August 28, 2014

34 Weeks of OHA: #21

I promised something special for this week, and have delivered! Read on for the bestest 34 Weeks of OHA article yet…

Company Name: PacketVideo

How the OHA site classifies them: Software Company

What the OHA site says about them: PacketVideo (PV) is a nine-year-old multimedia software company whose software powers the world’s leading mobile entertainment services, including Verizon Wireless’ VCAST music and video services, NTT DoCoMo’s 3-G FOMA service and Orange World by Orange.

The Backstory:

Ususally when I’m writing these things I have to spend at least fifteen minutes surfing around the intertubes doing research. I take a bunch of notes, write the notes down on scraps of rice paper, feed them along with a couple shots of espresso to my specially trained Rhesus Monkey, and then lock him in the bathroom overnight with an old HP laptop. When morning comes, all I have to do is post what he’s put together to the site and clean the Rhesus poop out of the bathtub. It’s a great system.

This week, however, an opportunity came my way. Rather than having a monkey put the article together, I got a PhD in Electrical Engineering to do it, a technique which, as I’m sure you’ll agree, has produced a far superior product.

The PhD in this case is Osama Alshaykh, CTO for Open Handset Alliance member PacketVideo. PacketVideo is a provider of multimedia software to basically every handset maker and mobile carrier that matters: Nokia, T Mobile, Rogers, Motorola, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, Vodafone, Verizon, etc., etc. They’re one of those companies that few people have ever heard of, but almost anyone that’s ever picked up a mobile phone has come in contact with their software.

Osama Alshaykh really does have a PhD in Electrical Engineering. He’s one of the founders of PacketVideo, which he came to after having spent some time working on multimedia standards like MPEG-4 and JPEG-2000. And he’s a Fullbright Scholar. So, he’s smarter than me, probably smarter than you, and definitely a lot smarter than my monkey. I’m guessing he’s a lot less nasty than my monkey if you steal his peanuts, as well.

I interviewed Dr. Alshaykh via email last week:

The Interview:

Q: Let’s start with the basic information. Usually for my articles I take the time to do some research around the company I’m profiling, but this time I can let you just hand me the information and save myself a bunch of work. Can you give me a brief history of PacketVideo, and tell me about some of the services and products you offer?

A: PacketVideo has been around for 10 years, and in the same year we were founded, we became the first company to put video on a cell phone. Since then, our multimedia software has shipped on about 230 million mobile devices, for mobile operators such as Verizon Wireless, Orange, NTT DoCoMo, Rogers, TELUS, Telstra, T-Mobile and more. Beyond our COREâ„¢ multimedia application framework, on which the OpenCOREâ„¢ media subsystem for Android is based, we also have PVConnectâ„¢, a DLNA-certified connected home product, and MediaFusionâ„¢, an end-to-end rich media content management and delivery platform. Our existing products enable true multi-screen rich media services. We’ve also recently ventured into the hardware arena with Tellyâ„¢, a mobile broadcast receiver that will help mobile operators launch live TV services faster using their existing phone portfolios. A video demo can be found here.

Q: Wow, that Telly’s a nifty little item. Cross platform and small enough to be convenient.

Without revealing any Top Secret stuff, what’s PacketVideo’s role in the Open Handset Alliance? What is PV bringing to the Android effort?

A: Our CORE multimedia framework is a mature, modular solution on which some of the most popular multimedia services are built, including Verizon VCAST and OrangeWorld. We’ve opensourced a subset of CORE features to enable Android developers to design and launch applications that employ basic media functions, such as audio and video streaming and playback, two-way video telephony, video authoring and imaging.

Q: I understand that Rogers Wireless, my mobile service provider here in Canada, is a client of PV. I have a rather large bill this month due to a new handset I purchased and some roaming data charges. Any chance you can swing me a discount?

A: Why aren’t you using their music services? Then we could talk.

Q: Well, I find much of the music I listen to isn’t offered by… Hey, wait, how do you know I’m not using their music service?

A: …

Q: What is the ‘Content Policy Manager’ component of OpenCORE? Is this where Digital Rights Management is enforced?

A: Yes, the content policy manager enables use case scenarios for digital rights management. Service providers can choose which technology and rules to include in their products by using these modules. PV provides and supports SDC, PlayReady and WMDRM10 digital rights management systems to provide users with many ways for obtaining media including renting, buying or forwarding content to your friends.

Q: I understand the OpenCORE code is open-source. How is it licensed — is it Apache 2.0 as is the Android SDK?

A: OpenCORE is available via the Android SDK, which is obtained through the Apache 2.0 license. No strings attached! Aren’t we good guys?

Q: Well, yes, you are good guys. It was the open-source part of Android that grabbed my attention when it was announced. But, I was a little surprised to see that OpenCORE does not support Ogg or FLAC audio codecs (at least, not according to the materials I read), which seems odd given that it’s open-source. What was the reasoning around not including these formats, and are there any plans to expand OpenCORE to include support for these codecs in the future?

A: PV provides a rich set of codecs and features including MP3, AAC, AAC+, MPEG-4, AVC, H.263, etc. We also opened up our system for developers to add other codecs and formats. This is the beauty of our architecture. It takes a village, you know …

Q: Well, I’m hoping there’s more than a village’s worth of participation in Android development.

Have you seen, or played with, the HTC Dream (the rumored HTC Android handset). Can it really convert water into wine? Can OpenCORE stream wine? ‘Cause, honestly, I could use some streaming wine.

A: Miracles can happen with a really innovative combination of hardware and services, but streaming wine from a phone isn’t on the roadmap. I can help stream it from a bottle! As for the rumored HTC handset, we like to consider it a legend.

Q: Wait, a “legend”? That’s rather cryptic. Are you saying that the HTC Dream that the blogosphere has been salivating for during the last few months doesn’t exist?

A: We’re not into rumors, but we are into reality, and the reality is that there will be cool Android devices and we’re very excited about that.

Q: Hmm…

Where do you see multimedia on mobile platforms heading? It seems that everything we could want is already available — music, video, streaming TV, YouTube. What’s the next step in the evolution of multimedia on my handset, and what, if any, are some of the technical or industry-related obstacles that need to be overcome before next-gen multimedia services can be offered?

A: Oh, there’s so much more that can be done, especially when you throw web-based services, your home and your friends into the mix. Imagine your phone is your ultimate remote control of your media assets when you watch TV, listen to music on your stereo system or show your grandma your cute pictures on her TV. Imagine yourself as a mobile broadcaster showing your friends your latest skating moves, live on the web. We’re moving towards the ability to merge personal interests with viewing habits.

Many of those ideas can be realized with the current networks and devices. More will be done with faster networks. Just some additional ideas to think about: Accessing your friends’ MySpace playlists and sampling music from their libraries. Or watching a music video on your phone and getting instant concert or TV appearance news about the artist you’re watching – with an option to buy those concert tickets or record the TV appearance on your phone. There are endless possibilities of integrating music, video and information of any kind on web-based mobile apps.

Q: This is the the idea that the mobile platform will the central interface for managing and interacting with our digital environment. Not just receiving, but broadcasting content as well. Very exciting stuff, and, frankly, what I’ve been waiting for.

What are your hopes for the Android platform? Do you see its openness as a turning point in the mobile industry?

A: The real pivot in the industry that accelerated with the introduction of Android, while not necessarily started by it, is the move toward openness – in networks, in platforms, in services. PV is hoping that there will be some really clever implementations of Android that loosen traditional concepts about the role a mobile device can and should play in an end-user’s life. It’s a big leap forward toward a rich media world, where access to desired applications and services is much more intuitive and way more fun. By opening platforms, we are removing hurdles and accelerating the introduction of new concepts and new approaches. A significant industry investment is made available to anyone to innovate with. BTW, all of this is applicable to any device and not only mobile phones.

Q: Well said; parts of that answer could almost serve as a manifesto.

Can you give me a job? I’m a fairly accomplished Business Intelligence and Data Warehouse developer; most of my experience is with Microsoft technologies, but at home I’m a Linux user and open-source devotee. I can cook, but I don’t do windows.

A: I think you’re more our target end-user than target employee. Most of our engineers are really great cooks. You should see our potlucks.

Free food? I’m there.

The Post-Interview:

Thanks so much to Dr. Alshaykh for taking the time to do this. It’s really nice to interface with someone in an executive position who not only has credentials that any geek can respect but also understands how openness can drive innovation. My communication with Dr. Alshaykh and the obvious confidence the mobile industry has in his company’s products have convinced my that the mutlimedia components of Android are in very, very good hands.

My thanks, as well, to Jeff Seedman of Ruder Finn for contacting me on behalf of PacketVideo and for facilitating the interview.

Until next week…