“Caution is the confidential agent of selfishness,” Woodrow Wilson said in a speech in 1909. If not for the fact that film was in its infancy in 1909, you’d be forgiven for thinking Mr. Wilson was talking to a room full of video software engineers.
Truth is, the evolution of the quality of video experience has been, until quite recently, a rather cautious, self-interested affair.
The delivery chain tasked with moving a video from Point A to Point B is fragmented, with each player concerned with the narrow welfare of its own task and its own equipment, with little regard for the impact its decisions have on other links in the chain.
Content creators. Broadcasters. Cable companies. Internet providers. Display manufacturers. Each looks after its own part in the task of making a viewer happy. Few consider how their actions affect others. And nobody takes responsibility for ensuring the overall chain is optimized with a viewer’s eyes in mind.
Deciding What ‘Better’ Means
The problem, ultimately, is that each player defines in its own terms what “better” is going to be. It has been forever thus. The result, unfortunately, is a less-than-optimal experience at the end of the chain — which is to say, for the poor individual sitting on a couch, trying in vain to stream a football game.
Fortunately, with the multitude of delivery solutions, with the new era of cloud-based delivery, and with the improvement in communication infrastructure through wireless and better display devices, technological capabilities are improving and with them, quality of video experience.
But as significant as the improvement has been, there are still enormous gaps that prevent greater advances from being realized.
First and foremost, delivery chain participants have to begin considering quality from the point of view of the end-user’s satisfaction, as defined by a single metric, one that takes into account all elements of the delivery chain. It’s not good enough, for example, for a display manufacturer to tout the latest development in 4K technology, or the number of pixels available to a viewer, when compression, frame rate, brightness have all conspired to leave the viewer less than happy.
The end result, quite aside from an unhappy customer, is wasted time, wasted effort and expectations left unmet — particularly those of the content creator. Crucially, investment is left unprotected.
At the end of the day, quality of experience, by definition, is about the quality of the viewer’s experience, not that of the cable company. Or the camera manufacturer. Or the internet provider.
By agreeing on a single overall metric, delivery chain participants are aligning their goals with a final objective — to make video as faithful to the creative intent as possible.
Doing so — solving for viewer experience — requires answering several fundamental questions in rapid fashion, ideally using an automated process.
1. What is the quality metric in use? Does it tell the entire story? You can go to a doctor, but if the diagnosis isn’t correct, the information isn’t of any use.
2. Where are the problems? In what part of the delivery chain?
3. When did the problem occur? Was it during primetime? Was it when a certain kind of content was being viewed? Data tells a story.
4. Why did the problem occur?
5. How can a solution be achieved?
The answers to those questions need to take into account not just individual elements, but the entire distribution chain. With the ever-growing combinations of sources, formats and devices, the time is right for a uniform metric that considers every element that contributes to viewer experience, but more importantly defines it in an absolute sense, so everybody in the delivery chain knows the part they play in the quality score.
As I said earlier, there is progress being made. Video is being delivered, at every step, much better today than in the recent past.
Metrics Will Help
But if you, a video delivery chain participant, knows what would improve the overall result – Decision A versus Decision B – you can accelerate that improvement by an order of magnitude. In effect, you have the power to bring the future to the present.
Is it a difficult problem to solve? Yes. But early work with unified quality metrics is showing that significant results can be achieved.
Soon, caution and selfishness in video QoE won’t know what hit them.
Dr. Abdul Rehman Ph.D. is CEO of SSIMWAVE, a Waterloo, Ontario-based video technology vendor.