Debate Over Online Video Codecs Continues at WebRTC Conference & Expo

There’s a battle over technology standards being waged right now, and the future of video on the Internet hangs in the balance. In some ways, the debate over WebRTC is par for the course in Silicon Valley, with proponents of an open source, royalty-free standard clashing with the inventors (and paid patent-holders) of a more established, higher-quality standard.

That argument played out onstage this week at the WebRTC Conference & Expo in Santa Clara, Calif. The discussions between rivals here have been cordial, at turns deeply technical, but they all seem to come back to the same sticking point–whether WebRTC will be powered in the future by VP9 or H.265.

The architects of Google Chrome and Mozilla’s Firefox have forged ahead by adopting VP8 and VP9, the free video codec that they’d like to see become the backbone of WebRTC–the standard that gives Web programmers access to audio and video players without special plugins. The powers behind Safari and Internet Explorer-you know who they are–remain major holdouts, refusing to adopt WebRTC in its current form. Meanwhile, Cisco Systems last month proposed open-sourcing its version of H.264, a move which won some support from Mozilla.

If you didn’t catch all that, the net result–once WebRTC gets adopted across the board–will be lots more audio and video on the Internet very soon.

But first, it seems, they’ll probably have to agree on a common codec.

(Codecs, a portmanteau of coder/decoder, compress a media file for transmission over the Internet, and decompress that file when it arrives at its final destination).

We already consume massive amounts of online video. Analysts at Comscore estimate 189 million Americans watched 49.1 billion videos on the Internet in October.

While those videos–playing out on YouTube, Facebook, Netflix, Skype, Facetime and others–might look similar on the surface, they’re all powered by a number of different codecs, some open-source, others licensed or proprietary.

The argument over which codec is better is largely academic, said Vidyo cofounder Alex Eleftheriadis. That said, his company is a big proponent of VP9.

“Video has been around since the ’70s and ’80s, and it didn’t manage to take off in any big way,” Eleftheriadis said at the WebRTC conference, in a panel discussion moderated by Avaya Director of Product Management, Anatoli Levine. “The key problem was that it did not deliver a high-quality experience, commensurate with the users’ expectations. … If we develop products with a subpar video experience, we will be penalized by the end users. They will not embrace it.”

Eleftheriadis has a big dog in this fight. Earlier this year, Vidyo licensed its scalable video selection software to Google for inclusion in VP9. (VP9 currently powers Google Hangouts, and will soon power YouTube).

On the other side, proponents of H.265–the latest version of a licensed video standard powering the majority of video conferencing systems today, including Avaya Scopia–argue that their MPEG-based standard delivers higher quality video than VP9 today, and is already compatible with the majority of enterprise video applications. It’s an important distinction, as this explosion of audio and video will inevitably need to be routed through enterprise servers and tools.

“There can and should be a mandatory codec for many, many reasons,” said Hans-Peter Baumeister, Director of Digital Media at Fraunhofer, a German research nonprofit that helped develop the industry’s most widely-used codec, MPEG. “MPEG codecs are the codecs of choice today in 95 percent of all applications. Certainly 95 percent of all traffic on the Internet ultimately runs over MPEG codecs. So, I would advocate that a standard like WebRTC, which has a lot of promise, should not be encumbered by codecs that some companies are not able to embrace, and should in fact, use existing, open, standard-based, patent pool-based, very clear, nice, established codecs like MPEG codecs.”

Selecting the codec will prove to be a very small piece to a very complicated puzzle, Eleftheriadis said. More important, perhaps, is the performance gains that developers will be able to squeeze out of the codec.

For example, DVDs were first released in the mid ’90s, running off the MPEG-2 codec–a relatively basic codec by today’s standards. DVD encoding technology improved by 40 percent between 1994 and 2000, Eleftheriadis said, merely because developers had time to explore the parameters of what was possible with the codec.

Avaya’s Levine noted the politics over codecs occurring behind the scenes, and urged the audience to focus on the larger issues surrounding WebRTC–delivering delightful user experiences over the Web.

“It’s impossible to select the ideal, best codec,” Levine said after the panel. “It’s really a question of the ‘good enough.’ In an ideal world, yes, you can choose the best possible codec, but the problem is, if you’re waiting for the ideal world, then you’re not delivering solutions today.”

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iOS 7's Nine Killer Enterprise Features

I came across a great SlideShare deck over the weekend entitled, “The iOS 7 Apple Event for the Enterprise – that Never Happened.” Created by San Francisco mobile design software vendor Moovweb, it imagines a presentation by Apple CEO Tim Cook unveiling iOS 7’s enterprise features in front of an audience of CIOs. Here is that list.

(Are you, like me, vacillating between upgrading to an iPhone 5S and jumping over to a larger Android phone like the LG G2 or HTC One? Then check out the 5 things I love and HATE about the iPhone 5S.)

– TouchID fingerprint authentication. Employees with weak passwords are the bane of security-conscious companies. Fingerprint-based authentication is a big boost.

– Free iWork mobile apps and in the cloud. Apple has made its Microsoft Office killer free and cloud-accessible, just like Google Docs. While big companies wedded to Microsoft’s enterprise licensing program are unlikely to drop Office anytime soon, this could help smaller firms standardized on Apple hardware to dump Office once and for all.

– App Store Volume Purchase Program. Enterprises can now buy apps and books for their iPhone and iPad-using employees, keeping the rights to those apps and books if the employees leave, so that they can transfer them to other workers. This may not seem like a big deal for $0.99 apps, but it’s a big deal for pricier B2B apps, especially when we’re talking about tens of thousands of employees. Previously, companies had to go through a process of buying redemption codes that it would hand out to employees for them to go out and download the apps on their own. That was complicated and left open a number of uncertainties (did the employee ever get the app? for one).

– Managed Open In. A cryptic phrase meaning that companies can force employees to open email attachments in specific, corporate-managed applications, rather than some possibly-insecure or overly-sharing app of their own choosing. This improves security for the company. 

– Enterprise Single-Sign-On. This smooths the process of granting iPhone-wielding users access your company’s back-end applications.

– Per-App VPN (Virtual Private Network). This allows companies to boost security for select iOS apps and their data as they are transmitted through the Internet. 

– Easier Deployment of Mobile Device Management (MDM) Software (SAP Afaria, Airwatch, Good Technology, etc.). ‘Nuff said.

– Improved Data Security for App Store apps. ‘Nuff said.

– Location iBeacons allow the locations of Apple device users to found with much greater precision than GPS or Wi-Fi. This is useful for retail stores, which may want to beam coupons to users but vary them depending on what aisle they are in and what merchandise they are browsing.

Five for Friday: Things I Love and Hate about the iPhone 5S

I’m an iPhone 4S owner who, until this week, had convinced myself that my next phone would be an Android phablet. The LG G2 had been atop my short list. But then the reviews of the iPhone 5S came out, and iOS 7 was released, and suddenly I’m like Hamlet again. To upgrade to iPhone 5S or not – that is the question… 

While I haven’t touched an iPhone 5S in person, that hasn’t stopped me (or tens of millions of us) from forming strong opinions about it. Here’s the 5 things I love and hate most about the iPhone 5S.

iphone5s.jpg

1) I love the iPhone 5S’s speed. While Apple’s iPhones and iPads get along with two CPU cores, top-of-the-line Android devices from Samsung, LG, HTC and Motorola have all sported 4 CPU cores – and for almost two years to boot.

While mo’ cores is mo’ better in the PC world, it translates as better PR than actual performance in the mobile. The reason? Unlike on PCs, we don’t multitask on our smartphone or tablet much. Also, mobile apps (and platforms) aren’t generally written in a way to distribute tasks to take advantage of all 4 cores at once. Finally, more cores and faster CPU speeds (in terms of GHz) both accelerate battery drain.

The iPhone 5S may still only have two cores, but according to blogger king of benchmarks Anand Lal Shimpi, it outpaces every Android device on the market today by at least 25%. That’s due less today to the iPhone 5S’s 64-bit silicon brain (32-bit iOS apps haven’t been rewritten to take advantage of 64-bit) and more due to how Apple has optimized iOS 7 to run on its custom A7 chipset. 

Not only is the iPhone 5S faster than every Android device, it’s also 43% faster than the iPhone 5, 4x faster than the iPhone 4S, a whopping 8 times faster than the iPhone 4, and an incredible 41x faster than the original iPhone. It even matches desktop-class CPUs from Intel and AMD in speed, according to Shimpi. That’s a first.


2) I hate that it’s called the iPhone 5S but it doesn’t have a 5-inch screen.
The primary reason I am thinking about going phablet is for the larger screen. I do a lot of reading on my phone. And I’m convinced that that reading is accelerating my 40-something presbyopia. Plus, I’m a tall guy. A 5-inch+ phone fits perfectly in my mitts.

While there are rumors that the iPhone 6 will have a larger screen, the iPhone 5S keeps the same 4-inch, 1135×640 screen as the iPhone 5. Meanwhile, the LG G2 has a 5.2-inch 1920×1280 screen. So for a 28% increase in weight, the LG G2 has 185% more pixels than the iPhone 5S. And the LG G2 still only weighs 5 ounces. Hmm, I’m talking myself back into the G2…


3) I love the idea of iPhone 5S’s enterprise-friendly fingerprint sensor.
If you’re at all like me, you suffer from password inflation. In the name of security, so many Web sites and apps today demand you come up with new passwords every 90 days containing an ever-more-complicated mix of numbers, capital letters and symbol (read: garbage) characters. It’s impossible to keep track of them, which is why I’ve resorted to solutions like Dashlane. Fingerprint sensors would be the ideal replacement for passwords for device authentication. They’re easier for users AND more secure. The iPhone 5S could jumpstart this trend. And wouldn’t everyone, especially security-conscious IT directors swamped by BYOD, welcome that?

 
4) I love the iPhone 5S’s cameras improved low-light features. Smartphones already take great photos in outdoor daylight. It’s indoors and other dimly-lit conditions that they struggle, due to their small light-capturing CMOS sensors and lenses. Personally, I take more than half of my photos in these conditions. So I like how Apple invested heavily here. It enlarged the sensor on the 5S while resisting the temptation to get into a megapixel race it can’t win (against phones like the 41-megapixel Nokia’s Lumia 1020. Rather, the iPhone 5S’s 8 million pixels are 34% larger for better shots in low light. The iPhone 5S also has a better lens, a new image stabilizer, facial recognition, and its flash now shoots two bursts of light for better skin tones and colors.

Apple took a similar approach on its front-facing camera used for video chatting. While keeping its still/video resolutions constant at 1.2 megapixels and 720p HD, Apple made sure the iPhone 5S performs better at low light. The iPhone 5S’s front-facing camera doesn’t match the best Android phones spec-wise – the Sony Xperia Z’s 2.2-megapixel camera can record at 1080p. But I’m willing to wager that performance in real life between the two models is nearly indistinguishable. 

5) I hate Apple’s smug marketing. Apple loves to talk up how innovative the features are on its devices (while deriding other phones as “junk”). Yet, apart from the fingerprint sensor, none of the features on the iPhone 5S are groundbreaking. Many are actually late. I like iOS 7’s new look and feel, but designers know that Apple was playing catch-up here versus Windows Phone and Android. Same with the iPhone 5S’s image stabilization, facial recognition and other camera features – Samsung has had these features for awhile.

Apple is also able to bulldoze through and make us forget about features that it overhyped and yet remain mediocre. Like Passbook, which was hailed when it was introduced as the first true mobile wallet. I never use that. Or the biggest disappointment, Siri.

Comedian David So articulates my feelings about this in the funniest way I’ve seen recently: (note: NSFW for crude language, non-politically-correct ethnic caricatures):

The way I reconcile it in my mind is this: Apple isn’t the cutting-edge innovator it portrays itself to be. And judging by its catch-up with iOS 7, they aren’t the best designers around. Still, the thing I have to hand to Apple still has the best track record for delivering consistent overall excellence of experience. I credit that to all of the unglamorous under-the-hood engineering, integration and packaging work Apple does. Is that enough to keep me from switching? As the journalistic clich?oes, only time will tell. What say you?

Penalties and Lawsuits, two very different things

This Avaya CONNECTED Blog
is also available as an MP3 Audio File


As of now, penalties for noncompliant PBX systems in the United States exist in only 2% of the states. What!?

That’s right, there are only 18 states with ANY legislation relating to a PBX and E911, and out of those only a single state, Michigan, states that there is any kind of penalty for noncompliance. That statistic may double later this year, if California gets its way, as the finalized recommendation from the California Public Utilities Commission includes a $5000 penalty for noncompliance.

E911 Legislation in 18 States Map

But is it the law that people are concerned with? Clearly it is not, as less than 20% of businesses are thought to be in compliance, based on the number of incorrect calls arriving at Public Safety Answering Points from multiline telephone systems.

One might then think that if they are not in Michigan, then their checkbook is free and clear from any unforeseen incident, right? Unfortunately not. Although you pay a penalty when you violate the law, when you do anything that causes any harm or perceived harm to another, liability comes into play.

When establishing liability and who is at fault, a tactic that attorneys will use is “prior knowledge”. In simple terms, if you know about a problem, and chose to ignore it, you’re taking on responsibility (liability) of any injuries resulting from that problem.

This is the exact tactic that is being used, on the other side of a 911 call, in Texas. Dispatch Magazine Online reported in a story last week (http://www.911dispatch.com/2013/08/01/parents-sue-city-companies-over-response-mix-up/) that the parents of a deceased teenager are suing the city of Dallas, Apple, and AT&T claiming that they were negligible for not using technology that could have accurately located their son when 911 was called on an overdose.

It seems that a second overdose, within the same apartment complex, confused dispatchers into thinking there was only a single incident. “Upon information and belief, Defendant AT&T also has available to it technology that allows it to locate the iPhone in question to locations significantly more accurate than the FCC requirements at the time and could in fact isolate the location of the iPhone in question to as close as 30 feet of the calling location.” In almost four pages of the 12-page lawsuit, the plaintiffs make the same claim about Apple.

This will be very interesting to watch, as it could set a precedent in future cases where a plaintiff charges that a defendant is guilty, not by breaking the law, but by making a decision that is clearly not in the best interest of others.


Want more Technology, News and Information from Avaya? Be sure to check out the Avaya Podcast Network landing page at http://avaya.com/APN . There you will find additional Podcasts from Industry Events such as Avaya Evolutions and INTEROP, as well as other informative series by the APN Staff.

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Thanks for stopping by and reading the Avaya CONNECTED Blog on E9-1-1, I value your opinions, so please feel free to comment below or if you prefer, you can email me privately.

Public comments, suggestions, corrections and loose change is all graciously accepted 😉
Until next week. . . dial carefully.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter @Fletch911

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