The Operation MySpace concert for U.S. soldiers in Kuwait next week (see ridiculous video below) is getting lots of press, but it’s all around who’s performing: Pussycat Dolls, Jessica Simpson, Disturbed, Filter, DJ Z-Trip and Carlos Mencia.
What’s far more interesting, in my opinion, is what they are pulling off technically – high definition live video streaming of the event to as many people who want to watch it, on a Flash player. That isn’t trivial. The big networks can do it, of course, but they’re piping it into your television, and the cable companies own both ends of the network (including a box in your living room) as well as the pipes in between. Encoding the high def stream in real time for packaging over the Internet is a problem that companies are just starting to solve. And some of those solutions require special hardware at the consumer end.
MySpace says the stream will be 480p (848×480) and will play on most versions of Flash via the VP6 codec (they are not using the newer H.264 because that version of Flash does not have enough consumer penetration yet). That’s the low end of high definition, but the reason they aren’t going higher is bandwidth limitations at the user level. The stream requires a steady 1.5 Mbit/s – about the limit for most U.S. consumers. An average MySpaceTV or Youtube Video, by comparison, needs only a 400 kbit/s connection. And those videos are served via a progressive download, not live.
Kulabyte Makes It all Happen
Here’s how the video gets from Kuwait to your computer screen: video is shot at the army base in Kuwait and fed to a Satellite. There’s no line of site to Los Angeles where MySpace is based, so the stream is downlinked on the east coast and shot up to another satellite, then down to Los Angeles.
At that point a third party, Texas-based Kulabyte, takes over and does the really hard part – real time transcoding to VP6 for video, MP3 for audio, in a FLV wrapper. Kulabyte is launching a newly developed technology they call TimeSlice for the first time with Operation MySpace.
Kulabyte then hands off the packaged stream to Akamai, a content delivery network, who ensures that as many users who want the stream can get it.
At the end of the day, MySpace users get to watch a concert taking place in Kuwait live, in high definition, over the Internet. On a normal Flash video player and no special hardware on their end. A small bit of history is taking place, whether they realize it or not.
If you want to watch the concert, go to myspace.com/operationmyspace on Monday March 10 at 11 am PST.