Recently, one of the highlights has been the entry of a new (and relatively large) player in the business of broadcasting boxing. So far, Epix has streamed numerous fights that otherwise would have gone unaired in the United States. However, their online has had multiple complaints about their service and remains a work in progress. Why is it they have had tremendous difficulties when airing fights? Epix has an impressive movie collection and a functional website, and they promised an exciting way for boxing fans to do what they love: just watch fights. Hardcore fans are familiar with Internet streams, and frequently must resort to them to watch fights from around the world from places such as Japan or Mexico. A legitimate and legal website that can air fights is something that no doubt excited many fight fans. Not only would the stream be legal, but the quality of the video is vastly superior. Fans have been used to being able to watch streams online or watch videos on websites such as Youtube, but suddenly run into issues with using Epix, leading to many complaints about their service.
The first reason that this is the case is that the video quality is too good. Online streams can vary in the amount of data sent to view the video, but they are all generally under 400 kilobytes per second. A standard Youtube video can run normally at under 500 kilobytes per second (under 700 for "HQ" videos). Epix streams their movies and fights at a rate of about 3,000 - 3,200 kilobytes per second. This equals about 3 megabytes of data per second that is being sent from Epix servers to your computer, which is well over the requirement for Youtube. Youtube also has the advantage of being able to download the entire video so that even if the connection weakens for a second, most of the video has already been downloaded anyways. Live streams do not have this luxury as it is difficult to download the future. Streams usually download data in intervals, meaning that the user downloads about certain amount of data at a time. For example, if a stream downloads at 10 second intervals, after every 10 seconds of action, the computer must contact the server again to download another 10 seconds of high quality (and data intensive) video. Even on broadband/cable networks, the amount of data being sent can be too much and cause the stream to not work or to be inconsistent. This problem would increase if the user is using any additional programs that require the Internet or if the user is on a wireless router. Now, this presents a problem for Epix. They are clearly trying to create a brand of only the highest quality streams. An executive at Epix would likely not be happy to hear someone mention that, "I saw a fight online at Epix, but the quality was nothing special." They want people to know that their service only provides the highest quality viewing. With that being said, "I could not watch the fight on Epix because the stream did not work" is not the best representation of the brand either.
A second issue is the difficulty of having enough servers to process all of the requests for data. As we have already discussed, a lot of data is being transferred around the world to try to view the fights. There are no "super servers" that can handle an infinite amount of data processing, and servers do cost money to operate and maintain. Epix likely does not have a tremendous amount of extra server space as they are a relatively new company with a small customer base (and low demand) at the moment. When it comes to fight time, Epix must rent server capacity from other companies. This adds expenses to the company for a service that may not add any additional income since there is no advertising income. Instead they have to hope that people are enticed by the high quality stream to subscribe to their service. Of course, there is no certainty of this, and so the company must attempt to justify spending money for something that may generate no return. The issue is that if someone is attempting to rent server capacity at the last minute, the companies with the extra space have significant leverage, and can charge an arm and a leg (and money) for the space, as they know Epix needs the servers immediately. On the other hand, once they purchase server space for a certain amount of time, they cannot return it should the demand for data not match the capacity. It suits the company well to have the exact server capacity to meet demand. However, with the kind of service they have provided, there is very little knowledge of the demand for the fights.
Of course, there can be issues that do not deal with Epix itself, but rather the individual users. The video quality on the streams is superb when the viewer is able to connect with the servers. However, once again, the quality may just be too good. Old computers may have graphics cards that simply cannot handle the quality of the stream. Many computers use an integrated graphics card. An integrated graphics card uses memory the computer uses for other tasks. If other tasks take up too much memory, the graphics card slows itself down so the laptop ran run the other tasks. If the graphics card cannot handle the stream, it could potentially just prevent the stream from running at all. Yet another issue that Epix has no control over is the Internet capabilities of its users. Anyone trying to connect to the stream on a 56K modem will fail spectacularly. There are various other reasons why the viewer’s Internet capabilities are not up to the standard of Epix streams, including an overcrowded network or using a wireless router (and having multiple users on this router).
This is all not to say that Epix shoulders no blame when streaming. One easy solution is to simply decrease the quality on the stream. Your options on the stream are "Variable/Seamless" or "Maximum/Locked". Variable changes the quality to match your current Internet connection, but can cause your stream to change quality frequently even if your Internet connection is top notch. The functionality of this can be questionable as the program will continue to aim to stream at the highest quality. Maximum/Locked only accepts the stream quality at its best. Sometimes your router cannot process the next 10 seconds of data at its peak, causing a stuttering stream. If there were an option to lock the stream at "Good Quality" (900 kilobytes per second), users would be able to reduce the strain on Epix and their own network while being able to enjoy the fight at a decent quality (better than the normal streams we are used to watching). However, one can understand that they do not want to damage their brand by not having the top quality stream. One possible way to work around this is to put the on an "Epix Light" website. This may prevent harm to the brand’s image as this is clearly for a lower quality stream that the full version of their programming. Another solution to the Epix streams is to ascertain if viewers can access their high quality streams. This can be done by a simple speed test to see if the user can handle the amount of data being sent. They could also show users how to view their graphics card information and if that card can handle the stream. If the user fails either of these tests, the site can just put a warning on there that the stream will not work correctly.
As Epix has more data on the true demand for fights online, they will get better at renting server space and resolving any technical issues that arise during periods of increased demand during fight time. What Epix is doing is something special and unique, and as with any innovation, there are growing pains in starting. One thing is for sure: they have bought fights and made them accessible to a wide audience that would otherwise have been more difficult to view. We can only hope that they continue to bring more action to our screens and that there is continued progress in ensuring quality viewing for boxing fans.
Quick tips to optimize streams:
1. Run a Internet speed test (such as http://www.speakeasy.net/speedtest) Recommended speed is at least 5-6 megabytes per second. Minimum speed should probably be around 3 megabytes per second.
2. If possible, connect directly to your router. Reduce the number of people using your router. Reduce the number of other activities you are doing that uses the Internet.
3. Update your graphics card drivers from the graphics card manufacturer (viruses can be a pain to clean).
4. If you have an integrated graphics card, reduce your amount of open programs when viewing the stream.
5. The Bad Left Hook live boxing coverage should not take up too much memory/Internet usage, so you can be on here without many issues.