ABC plans to be the first major network to stream high-definition video online. It is using a new video system from Disney-backed Move Networks that offers a step change in the quality of streaming video on the web. Its Quantum Streaming technology represents something of a broadband breakthrough.

From July the ABC broadband player will feature full-length episodes of popular series Lost, Desperate Housewives, Grey’s Anatomy and Ugly Betty in 1280×720 resolution. More high-definition programming will follow with the new season in September.

“We are excited to be the first in the industry to stream HD video on the web, providing users with an unprecedented online viewing experience,” said Anne Sweeney, the president of Disney-ABC Television Group.

While downloading high-definition video files from the web is nothing new, streaming video online at this quality presents much more of a technical challenge.

Move Networks
Earlier this year, ABC began using a new streaming system from Move Networks which is designed to offer an improved viewing experience. The same system will be used for high-definition programming.

The Move Networks system uses the same On2 Technologies video compression scheme as the Flash format previously used by ABC. It requires a small player application to be downloaded. The player automatically upshifts and downshifts stream quality based on network conditions but aims to avoid buffering delays.

Video is streamed at an adaptive rate from standard web servers, rather than specialized media servers, using the same HTTP protocol employed for standard web pages.

The video stream is broken up into short fragments using a patent pending protocol and approach Move Networks calls Quantum Streaming which aims to avoid the negative effects of internet congestion and packet loss.

ABC is mainly offering pre-recorded episodic programming, but Move Networks also supports live streaming. The player allows viewers to pause live broadcasts, rewind and review, rather like a personal video recorder. Viewers can also join an ongoing live broadcast and optionally begin viewing form the beginning of a programme.

The segmented nature of the video also potentially allows users to make playlists that play back seamlessly, insert extracts in web pages, or share clips with other users, rights permitting. The Move Networks solution provides support for digital rights management for content security.

Streaming samples seen by informitv at rates between 0.8 and 2Mbps are certainly very impressive, even on a wireless network on the other side of the world. While technically high-definition resolution, the quality of the video is unlikely to be comparable to high-definition on satellite, terrestrial or cable television.

The ABC site is already streaming at up to 1.5Mbps, so the move to high definition format is an incremental step in quality.

Nevertheless, the move to high-definition format raises the bar for broadband video. It marks a watershed in the quality of experience that can be delivered in online video.

Move Networks is based in Utah. Earlier this year it secured $11 million in venture capital funding led by Hummer Winblad Venture Partners and including Steamboat Ventures, the venture-capital arm of Disney.

Its software is also used by Fox and The CW network and says it is in discussions with all the major networks about its technology.

John Edwards, the chief executive of Move Networks was a former executive of companies including Novell. Many of the executive team started out as graduates of Brigham Young University founded and funded by the Mormon Church in Utah.