On the heels of my experience streaming the Trail Blazers' first game, Turner Sports announced the release of NBA League Pass Mobile, an Apple iPhone and Google Android app giving users streaming access to more than 40 live games per week. It will also provide scores of other games as well as up-to-date statistics. At $39.99, it's expensive compared to your typical mobile app, but with over 40 games a week for the entire 2009-2010 season, it may be worth it to the big time basketball fan. This is yet another example of the demand for video to be delivered anytime, anywhere. "It's important for us to get our content in front of as many fans as possible," said Bryan Perez, senior vice president of NBA Digital, in Ryan Lawler's coverage of the announcement over at Contentinople. We feel the same way, Bryan!
Speaking of streaming, the Trail Blazer game on Friday night vs. the San Antonio Spurs will be the second online streaming opportunity. I will definitely be tuning in, especially after a very unique customer support experience. Click through to read about it.
The day after the first game, I was attempting to access the stream online, since when I purchased I was assured I'd be able to for the next 24 hours. The stream was down, however, so I emailed RayV customer support and was informed I'd be answered the next business day. That doesn't quite cut it when you only have 24 hours of access, though! Next, I brought up their Live Chat support, but my "approximated wait time" was 89 minutes! Really? Well, I had other things to do, so I left the window open and checked it periodically. About 89 minutes later (they sure can estimate, I'll give them that), a representative finally sent me a message and answered my questions. (Yes, they were having problems with the POR-HOU stream. No, they didn't know when it would be accessible. Yes, I'd be granted access if it became available after the 24-hour period was closed). Satisfied, I went back to my business. About four hours later, I checked again to see if the stream was up. It wasn't, but I noticed the chat window was still open. Out of curiosity, I asked the support person if they were still there. They were! Unbelievable.
I also emailed the Trail Blazers to provide them with the mixed review of my streaming experience. Not only did the team respond and thank me the next day, but I received a refund, the next streaming game for free, and two tickets to an upcoming game! That is some great customer service. Kudos to the Trail Blazers for listening to their fans and actively seeking feedback.
Matt Smith (from my old haunts at Inlet Technologies) recently wrote up an excellent overview on the rise of adaptive streaming as a disruptive technology and I couldn't agree with it more. Adaptive bit rate architecture embodies innovation because it leverages existing infrastructure while exponentially improving the user experience.
With the adoption of Adaptive (be it HTTP adaptive for the iPhone, Smooth Streaming for Silverlight, or Dynamic Streaming for Flash), we're seeing some classic problems that have plagued online viewers—like the guesswork around plug-ins, data rates, etc...—go away. We're also seeing improved features make an appearance, such as real-time chats and social media connections, which allow the user both a unique and collective experience.
But all this new technology AND the growing popularity is having a tsunami effect on the amount of work content creators now have to deliver.
Can content creators keep their heads above this rising demand? Not with the familiar options that are handy today - the CPU-only workflows will only get you so far. Adding more computers just gives the operators more things to keep track of and eventually efficiency just flatlines as you add more systems. Traditional acceleration avenues exist, but have long been a pariah for being so costly and proprietary. Click through for more.
Ah, but there is a stand out from the standard options: GPU-accelerated video. Now, we're talking about a disruptive innovation that leverages existing infrastructure, while exponentially improving the user experience. Taking advantage of off-the-shelf technology, Elemental has written software that outperforms any CPU-only system on the market today. Our solution, which utilizes both CPUs and GPUs efficiently, also gains the acceleration of massively parallel processing at a fraction of the cost of other hardware acceleration. This is one innovation well suited to handle the demands we're seeing in the market today and for the foreseeable future.
Since the Portland Trail Blazers are kind of a big deal around these parts, I was excited to hear that they would be "the first team in the NBA to stream games online." With Major League Baseball showing excellent results from its online streaming (in both the quality and business sense), it's good to see the NBA working to polish their online solution. After my first experience, though, while it's clear the potential is there, it definitely needs work. Click through for the full post.
Image courtesy of Mike Rogoway, The Oregonian
First, there are caveats to the Blazers' streaming. Some of the big ones include:
- It costs money: either $3.99 per game or $39.99 for all 15.
- Second, the 15 games being streamed are the same 15 that are being broadcast on KGW Channel 8 (Portland's local NBC affiliate). None of the games broadcast on cable are being streamed online. Third, because of NBA broadcast requirements, the team is only allowed to stream games within their broadcast territory, which is about a 150-mile radius. Those outside the radius must purchase NBA League Pass Broadband, which costs between $89.95 and $149.95 depending on the package.
- NBA guidelines do not currently permit phone or mobile device streaming, which would be a handy feature.
So for usability's sake, there are some kinks to work out, but I guess you need to start somewhere.
Now for my experience. On Tuesday night, I fired up my Lenovo ThinkPad notebook (2.4 GHz Core 2 Duo, 4 GB RAM, Vista 32, NVIDIA Quadro NVS 140M), but made the mistake of purchasing right at game time since I was mainly curious about the stream instead of actually relying on it (I was also watching in HD on my 40-inch LCD). The site was bogged down so it took quite awhile for anything to process. I had to create an account, install the RayV player software, and launch the stream. Finally, after about 10-15 minutes, it started "loading" and I thought I was up and running. But then I never got a picture. I tried the "Low" bandwidth instead of the "High," but in that case I didn't even get a "loading" message. It wasn't until the second quarter that I was able to reboot my system and get a stream to come through. Finally!
The stream, which was about 14 seconds behind KGW's broadcast, looked pretty sharp in the small window. The stream's bitrate was generally around 1.2 Mbps and when I went fullscreen on my 14-inch laptop, I could see pixels, but it was generally smooth. Overall, I was satisfied by the quality, even when I used a VGA cable for playback on my TV. If it were my only viewing option, I certainly would not have complained. It did need to buffer occasionally and the "Low" bandwidth option was still dead for me, but luckily my connection handled "High" just fine. The audio also cut out for a good chunk of the third and fourth quarters, which was frustrating, and then when it came back it was out of sync, messing up Travis Outlaw's southern drawl in his postgame interview. The RayV player is nice and clean, though. It has DVR options (which I used for a Martell Webster dunk), tells you statistics about your stream, and even has widgets in case you want to plug into Facebook or Twitter.
The Oregonian's Mike Rogoway also documented his experience and gleaned a couple interesting facts from the Blazers' marketing department:
- About 500 users watched the game online.
- There were two system-wide outages caused by a failure on the team's servers and then a failure at the NBA's servers in Atlanta.
Overall, even with my tempered expectations, I would give the experience a C grade. It was frustrating not getting a stream up until the second quarter and being without audio late in the game. As it stands right now, I would do anything I could to find another means of watching the next game before I would purchase the online streaming option again, instead waiting for others' feedback to see if there was improvement. It will be very interesting to see what kind of strides are made as the season progresses—here at Elemental we'll be paying close attention!