Saturday, December 26, 2009

Qik Live Streaming App is Now Available from the iPhone App Store

Just two weeks ago, Qik submitted their Qik Live app to the iPhone App store in hopes of finally getting the popular live mobile streaming application approved. Their wish came true just in time for the holidays when the app was finally approved and appeared in the App Store. Over the past few weeks, Apple has approved live video streaming apps on the iPhone in accordance to Apple’s screen capture API, with Knocking's Live mobile to mobile live video sharing application, Ustream's Live Broadcaster and Bambuser's iPhone app. Qik had been available on jailbroken iPhones for over a year, since but not as a legitimate iPhone app due to the structure of AT&T's terms of service which in fine print forbid live video streaming.

Then in July 2009, Apple launched HTTP Live Streaming standard in iPhone 3.0, which opened up the platform for streaming applications to iPhone or desktop computers, using an ordinary Web server. HTTP Live Streaming bundles RTSP (Real-Time Streaming Protocol) traffic into HTTP packets to get through most firewalls. Unlike progressive download, it streams live video by essentially breaking the overall stream into small HTTP-based file downloads, with alternate clips at various data rates to adjust to varying network bandwidth conditions. Earlier this month, Apple stated that HTTP Live Streaming is now required for for all applications which deliver streaming video. The current implementation supports H.264 Baseline Level 3.0 and AAC and MP3 stereo audio with data rates as low as 100 Kbps and as high as 1.6 Mbps to iPhone.

It was over two years ago that Qik first appeared as a private alpha in December 2007 and out
of Santa Clara, Calif.-based Visivo Communications. It became a popular live mobile streaming application for a growing list of 130+ supported handsets (including Android, iPhones (original, 3G, and 3GS - previously jailbroken only), BlackBerry, Nokia Symbian, many Windows Mobile devices, and J2ME devices. Qik launched into public beta on July 21, 2008 and now comes pre-loaded on the Nokia N97, Samsung Omnia II and other mobile devices. The new iPhone app, called Qik Live (version 4.40), works on all the iPhones (iPhone 2g, iPhone 3g, and iPhone 3gs) and on all networks (3G and WiFi) and is available from the App Store. Qik also just released a desktop app for live video sharing called, Qik-in-Touch, which is currently in private beta.

I conducted this "Qik" test of the new iPhone app on a iPhone 3G with a Nokia N95 using the newest version 1.0.25 of Qik in the following videos. While it's not a great testing environment, and may not be a fair comparison given the N95's Carl Zeiss lens and native video capability, I tried to match the subject matter and quality settings between the two devices. There is a significant difference in quality with the video frame rate and audio, with the Nokia handling both much better. There's a slight difference in color depth with the iPhone colors looking deeper. I listed the video profile below each video.

Nokia N95 video settings
Video codec: H.264, 320 x 240, Million
Audio: AAC, Mono, 44.100 kHz
Frames per second: 30 FPS 14.88 FPS (average)
Data rate: 333.45 kbits/s

iPhone 3G video settings
Video codec: H.264, 320 x 240, Million
Audio: AAC, Mono, 44.100 kHz
Frames per second: 3-12 FPS (average)
Data rate: 301.96 kbits/s

The iPhone frame rate is much lower and looks close to 3 frames per second. The audio has a narrowband quality and seems to be more compressed than the Nokia, and there's a considerable amount of latency between the audio and video, which causes a lip synch issue.

Now that Apple has opened up the floodgates to live streaming, expect to see a tremendous focus on mobile video applications over the next year. Both Qik and Ustream have already announced higher quality streams and recording capabilities, and continue to hone and integrate their products into other platforms as the currents of the live streaming grows stronger.

See my original Qik post from December 2007: It Looks Like the Revolution Will Be Televised