CMAF: What It Is and Why It May Change Your OTT FutureThursday, June 23, 2016, 10:06 AM ETPosted by:Will Law
Chief Architect, Media Division, Akamai
Apple made an important announcement at its recent Worldwide Developers Conference that marks a significant step toward simplifying online video delivery thereby reducing the cost of content preparation. By announcing support for fragmented MP4 (fMP4) within HTTP Live Streaming (HLS), Apple is bringing the industry closer to the realization of a single format for OTT medial delivery. This could save the OTT industry millions in revenue lost from processing their content across the plethora of formats that exist today.
The announced support for fMP4 within HLS is a precursor to eventual support for a new media format being developed with MPEG known as Common Media Application Format (CMAF). CMAF was born in February 2016 out of a rather unlikely collaboration between Microsoft and Apple, along with support from key partners such as Akamai. They had a shared goal of developing a new format that could end many of the existing inefficiencies inherent in delivering video online. In short, the new media format intends to drive:
- A common and familiar file format, similar to fMP4, that can be delivered to and used on multiple devices
- A standard means of encrypting premium content for protection
- Support for the most broadly used media and audio codecs
- A common way to support captioning and subtitling
- Separate delivery of audio and video that is mixed in the player
- A low latency option so Internet-delivered broadcasts do not lag behind television broadcasts
Any company that has attempted to launch an online video service over the last decade has invariably had to answer the industry’s most prevailing question: “What video formats should I use in order to reach customers on any device?” Thanks to a smorgasbord of competing solutions, the answer has been complex at best and often cost prohibitive. The complicated requirements can slow time to delivery and adversely affect content preparation, workflow management, and the cost of storage and delivery. Even with the with emergence of MPEG DASH, most content distributors are still faced with making two silos of content – one in HLS and another in DASH.
Simply put, with Apple’s announcement the industry has taken a positive step down the road of convergence. Gone will be the days of storing and encoding multiple copies of the content. Instead the industry will have a set standard for creating and protecting audio-visual content that can be played back in any device or browser.
It is not all smooth sailing, however. Even though Apple, Android and Microsoft operating systems and devices will quickly support CMAF, there will still be many legacy devices that are non-field-upgradeable. Additionally, Common Encryption is not as common as one might think, making the vision of a single content set for all devices blurry. CMAF also does not entirely solve the problem of a single presentation format, as both HLS and DASH manifests will still need to be generated.
Despite these issues, CMAF remains the biggest step forward the industry has taken in many years towards a harmonized and converged future. We can expect market forces to pick winners (for codecs, captions, encryption modes and presentations formats) and CMAF to settle quickly to be the de-facto OTT media file standard.
Akamai has been committed to CMAF from the onset and is actively working to ensure CMAF support is a first-class citizen of both our Media Services On Demand and Media Services Live products.
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