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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Can New Technology Bring Cloud DVRs Home?

By Yoel Zanger, CEO, Giraffic

DVRs have been a major factor in our move from linear, fixed time TV programming and viewing.   Now, some say that the next big innovation for this tech is recording, storing and delivering video via the cloud.  Research firm Parks Associates covered the topic in a recent webcast.

There can be many benefits that come with cloud DVRs, for service providers and their customers alike.  They can reduce support requirements, offer consumers a way to record and view from anywhere, via a common interface across screens and devices.  There are also quite a few challenges inhibiting broad adoption of this technology (see Cloud DVR is a Killer App - Just Not in 2015).

The obstacles are varied and complex. While there are workarounds, some of these create other problems. Strangely, solutions that can bridge the gap between cloud and premises DVRs reside right in the living room, close to where the DVR box would otherwise sit.

Challenges and Solutions

One of the main challenges relates to copyrights. The famous “Sony VCR Case” from 1984 set the parameters for video recording copyright law.

Cloud DVRs can violate the Sony precedent.  One way to stay within the law would be to store each end-users’ recorded content, like personal media or a data backup. There would naturally be a major storage requirement for this approach, because unlike backing up documents via Dropbox or Google Drive, the service provider would need to keep separate copies of huge HD video files for the same exact movie.

Some say that shared copies would pass the test, too (see Cloud DVRs – Don’t go wrong on Content Rights and Don’t Let Content Rights Issues Rain on Cloud DVRs Parade).  These are stored once and accessed by multiple subscribers. The laws can vary by region, and it is an evolving area – the rules may change based on challenges and court decisions.

But forget this problem for a moment; after all, storage is cheap and abundant these days. Another challenge is the resulting change to the video-streaming paradigm.

CDNs have been one of the go-to ways to optimize video delivery.  They work based on the assumption that most content items are viewed by many people.  However cloud DVRs that comply with copyright laws rely on long tail content – single instances that are viewed just once, in many cases. Adding HD and UHD 4K quality amplifies this challenge even further, to make the video streaming even more susceptible to congestion and other networking issue.

But the most critical aspects relate to user expectations and experience.  Today, content played back directly from a local hard drive does not really suffer from latency or buffering, unlike internet streaming via Over-the-Top services. Cloud DVRs simply cannot provide that same level of user viewing experience.

The industry will need to find ways to compensate for this gap. Some cloud DVR platforms, e.g. from Cisco (Yoav Schreiber, their service provider marketing manager, took part in the Parks webcast), offer comprehensive video and CDN infrastructure to support this type of service.  Telcos and cable companies can compensate with better “last mile” bandwidth and home networking solutions to distribute the cloud DVR content from the servers, to the home and throughout the house to the end-device.

Additional technologies can make the user experience even better and bridge the gap between current locally stored DVRs and cloud DVR, e.g. improved Wi-Fi access points and power-line communications, as well as network infrastructure that mitigates peak hour last-mile congestion.  Adaptive Video Acceleration (AVA) software implemented on the end user’s device itself is another approach that also helps improve the delivery over the internet as well as within the home networking environment.

These approaches can help bring cloud DVR home, and deliver on its promise.

Next: Economic Implications for In-Home Robots
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