Miro Internet TV Blog - Archive for September, 2008

Bandwidth Caps: Comcast’s Silver Bullet

Friday, September 26th, 2008

In less than a week, Comcast will officially implement their 250GB bandwidth cap. It’s no surprise that they’re the first massive US service provider to pull this move in the home broadband market — two factors are significant: first is the pooled structure of their network.Second is the fact that Comcast is, first and foremost, a cable provider. I already see ripples pointing towards a scenario, where customers are strongly encouraged, almost coerced, to choose video that Comcast offers them.

As I mentioned, Comcast’s local nodes are shared throughout a neighborhood – often a node is made up of hundreds of individual households. When a handful of users are downloading heavily in parallel, it can slow the entire cluster down. This is why Comcast was filtering Bittorrent traffic (until the FCC ordered them to refrain from blocking). And it’s clearly part of why they’ve instituted this 250GB cap; however, I don’t believe it’s the entire story.

Comcast notes that with the allotted 250 gigs, you’ll be able to send approximately 50 million emails, download 25,000 pictures, and so on. What they don’t mention is that your 250GB will only get you around 100 hours of HD video, about 3 hours a day for your household (that’s a rough approximation). While no one is going to go over their cap sending emails, it’s easy to imagine a family quickly hitting that ceiling with HD video. All it’s going to take is a few folks going way over their cap, being forced to pay $1.50 per extra gig, and everyone will be afraid to download HD video. This threat will put pressure on Comcast broadband subscribers to watch video on their cable television setup.

It’s also conceivable that Comcast might “help” their customers avoid penalties by offering “Free HD Video Over the Internet” that could be viewed without incurring any extra bandwidth usage. It would be a natural move for the cable giant, and would also fly in the face of the net neutrality principles that have succeeded in shutting down their Bittorrent filtering. The “free” bandwidth would no doubt be subsidized by the content creators or other sponsors. It would give Comcast an unprecedented influence over what sort of high-resolution video their customers actually watched, and it reeks of cable television.

The above “Free HD Video Over the Internet” is a riff on Tim Wu’s “termination monopoly,” which he describes as an ISP leveraging their subscriber base – giving preferential access to the highest bidder (be it Google, Amazon, or ABC). The internet has demonstrated time and time again how awesome and unexpected things can happen, especially when people aren’t solely motivated by profit. When ISP’s begin leveraging their termination monopolies, it really alters the egalitarian landscape of the internet, especially with regard to HD video.

In related news, Verizon recently said they don’t plan to cap bandwidth (note that they don’t have the pooled network structure that Comcast does). Of course it’s awesome news for Verizon customers, but a significant percentage of the US home broadband market is served solely by Comcast. Stiffer competition among internet providers would turn this into a non-issue, but sadly most US markets are stuck with a weak duopoly at best.

The Comcast “Free HD Video Over the Internet” scenario should have you worried, especially if you’re a fan of media decentralization, innovation, and equal access. If you’re a Comcast customer, now may be a good time to jump ship in favor of a new ISP (Verizon?). For those without the option, I suggest you contact Comcast with a highly negative review of their new policy and keep track of what FreePress.net is up to.

Note: the woman in the above image got pissed at Comcast and destroyed one of their offices. While we think she’s cool, we don’t recommend this approach. Just boycott ‘em.

Open Video Codec Report

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

After the exciting news about Firefox supporting Theora, the open video codec, I wanted to follow up with more good news. This is kinda geeky stuff, but it’s very important in regards to openness in video.

First, Dirac, the BBC’s experimental open video codec, recently reached version 1.0. The latest version of VLC will play Dirac, so you can download and watch these sample videos, if you’d like to get a feel for it. More interesting technical details on Dirac developments can be found here.

Second, there have been some amazing improvements to the Ogg Theora video encoder. Each of the images links to a downloadable example of the video — either Miro or VLC will play back both files. Chris Blizzard has some good still image comparisons in his post on the subject. This is super exciting, as Theora has historically lagged quite far behind codecs like h.264, but that gap is narrowing!

I’ll keep this report short and sweet, but know that we’re all pumped about this action on the royalty free codec front!

Attention Linux Users: Miro 1.2.7 Release

Tuesday, September 9th, 2008

Many folks have probably already been notified of the 1.2.7 update via the Miro auto-updater. That said, Linux users don’t get those automatic notifications — and there have been some really great updates on Linux! Among the most exciting are improvements to the gstreamer renderer.

You can download the correct version (Ubuntu, other distros, and source) and check out the Linux specific changes below:

Changes and fixes in Miro 1.2.7
* FIXED Miro crashes when adding channels via the command line

Changes and fixes in Miro 1.2.6
* FIXED updated default channels

Changes and fixes in Miro 1.2.5
* FIXED better options in dialog that pops up if the videos directory is missing
GTKX11 Specific
* Fixed playback resume problems with gstreamer renderer.
* Fixed gstreamer renderer to use gconfvideosink if it can for better playback quality.

Changes and bug fixes in Miro 1.2.4
* NEW Miro logs os.system and os.machine on startup–this will help make it easier to know more about a user’s system from the log

Changes and bug fixes in Miro 1.2.3
* NEW Download mp4 from YouTube? if available and download flv if not
* FIXED Downloaded torrents disappear when play selected
* FIXED New counter doesn’t update until selected
* FIXED Feeds duplicated when updating to co-branded version
* FIXED Problems with menus not being translated for windows-xul and gtkx11 platforms
* FIXED httpclient error
GTKX11 Specific
* FIXED Thumbnails are downloaded but not displayed in Hardy
* FIXED Drag and drop does not work in Hardy
* FIXED Fix gtkx11 code so it works with xulrunner 1.9

More details are in the changelog.

HD Detection Algorithm — Help Us Build It!

Monday, September 8th, 2008

We’re working on a pretty cool system for detecting HD video, which has presented us with a small math challenge. It’s nothing too crazy, but we thought it’d be fun to see if anyone was up for helping us figure it out.

If you’d like to help with this algorithm, drop a comment here and/or contact me at: dean [at] pculture dot org.

Scanning for HD Video

Jason (our programming intern) built a scanner that will tell us some stuff about each video file, the most important things being: dimensions (WxH), video bitrate (kbps), and codec. The idea is to end up with a single number that gives us an idea of how relatively badass a video will look.


The resolution is pretty straightforward, and I assume that adding width plus height is a good way to end up with a single number that can be compared across resolutions.

Codec & Video Bitrate

The codec/bitrate intersection is where things start to get a little crazier; different codecs have video bitrate sweet spots. When you nail it, you’re getting the best picture quality possible — go higher, and you’re wasting bits — go lower, and you’re going to have a degraded image. So the key here is to give more props to a video with a higher bitrate, until it reaches its optimal level, and then you just leave that number stable.

Codec vs Codec

Finally, all codecs are not created equally, so we want to adjust the above modifier against a baseline codec. H.264 gives the best looking picture at the lowest possible bitrate, so we’ll choose it as the base. Then we can create a ratio for other codecs, for example MPEG2 needs double the bitrate of h.264 to achieve the same image quality.

Comparing the Data

It’d be great to have some help mixing these numbers together in a way that gives us a final value, allowing us to compare channels across codecs, resolutions, and bitrates.

Below are some arbitrary numbers I worked out for optimal bitrates and codec-to-codec ratios. Two disclaimers here: I’m neither a math person, nor a codec guru… if you see holes in my thinking or feel like my codec comparisons are off, definitely say so in the comments.

Optimal Bitrates for h.264

1920×1080 = 10000 kbps

1280×720 = 5000 kbps

640×480 = 1800 kbps

400×300 = 600 kbps

Optimal Bitrate Ratio for Other Codecs

optimal vp6, xvid, divx bitrates should be 1.5x higher

optimal theora bitrates should be 1.7x higher

optimal mpeg2 bitrates should be 2x higher

optimal mpeg1 bitrates should be 3.5x higher

optimal mjpeg or mjpg bitrates should be 5x higher

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