I am an editorial kind of guy. Nobody would ever ask me to fix their computer – and this is a wise attitude. But as an editorial coordinator, I prefer our users to be happy with the content we provide. Since yesterday, when the Hearings of Commissionners’ process started, we have received complaints from Mac users. They can’t watch the hearings’ video streams. We cherish Mac Users, not only because they choose better colour for their kitchen wall and not only because a significant number of them belong to our team, but because they are users and they deserve the same service quality as everyone else with a grey PC box. Oh, perhaps the high representation of Mac users in the Press corp may also explain that. Yesterday, 5% of our Hearings website‘s visitors were using Mac OS or Linux (mainly Macs). That’s potentially a lot of disgruntled people, actually…
I’ve known for a long time that our video streams don’t comply with Macs. It’s a subject we discuss about almost every two months since I started working here. But today, I wanted to understand why. So, like Magnum P.I., I investigated. In order to explain the situation, I’ll have to enter the technical world, hence the caveats below.
CAVEAT: I don’t understand half of what I am writing below. I am NOT an IT guy. Please, please, please don’t write me to bash me on mistakes: better propose a correction in the comments area, that’d be nice.
CAVEAT #02 : The following has been proofread and corrected by one of the genius geek downstairs who prefers to remain anonymous to avoid spam from the other geeks around him (they live in a kind of tribe or something). Still, if something sounds wrong, blame me, not him.
I’ll use the Toyota Five Why method, it sounds cool.
1°- Why Mac users can’t play the hearings’ video streams properly?
Well, they can but they’ll get all audio streams at once. It sounds like the Tower of Babel after its fall. The reason is our video streams are encoded in Windows Media Video format (.wmv) while Macs better work with MPEG4 format. In order to correctly select the video with their language of choice, all users (including PC users) need the latest version of Explorer or Firefox and the latest version of Windows Media Player.
That’s right: to play a video on Internet, you need two things. A browser (Safari, Explorer etc.) and a player (Quicktime, Flash player, Windows Media…). Macs can play .wmv files all right (which is why Macs users can still benefit from our Hearings Video on demands) but they are less efficient in coping with .wmv live streams which include multiple audio files.
2°- Why don’t we encode in MPEG4?
In order to turn an event into a digital movie, you need hell of a lot of stuff (cameras, micros, robotic cameras etc.). To produce the actual file you want to stream, you need video encoding cards. All our audiovisual gear encode live streams in .wmv. We encode the Video on Demand files of the Plenary session in both: in .wmv and in .mpeg4. We don’t have the technical capacity to encode the live streams in both formats at the same time because we don’t have enough encoding video cards. The choice has been made to encode live streams in .wmv.
3°- Why did we chose to encode in .wmv in the first place ?
When we started to broadcast the Plenary session live in video, the .wmv format was the only format that allowed multilanguage url. Multilanguage url allows you to associate one video stream with different audio streams. You don’t have to duplicate the video file, you associate it with a selected audio stream from many available. MPEG4, I am told, was not good at that but it became better lately. At that time, PC users were the vast majority. They still are. Except for all those creative people and journalists who insist on following the Hearings, dammit ;-)
Linux people are extremely good at finding things out by themselves. They know how to play any kind of video streams. They’re super-geeks, you know
4°- Why don’t you use a Flash player like YouTube and all p0rn websites?
This is a good one. Flash video player have become extremely popular on Internet lately and they can work with all video streams source (.wmv or .mpeg4). Users just need the latest version of Flash on their computers and everyone is happy. Flash players are used by europarltv (except for the live streaming).
But. In order to stream a video, you need a transport protocol. We use the protocol rtsp. This protocol doesnt go well in Flash player, mind you, since Adobe (the owner of Flash technology) prefers one uses the rtmp protocol, which belongs to them. If we would move to rtmp protocol, we’d have to buy a lot of licenses. The solution is currently scrutinized. Also, we would use a closed transport protocol, “closed” opposing here the “open source” philosophy.
5- Why don’t you adress Linux users?
My internal IT experts said: “Linux people are extremely good at finding things out by themselves. They know how to play any kind of video streams. They’re super-geeks, you know”. But, to be fair, he also said: “Non-geek Linux users would be lost if we were to chose complicated to set up players, codex, plud-ins and so on.” Hence his taste for a Flash+MPEG4 solution.
Bonus question: will you adress this problem before the next century?
Yes, we will. So far, four solutions are possible.
- We invest in more machines and encoding video cards so we can simultaneously encode our live events in as many video formats as possible, or abandon the .wmv. In all cases, we should be able to propose MPEG4 for live streamings and video on demand. MPEG4 is a pre-condition for almost all possible solutions. Of course, the best amongst you will suggest we use SilverLight (Flash à la Microsoft) which can use a .wmv stream in a SilverLight player. But few have tried. It would cost a lot in research and analysis. And it would be also a proprietary format.
- We buy enough rtmp licenses and we develop Flash players embedded on our website ;
- We develop Flash players embedded on our website able to read directly our MPEG-4 stream via rtsp protocol ;
- We all move to html 5 wich proposes a new “player video” tag which transfers the video playing’s responsibility to the the user browser and not to the video player anymore.
I hope the last sentence is correct because you lost me somewhere around the protocol of transport thing.
The different EP IT teams are working on it. And we will certainly impose easy live streaming for all as a pre-condition of our future new website.