[whatwg] A standard for adaptive HTTP streaming for media resources

Silvia Pfeiffer silviapfeiffer1 at gmail.com
Mon May 24 19:33:22 PDT 2010

Hi all,

I would like to raise an issue that has come up multiple times before,
but hasn't ever really been addressed properly.

We've in the past talked about how there is a need to adapt the
bitrate version of a audio or video resource that is being delivered
to a user agent based on the available bandwidth on the network, the
available CPU cycles, and possibly other conditions.

It has been discussed to do this using @media queries and providing
links to alternative versions of a media resources through the
<source> element inside it. But this is a very inflexible solution,
since the side conditions for choosing a bitrate version may change
over time and what is good at the beginning of video playback may not
be good 2 minutes later (in particular if you're on a mobile device
driving through town).

Further, we have discussed the need for supporting a live streaming
approach such as RTP/RTSP - but RTP/RTSP has its own "non-Web" issues
that will make it difficult to make it part of a Web application
framework - in particular it request a custom server and won't just
work with a HTTP server.

In recent times, vendors have indeed started moving away from custom
protocols and custom servers and have moved towards more intelligence
in the UA and special approaches to streaming over HTTP.

Microsoft developed "Smooth Streaming" [1], Apple developed "HTTP Live
Streaming" [2] and Adobe recently launched "HTTP Dynamic Streaming"
[3]. (Also see a comparison at [4]). As these vendors are working on
it for MPEG files, so are some people for Ogg. I'm not aware anyone is
looking at it for WebM yet.

Standards bodies haven't held back either. The 3GPP organisation have
defined 3GPP adaptive HTTP Streaming (AHS) in their March 2010 release
9 of  3GPP [5]. Now, MPEG has started consolidating approaches for
adaptive bitrate streaming over HTTP for MPEG file formats [6].

Adaptive bitrate streaming over HTTP is the correct approach towards
solving the double issues of adapting to dynamic bandwidth
availability, and of providing a live streaming approach that is

Right now, no standard exists that has been proven to work in a
format-independent way. This is particularly an issue for HTML5, where
we want at least support for MPEG4, Ogg Theora/Vorbis, and WebM.

I know that it is not difficult to solve this issue in a
format-independent way, which is why solutions are jumping up
everywhere. They are, however, not compatible and create a messy
environment where people have to install solutions for multiple
different approaches to make sure they are covered for different
platforms, different devices, and different formats. It's a clear
situation where a new standard is necessary.

The standard basically needs to provide three different things:
* authoring of content in a specific way
* description of the alternative files on the server and their
features for the UA to download and use for switching
* a means to easily switch mid-way between these alternative files

I am personally not sure which is the right forum to create the new
standard in, but I know that we have a need for it in HTML5.

Would it be possible / the right way to start something like this as
part of the Web applications work at WHATWG?
(Incidentally, I've brought this up in W3C before an not got any
replies, so I'm not sure W3C would be a better place for this work.
Maybe IETF? But then, why not here...)

What do people think?


[1] http://www.iis.net/download/SmoothStreaming
[2] http://www.iis.net/download/smoothstreaming
[3] http://www.adobe.com/devnet/flashmediaserver/articles/dynstream_on_demand.html
[4] http://learn.iis.net/page.aspx/792/adaptive-streaming-comparison
[5] https://labs.ericsson.com/apis/streaming-media/documentation/3gpp-adaptive-http-streaming-ahs
[6] http://multimediacommunication.blogspot.com/2010/05/http-streaming-of-mpeg-media.html

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