide passengers, and the biggest change will be in regards to video services and content delivery. Airlines also need to coordinate with their WISP providers to ensure that the cabin Wi-Fi network is upgraded to the latest generation to support the new services. BYOD TV platform has been designed to support this kind of evolving network topology and comes ‘future proofed’ with ability to stream several live feeds (channels) alongside our current business strategy of delivering (constantly updated) on-demand breaking news, sports and other content.”
She went on; “Rather than get hung up on analyzing the pros and cons of each video format (Flash, HTML5, Silverlight, etc.) to determine the best one, a simple answer is that we must seamlessly serve whatever is compatible with the resident media player on the device. BYOD TV’s current stream delivery hierarchy prioritizes HTML5, but if that doesn’t work, file delivery seamlessly rolls down to transmission via: Flash (H.264), HLS (H.264) and MP4 (MPEG4 part 2).
“The BYOD TV business approach is designed to provide airlines with a carry-on media server (in the form factor of a tablet), to allow them to trial our solution with minimal effort. The tablet is shipped with an enhanced (but legal) Wi-Fi antenna, making it capable of delivering the video streams, throughout the entire plane.”
Finally, Jennifer noted; “As the airline decides to move forward into commercial deployment, the BYOD TV software can be installed on pretty well any certified media server and seamlessly integrated with the onboard WISP’s WiFi topology. This allows the airline to extend the life of their current hardware investment and to get a compelling new service up and running in a very cost effective and expeditious manner. And most importantly, beyond the financial and operational benefits, it’s the exact sort of service that customers are seeking today.” We certainly agree.
And speaking of streaming video and the future of UHDTV, an interested and supportive IFExpress reader sent us this link and we wanted to pass it along to you – the new H.265 streaming video compression specification looks to be the next big thing over the long standing H.264 (MPEG).
Lastly, we came across an interesting link on the Lufthansa website touting their (your) “MyMediaWorld” service and app. Looks like they have a clever solution to serve laptops and portable devices. Check it out.