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Netint technologies

Simplify Building Your Own Streaming Cloud
with GPAC

Jan Ozer

Jan Ozer

is Senior Director of Video Marketing at NETINT.

Jan is also a contributing editor to Streaming Media Magazine , writing about codecs and encoding tools. He has written multiple authoritative books on video encoding, including ‘Video Encoding by the Numbers: Eliminate the Guesswork from your Streaming Video’ and ‘ Learn to Produce Video with FFmpeg: In Thirty Minutes or Less’ and has produced multiple training courses relating to streaming media production.

Romain Bouqueau is CEO of Motion Spell and one of the principal architects of the GPAC open-source software, one of the three software alternatives presented in the symposium. He spoke about the three challenges facing his typical customers: features, cost, and flexibility, and identified how GPAC delivers on each challenge.

Then, he illustrated these concepts with three impressive case studies: Synamedia/Quortex, Instagram, and Netflix. Overall, Romain made a strong case for GPAC as the transcoding/packaging element of your live streaming cloud.

Simplify Building Your Own Streaming Cloud with GPAC

NETINT Symposium - GPAC

Romain began his talk with an excellent summary of the situation facing many live-streaming engineers. “It’s a pleasure to discuss the challenges of building your own live-streaming cloud. Cloud services are convenient, but once you scale, you may realize that you’re paying too much and you are not as flexible as you’d like to be. I hope to convince you that the cost of customization that you have when using GPAC is actually an investment with a very interesting ROI if you make the right choices. That’s what we’re going to talk about.”

NETINT Symposium - GPAC - Figure 1. About Romain, GPAC, and Motion Spell.
Figure 1. About Romain, GPAC, and Motion Spell.

Then, he briefly described his background as a principal architect of the GPAC open-source software, which he has contributed to for over 15 years. In this role, Romain is known for his advocacy of open source and open standards and as a media streaming entrepreneur. His primary focus has been on GPAC, a multimedia framework recognized for its emphasis on modularity and standards compliance.

He described that GPAC offers tools for media content processing, inspection, packaging, streaming playback, and interaction. Unlike many multimedia frameworks that cater to 2D TV-like experiences, GPAC is characterized by versatility, controlled latency, and the ability to support various scenarios, including hybrid broadcast broadband setups, interactivity, scripting, virtual reality, and 3D scenes.

Romain’s notable achievements include streamlining the MPEG ISO-based media file format used in formats like MP4, CMAF, DASH, and HLS. His work earned recognition through a technology engineering EMMY award. To facilitate the wider use of GPAC, Romain established Motion Spell, which serves as a bridge between GPAC and its practical applications. Motion Spell provides consulting, support, and training, acting as the exclusive commercial licenser of GPAC.

During his introduction, Romain discussed challenges faced by companies in choosing between commercial solutions and open source for video encoding and packaging. He posited that many companies often lack the confidence and necessary skills to fully implement GPAC but emphasized that despite this, the implementation process is both achievable and simpler than commonly assumed.

He shared that his customers face three major challenges, features, cost, and flexibility, and addressed each in turn.

Features

NETINT Symposium - GPAC - Figure 2. The three challenges facing those building their live streaming cloud.
Figure 2. The three challenges facing those building their live streaming cloud.

The first challenge Romain highlighted relates to features and capabilities. He advised the audience to create a comprehensive list that encompasses the needed capabilities, including codecs, formats, containers, DRMs, captions, and metadata management.

He also underscored the importance of seamless integration with the broader ecosystem, which involves interactions with external players, analytics probes, and specific content protocols. Romain noted that while some solutions offer user-friendly graphical interfaces, deeper configuration details often need to be addressed to accommodate diverse codecs, parameters, and use cases, especially at scale.

Highlighting Netflix’s usage of GPAC, Romain emphasized that GPAC is well-equipped to handle features and innovation, given its research and standardization foundation. He acknowledged that while GPAC is often a step ahead in the industry, it cannot implement everything alone. Thus, sponsorship and contributions from the industry are crucial for the continued development of this open-source software.

Romain explained that GPAC’s compatibility with the ecosystem is a result of its broad availability. Its role as a reference implementation, driven by standardization efforts, makes it a favored choice. Additionally, he mentioned that Motion Spell’s efforts have led to GPAC becoming part of numerous plugin systems across the industry.

Cost

The second challenge highlighted by Romain is cost optimization. He explained that costs are typically divided into Capital Expenditure (CAPEX) and Operational Expenditure (OPEX). He noted that GPAC, being written in the efficient C programming language, benefits from rigorous scrutiny from the open-source community, making it highly efficient. He acknowledged that while GPAC offers various features, each use case varies, leading to questions about resource allocation. Romain encouraged considerations like the need for CDNs for all channels and premium encoders for all content.

Regarding CAPEX, Romain mentioned integration costs associated with open-source software, emphasizing that some costs might be challenging to evaluate, such as error handling. He referenced the Synamedia/Quortex architecture as an example of efficient error management. Romain also addressed the misconception that open source implies free software, referencing a seminar he participated in that compared the costs of different options.

He shared an example of a broadcaster with a catalog of 100,000 videos and 500 concurrent streams. The CAPEX for packaging ranged from $100,000 to $200,000, depending on factors like developer rates and location, with running costs being relatively low compared to transcoding costs.

Romain revealed that, based on his research, open source consistently ranked as the most cost-efficient option or a close competitor across different use cases. He concluded that combining GPAC with Motion Spell’s professional services and efficient encoding appliances like NETINT‘s aligns well with the industry’s efficiency challenges.

Flexibility

The final challenge discussed by Romain was flexibility, emphasizing the importance of moving swiftly in a fast-paced environment. He described how Netflix successfully transitioned from SVOD to AVOD, adapted from on-demand to live streaming, switched from H.264 to newer codecs, and consolidated multiple containers into one over short time frames, contributing to their profitability. Romain underlined the potential for others to achieve similar success using GPAC.

He introduced a new application within GPAC called “gpac”, designed to build customized media pipelines. In contrast to historical GPAC applications that offered fixed media pipelines, this new “gpac” application enables users to create tailored pipelines to address specific requirements. This includes transcoding packaging, content protection, networking, and in general, any feature you need for your private cloud.

The Synamedia/Quortex “just-in-time everything” paradigm

NETINT Symposium - GPAC - Figure 3. Motion Spell’s work with Quortex which was acquired by Synamedia.
Figure 3. Motion Spell’s work with Quortex, which was acquired by Synamedia.

Romain then moved on to the Synamedia/Quortex use case that illustrated the challenge of GPAC supplying comprehensive features. He described Quortex’s innovative “just-in-time everything” paradigm for media pipelines.

Unlike the traditional 24/7 transcoder that is designed to never fail and requires backup solutions for seamless switching, Quortex divides the media pipeline into small components that can fail and be relaunched when necessary. This approach is particularly effective for live streaming scenarios, offering low latency.

Romain highlighted that the Quortex approach is highly adaptable as it can run on various instances, including cloud instances that are cost-effective but might experience interruptions. The system generates content on-demand, meaning that when a user wants to watch specific content on a device, it’s either cached, already generated, or created just-in-time. This includes packaging, transcoding, and other media processing tasks.

Romain attributed the success of the development project to Quortex’s vision and talented teams, as well as the strategic partnership with Motion Spell. He also shared that after project completion, Synamedia acquired Quortex.

Instagram

NETINT Symposium - GPAC - Figure 4. GPAC helped Instagram cut compute times by 94%.
Figure 4. GPAC helped Instagram cut compute times by 94%.

The second use case addressed the challenge of cost and involved Instagram, a member of the Meta Group. According to Romain, Instagram utilized GPAC’s MP4Box to reduce video compute times by an impressive 94%. This strategic decision helped prevent a capacity shortage within just twelve months, ensuring the platform’s ability to provide video uploads for all users.

Romain presented Instagram’s approach as noteworthy because it emphasizes the importance of optimizing costs based on content usage patterns. The platform decided to prioritize transmission and packaging of content over transcoding, recognizing that a significant portion of Instagram’s content is watched only a few times. In this scenario, the cost of transcoding outweighs the savings on distribution expenses. As Romain explained, “It made more sense for them to package and transmit most content instead of transcoding it, because most of Instagram’s content is watched only a few times. The cost of transcoding, in their case, outweighs the savings on the distribution cost.”

According to Romain, this strategy aligns with the broader efficiency trend in the media tech industry. By adopting a combined approach, Instagram used lower quality and color profiles for less popular content, while leveraging higher quality encoders for content requiring better compression. This optimization was possible because Instagram controls its own encoding infrastructure, which underscores the value of open-source solutions in providing control and flexibility to organizations.

The computational complexity of GPAC’s packaging is close to a bit-for-bit copy, contributing to the 94% reduction in compute times. Romain felt that Instagram’s successful outcome exemplifies how open-source solutions like GPAC can empower organizations to make significant efficiency gains while retaining control over their systems.

Netflix

NETINT Symposium - GPAC - Figure 5. GPAC helped Netflix transition from SVOD to AVOD, from On-Demand to live, and from H264 to newer codecs.
Figure 5. GPAC helped Netflix transition from SVOD to AVOD,
from On-Demand to live, and from H264 to newer codecs.

The final use case addresses the challenge of flexibility and involves a significant collaboration between GPAC, Motion Spell, and Netflix. According to Romain, this collaboration had a profound impact on Netflix’s video encoding and packaging platform, and contributed to an exceptional streaming experience for millions of viewers globally.

At the NAB Streaming Summit, Netflix and Motion Spell took the stage to discuss the successful integration of GPAC’s open-source software into Netflix’s content operations. During the talk, Netflix highlighted the ubiquity of the ISO BMFF (MPEG ISO-based media file format) in their workflows and emphasized their commitment to open standards and innovation. The alignment between GPAC and Netflix’s goals allowed them to leverage GPAC’s innovations for free, thanks to sponsorships and prior implementations.

Romain explained how Netflix’s transformation from SVOD to AVOD, from On-Demand to live, and from H264 to newer codecs was facilitated by GPAC’s ease of integration and efficiency in operations. In this fashion, he asserted, the collaboration between Motion Spell and Netflix exemplifies the capacity of open-source solutions to drive innovation and adaptability.

Romain further described how GPAC’s rich feature set, rooted in research and standardization, offers capabilities beyond most publishers’ current needs. The unified “gpac” executable simplifies deployment, making it accessible for service implementation. Leveraging open-source principles, GPAC proves to be cost-competitive and easy to integrate. Motion Spell’s role in helping organizations maximize GPAC’s potential, as demonstrated with Netflix, underscores the practical benefits of the collaboration.

Romain summarized how GPAC’s flexibility empowers organizations to optimize and differentiate themselves rapidly. Examples like Netflix’s interactive Bandersnatch, intelligent previews, exceptional captioning, and accessibility enhancements showcase GPAC’s adaptability to evolving demands. Looking forward, Romain described how user feedback continues to shape GPAC’s evolution, ensuring its continued improvement and relevance in the media tech landscape.

With a detailed description of GPAC’s features and capabilities, underscored by very relevant case studies, Romain clearly demonstrated how GPAC can help live streaming publishers overcome any infrastructure-related challenge. And for those who would like to learn more, or need support or assistance integrating GPAC into their workflows, he invited them to contact him directly.

ON-DEMAND:
Romain Bouqueau, Deploying GPAC for Transcoding and Packaging

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