Viewing the Web Browser as an Opportunity Not a Threat

31/05/2017 James Westland Cain, Ph.D, Snell Advanced Media

Multiple screen images


In this paper, the author will paint a picture of where the internet based viewing experience could be taken. He will start with a deeply technical analysis of the progress and changes in modern web browsers. He will go on to analyse the technology deployed in data-centres and the databases built by social networking. This will build into a vision of what can be imagined by innovative use of modern technology; if the process of production is allowed to combine with the technology of distribution in an unfettered way. The paper concludes with a depiction of what we now should be able to build – though to the author’s knowledge no one has yet done so. It’s inevitable that the opportunity being offered by the browser as a platform and the infrastructure offered by the internet will change the viewing experience – in ways beyond this generation’s imagination – but that doesn’t stop us trying, does it?


In Southern England, when it snows, chaos reigns.

Road transport grinds to a halt and all the local TV channels start broadcasting, using rolling text on strap lines, the names of the hundreds of schools in the area that have shut for the day. TV needs to modernise; the tailored TV of the future would tell me that my family’s school has shut, not other peoples’.

Tailored TV supports creative innovation. The murderer in a crime drama opens Facebook to choose their next victim, and it’s your profile that they’re looking at; then your phone rings!

Tailored TV supports disability. By allowing a user’s profile to influence how audio is mixed, users with hearing impairments
can have a tailored sound mix that reduces the impact of background noise or music that can obscure speech.

More commercially, tailored TV will allow tailored advertising. Not only temporal advertising, where the advert breaks interrupt the entertainment, annoying the viewer, but spatial advertising, where blue screen techniques & alpha channel maths can be used to combine the tailored advertising into the billboards in a sports ground.

More technically, our television distribution systems have historically demanded a destructive production process where all source essence is rendered flat into a linear stream, destroying all the part / whole relationships and the ingredients used in the recipe that makes the production. A truly web based video distribution system would no longer require these lossy processes, as the edge device can compose all parts into a unified whole.

These innovations can only be achieved using a browser based viewing device. The browser enables two things that support this specialisation: profiling – knowing who is watching; and rendering at the edge – exploiting the compute resource in the device in the viewer’s hand or living room – supporting massive scale and distribution.

The first part of this is starting to happen, with large data centre computers rendering streams of footage for particular groups of viewers – tailoring the results by having a knowledge of who’s viewing. Rendering in the data centre does not work at scale, as each unique stream needs storing separately in the CDN, defeating the benefit of caching required to scale. Rendering at the edge is a pre-requisite for the TV of the future, as this is the only way to allow millions of viewers to each have their own experience – exploiting millions of devices.

This paper will detail how this revolution can take place, and explain what parts of the puzzle are ready and what needs to change for the TV of the 21st century to emerge.