How edge
can help improve
audio and video
streaming technology

Author: Phil Muncaster

When the world stayed home during the early days of the pandemic, the popularity of streaming technology soared. According to Meticulous Research, the live streaming market is expected to continue to grow at a CAGR of 22.4% from 2021 to 2028 to reach $4.26 billion by 2028. That is good news for streaming platform providers and content producers, including enterprise users.

But great content is only one piece of the puzzle—the quality of the experience is also important to consumers. A key factor is how good the streaming technology behind the content is. This is where edge computing comes in. By helping to reduce latency and bandwidth requirements, it can help support a smoother streaming experience. 

What is streaming?

Streaming refers to the continuous delivery of content from server to client. It could be audio or video, delivered via social media sites (i.e. Twitter, Facebook) or well-known platforms that focus on TV and movies (i.e. Netflix, Disney+), or gaming (i.e. Twitch). It could even be used internally to hold enterprise meetings, events and training sessions. Audio and video files are constantly flowing to the user's browser/device. The advantage over downloads is that content can be consumed quicker, there's a minimal hit to storage at the user end and the experience is altogether more seamless.

Audio and video streaming technology

With audio and video streaming technology, audio and video data is broken up into smaller packets for quicker and easier transportation. The audio/video player at the user's end reassembles the packets to deliver a seamless flow of content. The process of streaming to consumers can be summarized as follows:

  • Video/audio capture: The raw data is captured by the recording device.
  • Encoding: This data is compressed for easier transmission and then converted (or encoded) into a new format.
  • Segmentation and transmission: The data is transferred from provider to user across the internet. To make this easier, it is broken down into smaller segments. This normally happens inside a streaming server.
  • Decoding: Once the segmented data is received, it is decoded and decompressed by the user's device/browser into a playable format.
  • Playback: The consumer is now able to view or listen to the content via a dedicated app or inside their browser.

Streaming technology: Live vs. on-demand

Users can stream video on demand or live. The difference, as the name suggests, is that in the latter case, content is recorded and broadcast in real-time with no major time delays. It could be a company-wide meeting, a live football game or even the live stream from a concert. The benefits are clear: more immersive, immediate and exclusive experiences for the content consumer. Live content can also be archived and made available for access on demand alongside other previously recorded audio/video.

In technological terms, there's not a great deal of difference between the two. The main distinction is that in on-demand video streaming, content is stored after the encoding step, and streamed from the media server when requested. It can then be served up as required when requested by a user. Typical on-demand platforms include YouTube, Vimeo and Disney+, while live-streaming services include Twitch, YouTube Live and Facebook Live.

However, from an IT infrastructure perspective, live streaming is more resource-intensive, with content broken down into smaller blocks and transmitted in larger volumes to minimize delays. More bandwidth is required to ensure a smooth user experience with no latency, which is where edge computing can help.

What is edge computing?

Edge computing represents the next front in the cloud computing revolution—and a market predicted to be worth more than half a trillion dollars ($543bn) by 2030. Unlike traditional cloud ecosystems where data must travel between centralized data centers, potentially thousands of miles away, most processing happens at the network edge. The end result is lower latency, which can help improve the performance of streaming technology. 

How can edge computing improve streaming experiences?

There are various elements of the streaming technology ecosystem that can impact the quality of the user experience. These include:

  • Client-side browser/device and bandwidth
  • Streaming platform functionality
  • Content creator-side infrastructure and upload speeds (for live content)

However, arguably the biggest potential boost to performance could come from the deployment of edge computing.

How can it enhance film technology?

In the context of media streaming and film technology, traditional content delivery is centralized. That means when viewer demand spikes in different areas, bottlenecks could form if network infrastructure can't accommodate the demand, resulting in network congestion that can degrade video quality and can lead to lag and buffering—which are particularly frustrating for users watching live events.

However, edge computing can help enable organizations to be more agile. Thus, when viewer demands increase in a specific geographic area, content streams can be delivered to relevant edge servers closer to end users, helping to reduce latency and deliver the streaming experiences viewers desire. That's particularly important for live streaming.

From a film technology perspective, edge servers could also:

  • Intelligently transcode content from excessively high bit rates to lower ones that are more manageable for certain users and devices, further enhancing the experience
  • Deliver cost benefits by reducing bandwidth requirements
  • Support new interactive video experiences, content search and more targeted advertising

Learn more about how the 5G edge is helping to democratize the art of filmmaking.

The author of this content is a paid contributor for Verizon.