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Quality of Experience (QoE): Where Quality means doing it right when no one is watching (yet)

Sean McCarthy

Written by:
October 23rd, 2019

QoE Video Delivery Image

Welcome one, welcome all to the first blog post of our new Encoding Excellence series! Over the course of Winter 2019, we’ll be covering a variety of video quality-oriented topics. In addition to this on-going blog series we’ll have quite a few complimentary content experiences for you to enjoy; namely a new Per-Title Encoding Analysis Whitepaper from Jan Ozer, as well as an educational Webinars about Objective Video Quality: Measurements, Methods, and Best Practices (on 11/13).

Quality of Experience: Why Quality in Content Matters

Content owners are investing large sums of money on their premium content, so it is more important than ever they invest in maximizing the quality upon delivery as well. Content needs to be prepared and streamed in impeccable quality in order to satisfy viewer expectations, and those expectations are getting increasingly demanding. Recent events have shown us that fans are not shy to air their grievances when things don’t look or stream right.

In late September 2019, American Football fans around the US tuned into the Philadelphia Eagles v Green Bay Packers game expecting to take full advantage of the 4K High Dynamic Range (HDR) experience — a first for an NFL live stream. Fox Sports issued press releases promoting the technical advancement and fans tuned in en masse. Expecting to experience the deep colors and vivid images promised by HDR and a sharp 4K experience immersing viewers onto the field, fans were instead presented with standard dynamic range and upscaled HD content and they weren’t happy. Great content is no longer enough to keep audiences engaged!

A consumer unhappy with the Quality of his live stream

Game of Thrones fans may recall the final season’s quality fiascos. Social media lit up with posts regarding the HBO streaming experience. Rather than mentions of epic battle scenes or plot twists, viewers took to the Twittersphere to complain of difficult-to-see scenes, washed-out colors, and image artifacts — especially apparent on large television screens.

Lost Revenue

A 2019 study by Bitmovin partner, Akamai Technologies, revealed that 33% of users leave a stream due to poor streaming quality. Verizon has also estimated OTT video services delivering average or poor-quality experiences account for as much as 25% loss in revenue. With the explosion of OTT services competing for consumption, it is vital that quality not be a reason for your audience to churn or tune out. 

So, what’s changed?

Only a decade ago, viewing high definition video online was a luxury, now high video quality has become a commodity and continues evolving. High Definition and 4K resolutions are currently the industry standards (with 8K just around the corner). In addition to high pixel count, the quality of pixels has consistently improved over the years as well. Today, pixels are comprised of more bits – which translates to more vibrant colors and details, enabling HDR technologies. 

Audiences agree that these technologies offer a superior viewing experience over past media formats, however, implementing cutting-edge media technology is not always seamless.  Online streaming has proved to be one of the most challenging applications for new media formats. Some of the challenges that content providers face include:  

  • Lack of standardization
    • Device targeting with a given codec is necessary to optimize quality, and it becomes increasingly difficult with fragmented software & hardware codec support. Encoders must prepare content in a number of HDR formats (HLG for broadcast, HDR10 for streaming, Dolby Vision for streaming, etc) to reach viewers across devices.
  • Authentic 4K/8K experiences start with video production 
    • Unless the entire upstream pipeline consists of a native 4K environment and downstream devices support 4K, image scaling is required.
  • Last-mile bandwidth limitations
    • Even with faster home and mobile networks and more efficient codecs, compressing 4K, 8K and HDR video into a size which can be efficiently streamed at the last mile is difficult without compromising quality. 

Delivering a high-definition stream free of network interruptions (rebuffering) is no longer enough to satisfy viewers and subscribers. Today’s viewers expect an immersive experience. They want to take advantage of the rich features their screens and devices support — 4K, HDR, and next-generation audio. 

Video Encoders Responsibility

Modern-day Adaptive Bitrate (ABR) video players are resilient to bandwidth fluctuations, but video encoders must be able to produce the clearest possible images at the most efficient bitrates to satisfy Quality of Experience (QoE) expectations. Whether a talking head in a newsroom, an action-packed war scene, or a close-up of the game-winning goal — encoders must be flexible enough to maintain pristine quality in all content scenarios. But exactly how much does quality matter and how should content owners identify and address quality problems?

Many still believe the key to high-quality video is higher bitrates. That approach does not leverage the power of codecs or consider limited bandwidth audiences are faced with (nor is it cost-effective). Either by increased delivery costs or quality-related churn; wrongly equating bitrate for quality will have a negative impact on the bottom line. The most effective approach to optimizing encoding profiles will ensure visual perceptual quality is not compromised (improved QoE), bitrates are reduced for better delivery and availability performance (improved Quality of Service), and storage and delivery costs go down (improved economics.)

Our second post of the Encoding Excellence series covers the methods by which you can test for quality. Click here to keep reading!

Sign-up for our live Webinar, Objective Video Quality: Measurements, Methods, and Best Practices, ft. Jan Ozer & SSIMWave Solutions Architect, Carlos Bacquet, on November 13th at 8am PST (17:00 CET)

Check out the following links for other great content around Quality, Encoding, and Streaming