Top 4th of July Sales Best Phones Under $500 Palmetto Solar Review Early Prime Day Deals 8 Budget Chromebooks 4th of July Sale at Best Buy Travel Must-Haves Under $50 Best Android VPNs

OctaneCloud AMI zooms past expectations, now free

Amazon Web Services' latest streaming success for games and apps, powered by the new JavaScript codec ORBX, becomes popular enough to drop from $99 to nada.

A comparison of ORBX and H.264 quality from an OTOY whitepaper demonstrating that ORBX can achieve less than half the bitrate of H.264 for comparable quality.
Screenshot by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET

That was fast.

An unexpected surge in interest in the "future of streaming" -- OTOY's new OctaneCloud app and game streaming service that launched last month -- led the company on Wednesday to extend its free trial indefinitely.

"We were expecting to get a few hundred customers in a year, and we got 500 in the first month," OTOY's CEO Jules Urbach said. "The last time [Amazon] launched one of these services they got 500 [customers] in a year."

Hosted by Amazon Web Services (AWS), OctaneCloud streams core Autodesk applications such as 3DS Max, Maya, Revit, and Inventor to modern, HTML5-powered Web browsers, fueled by the new JavaScript codec ORBX.js. Instead of charging $99 for each Amazon Machine Instance (AMI), the service will be free "forever" to avoid having the price tag stifle interest.

"Every week we're seeing thousands of hours of usage from these streams. We weren't expecting this response," said Urbach.

Of the first 500 OctaneCloud customers, slightly more than half used Autodesk programs, while the others split between cloud gaming and Windows and Linux desktops as a service, he said. OTOY won't be taking a loss on ORBX.js development costs, Urbach predicted, because the company charges for high-end rendering with OctaneRender, on top of the virtual machines it offers. ORBX was co-developed by OTOY, Autodesk, and Mozilla, home of Firefox, as a way to achieve 1080p60 streaming with HTML5, bypassing the problems associated with browser-specific video codecs, native code, and plugins.

Brendan Eich, Mozilla's chief technical officer and inventor of JavaScript, was pleased with the initial success, but said that ORBX has a long road ahead of it.

"This is a long, multistep mission. If you look ahead, we'll have ways of programming the GPU [graphics processor] safely without buffer overruns," he said. "That's important for the encoder side. It's doing an incredible job on the decoder side, even on an iPhone 4S that I saw back in May."

Urbach noted that Amazon added strong security on the ORBX and OctaneCloud AMIs, "so we've had to walk the customers through that," he said.

Coming plans for ORBX include finishing the second version of the codec and open sourcing it on GitHub by the middle of 2014 to encourage development. It will leverage the second iteration of WebGL, also due next summer, for faster decoding, a carrot to entice Hollywood studios to start experimenting with using the codec for distribution.

"Two major movie studios are looking at ORBX for watermarking streams," Urbach said.

Watermarked video on demand would present an attractive alternative to video encoded with DRM, while the planned free downloadable encoder and live-streaming Websocket library would allow ORBX-fueled P2P screen-sharing. Combine the encoder with the hosted version of ORBX on AWS, and you've got a free mesh network for cloud and P2P streaming.

Also in the cards is a workaround on the Mac restriction. Apple, Urbach said, doesn't allow companies to host OSX and in the cloud. His goal: get OctaneCloud onto as many platforms as possible. It's possible that you might only need one program on your phone or desktop in the near future: a browser that supports ORBX.

Correction, 10:40 a.m. PT: This story initially misquoted OTOY's Jules Urbach and has been updated to clarify that Amazon added security measures to the OctaneCloud AMI.