Most of us have experienced the finger-tapping frustration of waiting for "buffering" to complete before the next gripping bite of a YouTube or other on-line video clip. The situation is worse in constrained bandwidth environments such as in South Africa and is further exacerbated as one moves into the realm of wireless mobile devices such as cell phones and tablets.
The ARTIST project, a collaboration between the CSIR, East Coast Access and UCT and funded by the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), has led to the development of the much-needed low-bandwidth video broadcast platform that will overcome this problem. A commercialisation agreement has been successfully negotiated with a spin-out company Tuluntulu (Pty) Ltd. As is clear from the above, there are a host of different business models that could be used to exploit the IP and in a maverick approach to launching the business, a number of these will be tested by Tuluntulu before they settle on one or more that work best for them.
ARTIST is an acronym for Adaptive Real-Time Internet Streaming Technology. The technology has already been successfully piloted at the radio station Y-FM, and is opening the way for a new mode of operation, applications and business opportunities. Blurring the lines between a TV and a radio station, during the pilot listeners were able to watch DJs spinning the decks and see studio interviews. But its not only video; overlaid on the video, the platform can include on-screen feeds from the listerners' social media interactions or advertising, all seamlessly blended with the broadcast. This truly fulfils the mobile user demand: "I want video on any device with the ability to interact socially"!
An important feature is the user analytics that are available, which is useful for content providers and advertisers. During the Y-FM pilot these data indicated that the live broadcasts were accessed by global listeners from far beyond South Africa's borders. Normally those listeners could only rely on on-line streaming of the audio from the radio station.
Potential applications are diverse, from entertainment, such as coverage of local sporting events and community TV' broadcasts, through to education (schooling or adult education (entrepreneurship, farming, health, rural community healthcare worker training)). Whilst ARTIST will certainly be useful in poor bandwidth environment, it will also be useful in greening' of the network in high bandwidth zones.
The internet is a "best effort" transmission platform without quality or service guarantees. In a congested environment there are significant fluctuations. ARTIST exploits various algorithms to conduct video coding and compression that is not bandwidth hungry and does not degrade signal quality. Different approaches were tested to deliver the video to a mobile device without service interruption by continually adjusting (adapting) the picture quality based on the internet's instantaneous state of congestion. What was interesting is that may of the techniques that were best on "technical metrics", were poor visually, whilst others that were less effective from a technical point of view were preferable as they tricked the eye and enhanced the user's visual experience with negligible detection of a drop in quality.
ARTIST fits into a very specific niche: one-to-many (users/viewers) live internet-based broadcasting. There is a spectrum of internet video requirement: at the one end, on-line video stores where complete movies are downloaded and watched later; YouTube-type video on demand; live broadcasting on a one-to-many basis and at the other end peer-to-peer video conferencing.
The technology challenge that ARTIST addresses is represented graphically in the diagram which also shows where existing competitors sit in relation to ARTIST - i.e. mainly in the LAN, ADSL and Wi-Fi space, whereas ARTIST addresses the ADSL, Wi-Fi, 3G and Edge space used by mobile devices.
The UCT components of the licensed IP include a patent family, considerable know-how and software copyright that has been developed by the core UCT research team in the Department of Electrical Engineering Department: Prof Mqhele Dlodlo, Prof Gerhard de Jager and Dr Guy-Alain Lusilao.
Contributions were also made by postgraduate students: Veronica Sentongo, Josephine Kakande, Charles Lubobya, Rohini Koduri and Norman Morrison.
In the News
Ventureburn 9 Oct 2013 "Tuluntulu: streaming video for Africa's broadband-starved masses."