Video streaming: it is a jungle out there

Tinkernut: The Basics of Video Encoding
Tinkernut: The Basics of Video Encoding

Today’s video playback world is in an “interesting” state. Some examples from our own home and life:

  • We have video content (ranging over a decade in age) that has been recorded using variety of mobile phones, compact digital cameras, webcams, digital SLRs, and dedicated video cameras, at least
  • All of these seem to have produced file formats using different video codecs, encapsulation containers, different resolutions, etc.
  • Some of our video content has been converted and uploaded into cloud services, such as YouTube, Flickr, Dropbox, etc.
  • There are multiple storage and server devices in the house: PC workstations (Windows, Mac, Linux), one PC server (Windows 2008 Server Web Edition), and one NAS (Buffalo LS-WXL)
  • The servers claim to be DNLA compatible (there has been several different software tools set up to the Windows Server; in NAS there is a Twonky Media Server)
  • The typical video streaming use situations include, but are not limited to:
    • Using Apple TV device to access local network disk share
    • Using Apple TV device to access YouTube or other cloud service
    • Using iPad or iPhone to stream local or cloud video content via AirPlay to Apple TV
    • Using PlayStation 3 to access local network disk share
    • Using PlayStation 3 to access cloud service
    • Using a laptop (PC, Mac, Linux) to access local disk share or a cloud service, possibly streaming the video to the big screen with the help of AirPlay (Mac), or Chromecast (Windows)
    • Using an Android phone or tablet to access local disk shares or cloud services, often streaming the video to the big screen via Google Chromecast stick
    • There are also a “smart” tv and a blu-ray player with embedded DNLA playback functionalities, but those work even worse than the above options
    • It should be noted that there are multiple, differently featured software tools in both iOS and Android devices, and Chromecast support particularly appears to be “work in progress”, AirPlay has more solid support.

When I try to play a video file e.g. from 2007 (recorded using some obscure codec that some antique compact camera then supported), the situation is more likely to fail than to succeed. I have found that the best chance to actually see the video is by copying the file to a PC and opening it in some well-supported video player. The streaming will most likely not work. Apart from the PCs, PlayStation 3 appears to support most of our video files. iPad and Android phones and tablets do not really work well with most of local video file contents, even while the support has been getting better over the years. Most recent content, created with the new Androids or iPhones, for example, is more likely to perform well also in the complex home media streaming environment. The old video files will most probably always remain tricky. One solution would be to convert (and possibly upload to an online cloud service) all videos, since e.g. YouTube is rather well supported in different device environments. In reality, the hundreds of files will never be processed in this manner, and many people will probably also prefer to keep their most private, personal videos only in local storage rather than in some cloud service.

Author: frans

Professor of Information Studies and Interactive Media, esp. Digital Culture and Game Studies in the University of Tampere, Finland.