|Flash Media Server 4.5 Delivers to iPad & iPhone
New version of Flash Media Server offers expanded, dynamic protocol support, including HTTP Live Streaming to iDevices, as well as DRM enhancements
What's a broadcaster to do? While mobile video delivery grabs headlines, the number of actual users for mobile broadcast content is just a tiny fraction of those viewing content on a desktop or laptop machine. For that larger installed base of customers, mature delivery solutions like RTMP allow features that HTTP delivery solutions could only dream of. At least until now.
Today, Adobe announced the release of Adobe Flash Media Server 4.5, hoping to bridge the gap between mobile/HTTP delivery and the feature set of RTMP that most broadcasters rely on. Almost a year to the day after the company announced its first HTTP Dynamic Streaming solution, FMS 4.5 provides significant enhancements, plus the ability to send content to Apple iPad/iPhone/iPod touch devices via HTTP Live Streaming (a.k.a. HLS).
FMS 4.5's primary intent is to leave the heavy lifting of choosing which protocol to deliver in (RTMP, HTTP Dynamic Streaming, HLS, etc) to the server. FMS 4.5 can generate real-time repackaging of an mp4 file for both HTTP Dynamic Streaming and HLS, including automated segmentation of mp4 files into the specific fragmented mp4 (fMP4) segmentation required by various Android, iOS and other mobile devices.
In addition to single stream repackaging, FMS 4.5 will also automatically create multiple bitrate segmentations, for adaptive streaming, as well as manifest files in Apple's m3u8 format. Instead of the previous manual process of rewrapping, segmentation creation, and manifest files, FMS 4.5 promises the ability to automate these basic processes.
On the manifest front (Adobe's .f4m extension), the company has included the ability to create "variant playlists" that can use the same set of streams to target a particular device class (cellular, 3G, Wi-Fi, etc). with a specific initial bandwidth target for each device class, via a unique manifest file. In addition, following the draft Pantos spec (the HLS specification submitted to the IETF), FMS 4.5 has the ability to generate variant M3U8 playlists for targeted delivery to iOS devices.
With a nod to digital rights management, FMS 4.5 will also include DRM based on the Flash Access DRM scheme. Rather than requiring a broadcaster to buy a full-blown Flash Access 3.0 server, however, there will be a limited version of Flash Access baked into FMS 4.5 to cover RMTPe (encrypted) and segment-level DRM (a key feature of fMP4, which separates the header information from each fragment). Adobe claims it is also enhancing DRM to cover iOS devices to a limited degree--a claim we'll explore when we get a chance to review Flash Access 3.0 and FMS 4.5 , as HLS is based on MPEG-2 Transport Stream, which has no inherent capacity for DRM within each packet.
On a related poiny, the Open Source Media Framework (OSMF) now sits at version 1.6 and allows Stage Video, a feature added to Flash Player last year. In addition, for HTTP delivery, OSMF now gains enhancements like multiple language tracks, basic DVR and trick-play (seek, fast-forward, rewind) functionality.
Finally, on the peer-to-peer front (also known as Adobe RTMFP), the company seeks to achieve massive scale for P2P across multiple servers through the use of Network Address Translation (NAT) for P2P. This feature has been used in videoconferencing with the H.264 codec for quite some time, as well as voice over IP (VoIP) solutions where it is often accompanied by firewall traversal.
The use of NAT for VoIP or P2P is critical in maintaining a point-to-point or multipoint connection between peering points, as most peers only have an internal IP address (such as 192.168.xxx.xxx). NAT allows a single external IP address (the IP address that a router or cable/DSL modem uses, for instance) to be translated to multiple internal IP addresses that sit behind the firewall. If two or more peers use the same external IP address, the potential exists for those peers to communicate with one another, moving content across the local area network (LAN) instead of multiple instances of content access across the broadband (or WAN) connection.
FMS 4.5 will come in five flavors: Besides the development server version, which limits HTTP Dynamic and HLS streaming to 10 minutes, the company will have the Streaming, Interactive, and Enterprise versions (FMSS, FMIS and FMES, respectively). RTMFP will be available on the FMIS, a change from Adobe's previous scenario of only allowing RTMFP on the Enterprise Server version.
The fifth FMS 4.5 version is Flash Media Server On Amazon Web Services, a hosted solution that provides a number of the Enterprise Server features, but limited in some key areas such as protected streaming for HTTP Dynamic Streaming and HLS delivery.