Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Itiva, quanta, venture capital, snakeoil

Recently came across a startup called Itiva, claiming to have technology to bring high quality media to PC's without bandwidth worries. It involves a lot of long noun chains, new paradigms, and revolutionary but proprietary Quanta™. Sounds like snake oil to me.
"Itiva provides the first scalable, reliable and economic Internet video delivery platform"
False. There are plenty of scalable, reliable video platforms, the latest of which is bittorrent. Apple.com/trailer serves video content all day long and has for years. Google just bought YouTube that serves tons of video.
"patent-pending technology delivers fast, full screen, high quality (DVD or HD quality) video over the Internet without performance compromise"
This is not a compression technology, merely a transport technology. Therefore, I can't see how full-screen DVD quality data can ever be "fast." A movie that fits on a regular DVD is about 4 gigabytes worth of data. That will never be fast no matter how many "quanta" you break it up into.
"highest quality home theatre video experience for millions of simultaneous viewers"
Think about Apple's iTunes and how long it took to struggle for a deal with record companies in order to provide the music content. And all that music content is encoded in a "lossy" format not because Apple doesn't have the bandwidth to serve larger, better quality music files, it's really because the record companies will not allow high quality digital content to be sold like that on the internet. They are too worried about flagging CD sales and digital piracy. That's why every single bit of music for sale in iTunes is of worse quality than the CD you can buy at the store. The videos for sale there are also only about VHS quality and smaller than the resolution of a regular TV, and not because Apple can't handle the traffic. Also, look at the fact that Netflix, the internet movie pioneer, still does not offer movie downloads. It's not because of a technical problem, it's because of a legal problem. The MPAA does not want high quality video floating around the internet. So why will these media companies that own the rights to this content suddenly begin releasing it just because a technology appears that makes mass consumption more feasible? If anything, easy mass consumption will make media companies less likely to release high quality digital material.
"while popular in the illegal file sharing community, [P2P] is not suited for large-scale commercial deployment"
False. torrents are not just a way to steal copyrighted material. Torrents are used to easily distrubute large (800+meg) files such as Linux CD images by big-name vendors like Debian. Many other open source projects that take up a lot of space are being distributed by torrents/P2P. P2P has lots of purposes. And, if one of your peers happens to be on your same network, their traffic does not have to be routed over the internet to you, permitting the ISP to reap the same benefits that Itva says its own product provides (and that I'm guessing an ISP would have to pay for).
"P2P is also very costly to ISPs because it uses tunneling protocols that have a direct impact on bandwidth cost to the ISPs"
Anything that actually uses any bandwidth is going to be costly to ISPs who pay for bandwidth. Unless the data is sourced from within the ISP's network, in which case they are not generating internet traffic in order to serve it. This Itva product seems to involve a little of that but I can't see why I'd be interested in it as an ISP unless I was AOL or MSN. An ISP generally is just a conduit, not a content provider. If they are selecting and providing content, they become legally responsible for it, and why would I be interested in that mess (and losing my DMCA safe harbor) if I make a living selling connections?
"In order to keep these costs under control, ISPs have throttled the P2P protocol by using packet shapers"
And in response, people defeat that by training their P2P programs to travel over port 80 to look like other web traffic. Also, if I pay my local ISP for a 1mb/s connection, I am going to complain if they are shaping my torrent traffic down to 256k just because of the type of traffic it is. They sold me a pipe that was advertised to do a certain speed, and it's wrong for them to discriminate against certain kinds of traffic. This concerns the whole "net neutrality" debate that is going on right now. See Freedom to Tinker articles on the subject.

My point is that ISPs cant sell broadband internet connections and then expect to prevent people from using those connections in order to reduce the ISP's own bandwidth costs. Itva is not really solving a problem, the content I want is most likely not on my ISP's network, and therefore I have to get it from the internet. Breaking bits into "Quanta™" and reassembling them on my computer does not use less bandwidth. If I need a 4gig file, 4 gigs worth of bandwidth ultimately needs to be used, if there is no compression (and Itva is not a compression tool).
"designed to support the volume of rich media and streaming video available. Consequently, the video viewing experience is poor and has not yet reached a point that is comparable with traditional TV,"
and then claims 4 reasons for why that is.

Those stated reasons are part of the story, but can be overcome with current technology platforms if one is intent on overcoming them. The primary reason digital content doesn't compare with traditional content is because the RIAA and MPAA will not allow high quality digital copies to be put in the stream of commerce because they are afraid of copying.

Itva seems to be mostly some kind of proxy caching thing that ISPs are supposed to employ on their own network so that they can serve their users without having to use internet bandwidth. This means also that ISPs are supposed to pay Itva for this product, but I don't see why they would. It's going to be a long time before a good number of internet users reach even T-1 speeds (relatively low speed broadband), and that's only 1.54megabits per second.

1,540,000 bits = 192,500 bytes
1 megabyte ~= 1,000,000 bytes
at T-1 speed:
5 seconds to get 1 megabyte
500 secs (8m) to get 100 megabytes
5000 secs (1.2h) to get 1 gig.

A full screen DVD quality movie will be at least 3 gigs, and therefore take about 3.5 hours to download, even over a relatively fast T-1 or DSL rated at 1.54mbp/s. Even if my ISP has the movie proxy-cached or running special Itva software so they don't have to deliver over the internet, it still takes this long just to get it the last mile from my ISP to me. And most people have connections slower than that and that condition will be a fact of life for most ISP customers for a long time. People don't want huge files, they want small ones. And with the increasing popularity of networked mobile phones with small memory capacity, I think there will be more demad for smaller, not bigger files. See also the Freedom to Tinker article on Last Mile.

I can't see any advantage that Itva would bring. It seems like a middle man adding very little value, and worse, contributing to the proposition that ISPs need not act with "net neutrality," which is a bad thing for all consumers/internet users. Breaking large files into small peices and reassembling? So what?

One of the principals of Itiva has recently started a blog (how can you convince venture capitalists without one?) at http://www.robertarn.com/ that doesnt illuminate much about the product, but a lot about his anti-consumer position regarding "net neutrality."

The blog offers a couple of "widespread beliefs" that I don't agree in the first place are widespread, and then spends several paragraphs debunking those beliefs. Then it talks about broadcast video usage on dumb devices like TVs (and even DVRs, where your recorded content is trapped and you cannot access it except to play it back just on that DVR) and implies that the amount of usage on user-controlled computing devices will soon approach it.

Of course, it wont, because copyright holders won't put the content out there, for fear of copying, piracy, and the total inadequacy of any DRM scheme (if your machine can read the data, and you control the machine, then you can always make the machine record the data). He also spends a lot of time bashing P2P, probably because it accomplishes for free what his product will charge for. He also wrongly characterizes as "theft of services" when a paying ISP customer uses P2P. I don't like his attitude, needlessly referring to the Bittorrent creator as autistic, and for being on the wrong side of the net neutrality debate. Maybe because his product is of no use in a net-neutral environment. There's way too much hype, FUD and self-promotion. Compare it to blogs of legitimate companies, where there is no preaching, fact twisting, or arguing. This guy is after the venture capital and that's all.

Granted, I may just be demonstrating my own ignorance. When the first web browser "Mosaic" came out in 1994, I installed it on my 486, looked at it for a few minutes and said "this is stupid," and deleted it.

4 comments:

  1. Zack Walker5:32 PM

    I just went to itiva's site and downloaded the demo. Works pretty damn quick for me, and video looks good.

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  2. Anonymous9:53 PM

    Good is an understatement - the quality and speed was amazing! Sign me up.

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  3. Anonymous2:20 PM

    BitTorrent is not without it's flaws and has a long way to go to be accepted by the general public. Here's an excellent write-up on the problems BitTorrent faces in "trying to commercialize it for the mass market".

    http://tinyurl.com/yanr56

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  4. Anonymous6:40 PM

    I worked for Itiva briefly. The technology involves breaking the media data into web objects and then using private networks, proxy caches, and local storage to stream media.

    Bit torrent doesn't stream - you have to download the entire document before starting to play.

    While the technology appears solid,
    jury is out on if the company can gain enough customers to become profitable. Tough competition from Akami among others.

    ReplyDelete