Monday, August 13, 2012

Olympic archives remain online ... for now

Tiled UI with over 4,000 choices
The games are finished and NBC has an archive of over 4,000 videos on their Web site. (As with the live coverage, only NBC cable subscribers in the US can access it).

There are full events, event highlights, interviews, expert analysis, footage from earlier Olympics, medal ceremonies and more. You can filter the videos by these categories, sport, or top athlete and sort them by by date, popularity or recommendation.

But, what about that user interface? I would have called it a Metro-style user interface, but I guess Microsoft has dropped the name "Metro." Maybe a better name would be square icons user interface (SIUI)? Or tiled user interface (TUI)? Or cell-phone user interface (CPUI)? Or an iPhone user interface (iUI)? (Pronounce each acronym and see what you think).
Tiled UI with one choice

Seriously, whatever you call it, this sort of user interface might be more appropriate for a cell phone or tablet with a few installed apps than a library of over 4,000 videos. (On the other hand, it lends itself nicely to using oversize tiles for ads).

As I noted in a post the other day, NBC deleted their Tour de France archive. I asked their PR department what the plans were for the Olympic archive, but got no comment. Maybe they will leave this one up as ad bait.


I want to add a note on the quality of the archival video streams. I expected that it would be better than the original broadcast stream because demand would be lower, YouTube would have had time to push content out to caches around the Internet and there would have been time for additional compression.

To test my theory, I watched the replay of the final basketball game between the US and Spain at 1080p resolution. The streaming was a bit jerky, but the game was watchable.

I could not subjectively say whether it was better or worse than the original live stream at that resolution, so I looked at the performance profile while streaming from the archive (below). As you see, it is considerably different than the live streaming profile.

Whether it is better or not, I am confident that YouTube and other major distribution networks will learn from this Olympic experience and improve performance.


I also tried the BBC archive. The BBC provided up to 24 simultaneous live streams adding up to 2,500 hours of coverage during the Olympics. That material has all been archived, and it will remain online until January.

The BBC streams their video at a variable rate, starting slow and adding speed as buffering and bandwidth allowed. I watched the final basketball game between the USA and Spain. The motion was fairly smooth. There was some stuttering, but less than with NBC. However, the resolution was lower, not exceedinig 512 x 288. Bear in mind that I was watching via a proxy server. The average of three download speedtests was 2.34 Mb/s, about 20% of my local download speed.

At this speed, the following is representative of the best image quality I saw.

Like YouTube, I would expect the BBC network to improve as a result of this experience. I wish they would reconsider the decision to delete the archive in January.

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