Akamai Says iPhone Supports HD Video, I Say It Doesn't

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Includes: AAPL, AKAM
by: Dan Rayburn

I thought I was all done covering the Akamai HD webcast earlier in the week, but Tim Siglin, one of the writers over at StreamingMedia.com made a really good point about the webcast that I totally missed. During the webcast, Akamai (NASDAQ:AKAM) said they can now deliver HD video to the iPhone, but as Tim points out, the iPhone isn't capable of getting HD content.

From Tim's Blog:

[I have nothing against Akamai in particular, but unfortunately some of the claims made can't be substantiated. One in particular struck me as key to the whole press conference. Leighton claimed that, "Today there's [sic] 50 million homes that have connected gaming consoles - or other devices - that are capable of displaying HD video, of getting it and displaying it into the home. Also, there's [sic] 45 million iPhones out there today capable of displaying HD video."

Let's take a look at the facts:

a). No one else has ever claimed that the 1st gen iPhone or even the iPhone 3G is capable of of HD playback, which is the only way to get to the 45 million iPhone number.

b) Even the claims that the iPhone 3GS is capable of displaying HD content are conjecture, as Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) does not allow HD playback on the iPhone 3GS (even 480p content can't be played back).

c) While everyone is doing "higher definition" for live streams to desktop Flash and Silverlight players, many are doing HTTP streams, and a few are doing true HD (480, 720, 1080i/p) to these same players, there are a limited number of companies doing true HD live streams via HTTP, which is where Akamai wants to tell its story. None are doing it to the iPhone, however.

The reason I say it is key to the whole press conference is this: if all Akamai is claiming is "higher definition" as its term for HD, there's no story here, since others are doing it. If they're claiming HD for the iPhone, there's a story here but not one they can support.]

Tim's absolutely right. The screen res on the iPhone, even the new one, is only 480 x 320 at 163 pixels per inch, that is not HD. How can Akamai claim it is? Tim made multiple requests to Akamai for more details and was provided with a copy of a document called "Akamai HD for iPhone Encoding Best Practices" that as Tim says,

states, on page 5, the best practice is to encode at a maximum size of 400 x 224 and a maximum bit rate of 864 kbps. Which one of these settings qualifies as HD content? You're right if you answered none of them as content encoded at this rate / size would be considered unacceptable on the desktop, and further undermines Akamai's claim of its HD network providing content owners with the ability to encode once and play out to multiple platforms/players.

So what does Akamai consider to be HD video to the iPhone? In multiple back and forth emails with them last night, (see all of them on Tim's blog) Akamai said, "we believe the following requirements should met for HD specific to mobile:

- HD source content
- Over industry accepted video standards
- Adaptive bitrate streaming technology
- At bitrates over 700Kbps
- At an appropriately high resolution for the device rendering the video

Akamai's definition of what HD is to mobile makes no sense. You can have the best "source" you want, but that does not mean the output will be good. As Tim says,

If I take Akamai's argument about their definition of HD (which runs counter to Paul Sagan's opening comments in the webcast) and ignore the arbitrary bitrate limit Akamai has set, I can generate a 200kbps stream from the 1080p HD content I film at my children's soccer game, and then call it HD.

If "industry accepted video standards" is one of Akamai's requirements, then what would Akamai classify as non-industry accepted video standards? Does Akamai mean over industry accepted video "protocols"? There is no "standard" in the online video industry, so no idea what that word from Akamai is defining? Standard what? There is no standard video codec, bitrate, aspect ratio, platform, player, etc....

I'm sure others have have a similar take on this, so the comments section is open and you should read Tim's blog post for more details on this whole subject.