MPEG-DASH vs. HLS: Which One Should You Use?

Years ago, the only option for video on demand was Adobe Flash, but this technology is no longer appropriate or secure for viewers. Now, content publishers have several options when they choose a format. The two main contenders for video (including live streaming) are MPEG-DASH and HLS (HTTP Live Streaming). Here’s some information to help you decide the right choice for your next video content.

HLS

HLS was originally created by Apple to provide video for its iPhone, but now it’s a common format used across HTML5 web applications. You’ll need to encode your video with H.264 or HEVC/H.265 codecs, which can be decoded by any major browser.

With this streaming option, the video is chipped up into 10 second intervals and sent to the user requesting content. With video on demand (VOD), the latency delay is 45 seconds, but with live streaming it’s as short as 10 seconds.

One main advantage of HLS is that it adapts to the user’s bandwidth. Low bandwidth users will receive lower quality video to avoid choppy play. Users with faster Internet speeds can watch high definition video with little delay and interruption. This change is also dynamic, so should a user with high bandwidth move to a location with low speed, the video will adapt until the user returns to higher bandwidth locations.

MPEG-DASH

MPEG-DASH is the latest HLS competitor. It was originally created to be an alternative to HLS. It has a few advantages over HLS. First, it’s open-source, which means the media content publisher community as a whole can contribute to its changes and updates.

This streaming option is globally supported and codec agnostic, which means that you can encode video in most ways and deliver it to your viewers without worrying about codec support (except macOS, see below). It has lower latency and supports publishers that use ads in their video.

Compared with HLS, MPEG-DASH is also dynamically adaptive to the end-user’s bandwidth speed. Lower bandwidth users will have low quality video delivered, but once they move to a place with higher bandwidth and faster data transfer speeds, video can be upgraded while watching to HD quality.

Which One Should You Choose?

Some claim that MPEG-DASH is the way to go because it’s the newest technology on the market.  Both technologies are dynamic and adaptive to user speeds. Originally, MPEG-DASH only supported 4k video, but HLS recently had 4k support added to it. Because they are main competitors and capture the biggest audience, the two technologies have most of the market. There isn’t a huge difference between the two except for one major factor: support.

Apple is infamous for only supporting its propriety software, and this is another one of those moments. Safari supports HLS but not MPEG-DASH, so using MPEG-DASH would require macOS and iOS users to run another browser. Since Safari is embedded and widely used by millions of Apple users, the better choice is HLS. Since HLS is supported by other browsers, a publisher can offer video for all users rather than a subset.

In addition to choosing the right technology, don’t forget that integrating a CDN into an application can also improve speed and quality. A CDN distributes delivery across several data centers and edge servers that store the content in cached resources. Combining HLS streaming with CDN integration will improve performance and ensure the best user experience.

 

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How CDNs Facilitate Faster HTTP Live Streaming

If you’ve ever accessed your favorite video and slow streaming ruined the experience, it’s probably because the site you browsed doesn’t have a CDN configured. CDNs increase performance and stop the choppy, slow videos users hate. HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) is the next generation of live streaming video offered on media platforms. It’s a faster, more convenient way for content providers to deliver media, but without a CDN user experience can ruin a content provider’s subscriber interest.

Where HLS Started

HLS was originally created by Apple to stream media to its iPhone and iPad devices. These devices originally didn’t support Flash content, which was common around the Internet. Apple needed a way to stream media to mobile devices, so it came up with HLS. What was once only supported by Apple, HLS is now supported across multiple devices including Android.

HLS works by breaking up video into ten-second parts and sends it to the viewer. By breaking up video content, performance is increased especially for people with low bandwidth capabilities. In addition to breaking up content into ten-second chunks, HLS allows the viewer to watch with different encoded material and data rates. The viewer’s browser can detect slower bandwidth speeds and reduce quality dynamically. When faster speeds are detected, the browser can then increase quality for higher resolution.

Content Delivery Networks and Better HLS Quality

HLS supports live streaming and video on demand (VOD). Content quality is automatically increased or decreased based on streaming bandwidth, and this speed factor can be improved with a CDN. A CDN increases bandwidth at the server location, but it also gives content providers a broader presence across the globe using strategically placed data centers.

CDN.net has global PoP locations in 131 locations and in 88 cities. Its locations cover 40 countries, which will improve performance just from being closer to the viewer. By configuring a CDN with media publishers, the content creator can improve speed by distributing requests and streaming servers and serving content much closer to the viewer’s location rather than sending responses to requests from one origin server.

Bottlenecks are a thing of the past for content providers. CDNs provide high gigabit capacity. CDN.net offers 2000 gigabit capacity, which means the content provider can scale up as more media is published and user traffic increases. Should an unusual traffic spike happen where an extraordinary amount of traffic is sent to the site, a CDN is able to handle the traffic without performance degradation or choppy streaming. Eliminating both of these factors will keep users coming back to watch videos as user experience is improved.

In addition to performance, CDNs provide an added level of site availability should an origin server fail. CDNs cache data on local servers, so the data is available at the cached location instead of users experiencing downtime. It can be useful during site maintenance and upgrades when the site has a planned outage temporarily.

For any media publisher, CDNs are a must. An origin server could have potentially thousands of viewers in one day, and this kind of traffic can take a huge load on the server resources. CDNs distribute the traffic and load across numerous servers with cached content, which is faster than traditional dynamic data. Get started with CDN.net and provide viewers with the best HLS video experience possible.

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Replacing Adobe Flash with HLS Protocols

For years, Adobe Flash was the de facto protocol for streaming online content, but the software has fallen victim to several critical vulnerabilities. In 2016, a critical vulnerability in Adobe Flash allowed attackers to take over a user’s computer.  In the aftermath, users and big browser developers lost trust in Flash and took strides to protect from an application with multiple vulnerabilities. Chrome disables Flash by default, and most users are told to avoid enabling Flash unless it’s absolutely necessary. The 2016 debacle led to a push to find a better way to stream video, and HLS (HTTP Live Streaming) was the answer.

What is HLS?

The release and acceptance of HTML5 introduced several tools that replaced old technology. HTML5 has animation and video tools directly built into its structure. Before HTML5, browsers needed third-party applications to play video, but with HTML5 content providers and developers can work directly with the language to stream video or display animation.

HLS chops MP4 content into ten-second segments and streams content to a user’s browser with only 15-30 second delays. Quality can be determined by the developer who can store content with different settings to cater to viewers with slower Internet speeds. HLS even detects Internet speed on the user’s browser and will lower quality to avoid choppy video when the user’s Internet speed slows. The change in quality is invisible to the user other than noticing that images are high resolution. Once speeds get better, quality reverts to the original high-resolution stream.

Several other streaming protocols are available, but HLS has become the most prevalent for content creators since it requires no additional software and works with any major browser. It’s easy for content creators to publish video since HLS works with the common MP4 video format.

Using a CDN to Speed Up Streaming

Content creators that don’t provide fast streaming service risk losing viewership, and a CDN can be a game changer. Video is notoriously slow if the content creator doesn’t take steps to ensure that there is plenty of bandwidth and resources on the host. Instead of paying for expensive hosting, a content creator can instead host video streaming on a CDN at a very low cost.

With a CDN configured, a content creator no longer needs to have high bandwidth and resources on one server. Content streams from CDN edge servers, which are strategically located in populated areas of the world. When a user makes a request for a stream, the request is served by the CDN. With streaming content located closer to the viewer, speed is immediately improved compared to content hosted at one location in thousands of miles from the viewer.

Content delivery is distributed with a CDN, so there are no more issues during any spikes in traffic should content go viral. A CDN can be a form of backup should the origin server crash as a CDN has a cached version of content. Content creators have numerous benefits that bring speed to video, and creators can harness the latest technology without paying for expensive equipment.

Using just one origin to host video is no longer enough. With potentially thousands of viewers across the globe, content creators need a better way to publish video without worry of poor performance. With a CDN, performance is never an issue.

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Avoiding Network Latency Using a CDN

Just a 100ms delay in a gamer’s experience can have a negative impact on gaming subscriptions. With this in mind, online game files continue to get larger and larger requiring fast bandwidth and server resources. Traditional online games had servers behind load balancers that handled user requests. For older, smaller games this type of infrastructure was feasible, but now online gaming requires much faster, distributed resources that only a CDN can offer.

How a CDN Works

Instead of pooling all gamer requests to one location, a content delivery network distributes requests across data centers. Requests are sent to the nearest data center based on the user’s location. CDNs might have several data center locations in the same region such as the west and east regions of the US.

Online gaming servers still push content to the CDN’s edge servers, but these edge servers are located in data centers and cache data. Cached data is processed and returned to the gaming request much faster than relying on traditional infrastructure to dynamically send data. Cached data keeps it in memory, so servers can quickly respond without waiting for drives and databases to search content and reply to a request.

For game developers first starting out, having a CDN offers the latest technology and infrastructure that most new developers can’t afford to deploy. These small indie game developers can harness the best in infrastructure for a low monthly cost instead of spending thousands on in-house equipment.

Lower Ping Times

Lowering ping times immediately speeds up a game’s performance and keeps gaming customers engaged. Latency is a game developer’s worst nightmare, and it can destroy a game’s popularity. Latency could also stem from the gamer’s poor Internet connection, but a gaming developer can avoid massive backlash from most players by offering everything possible to keep latency low.

Gamers use the term “ping times” which also reflects latency factors. Other factors can affect ping times. The gamer could be on a congested network. The gamer’s ISP could be having infrastructure issues. Even some cyber security attacks affect global Internet connectivity for entire countries. A gaming developer can’t control these factors, but infrastructure can be put into place to avoid being the main cause for slow gameplay.

In addition to lowering latency and ping times, having a CDN installed also improves availability and performance for expansions and patches deployed by the developer as an online game evolves. Boxed gaming developers can also use a CDN to deploy new gaming content where thousands of users would request DLC files at the same time. Since requests are distributed, these thousands of people will make requests to the closest data center.

As gaming files continue to grow, having a CDN is a must for any developer. Adding a CDN reduces latency and can even ensure that patches and updates are always available on the launch date. CDNs are super easy to configure and integrate well with any origin servers and infrastructure. It’s a cost effective way to keep gamers engaged and keep coming back for more play time.

 

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Adding an Affordable CDN to Your Infrastructure

In-house infrastructure can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, but the cloud has given even small businesses the opportunity to harness enterprise equipment. A CDN is a cost-effective way to add availability, integrity and security to infrastructure. Administrators can still support an in-house environment but adding a CDN to public-facing applications will improve speed and availability.

Improving Performance at a Low Cost

A cheap CDN can make a huge difference in the performance of your applications for several reasons. First, the business can leverage advanced infrastructure located within a CDN’s point of presence (PoP) data center locations. It’s expensive to keep hardware and applications up-to-date, but with a CDN performance is a main advantage at a low cost.

CDN infrastructure is maintained by data center employees, so the business doesn’t need to spend thousands in upgrades. Infrastructure in a CDN is some of the fastest equipment on the market, so it’s a speed boost for a business application.

When you choose a CDN, its PoP locations matter. These locations house edge servers where customer data is cached. PoPs are strategically placed on each continent so that the CDN can cater to any users around the globe. Although data transfer speeds are fast, bringing users closer to a content delivery server makes data transfer even faster.

Edge servers cache content from the main origin server. When you incorporate a CDN, the CDN’s edge server pulls data from the main application server located at the business host provider or in-house infrastructure. Content is pulled from main origin servers, stored on local CDN servers and cached. Cached content is delivered faster than if it must be processed and pulled from databases and returned to users.

Content Delivery and User Requests

Any public-facing application suffering from speed issues can benefit from a CDN. It’s simple to configure a CDN to work with a public web server, and the performance boost is immediate after the application is configured to work with the CDN.

When users request content, instead of sending the request to the origin server, the request is sent to the nearest CDN edge server. These edge servers are fast and cache content for quicker delivery. By distributing requests to different data centers, the application doesn’t suffer from performance issues during launch dates. When a new release is deployed, it’s not uncommon for a developer to see a large spike in Internet traffic. With a CDN, these requests are now distributed across several servers that manage traffic spikes using load balancers.

With users closer to edge servers, content delivery is much faster than should they request it from servers thousands of miles away. Combine closer geographic locations to users, cached content and advanced cloud equipment, a CDN always brings better performance to an application.

CDN costs are based on the amount of bandwidth and traffic you need, so costs scale with the popularity of the application. With scalable costs, a developer can improve performance while sticking to a strict IT budget.

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How Boxed Game DLC Content is Faster with a CDN

Although developers such as Steam create an open marketplace for digital downloads, some gamers still enjoy the thrill of having a boxed game delivered. Boxed games are more easily managed if you have space to store them, and you don’t need extra storage space on your computer. Storing games digitally can take terabytes of storage space, so boxed games have their advantages over downloads.

DLC and Boxed Games

Many big gaming developers release content that extends a game’s story. Downloadable content (DLC) can be several gigabytes, and it’s released on a certain date where gamers excited for the release will contact gaming servers immediately when it’s available. MMO gaming developers often have several patches and expansion packs released each year.

DLC content is often a good revenue generator for developers. With boxed games, gamers look for deluxe editions where they can get added extras and collectibles. Games with this kind of userbase often have a strong following, and gamers look for extended DLC content to keep playing. This type of content is what gives a game longevity and keeps gamers coming back for more.

CDNs and DLC Releases

For popular games, having one origin server that delivers DLC to gamers can be problematic. Even with load balancers and a web farm, gaming developers could find their servers crashing when thousands of gamers decide to download new content the day of release. Servers crash and gamers find another one to play. The result is a loss of userbase for the developer.

An alternative to possible release date crashes is to incorporate a CDN into infrastructure. With a CDN, the gaming developer harnesses the power of data centers and state-of-the-art infrastructure that’s fast and secure. A CDN caches content from the gaming developer’s origin server, so a user’s request is quickly processed, and the content sent.

The other major benefit of a CDN is point of presence (PoP) locations strategically placed across every continent. With servers closer to a user, DLC requests are faster compared to forcing users thousands of miles away to request content from one location. When a server and user are close, data transfers are faster.

Having a CDN also provides distributed DLC requests, so data centers across the globe process requests. Should the gaming developer’s origin server fail, the CDN’s edge servers are still available. CDNs also have their own failover infrastructure, so gaming developers have 100% uptime for their DLC.

Boxed games, digital downloads and any content that must be downloaded by gamers will always transfer faster. Providing a good user experience is imperative for a gaming developer, because gamers will easily and quickly turn to another subscription should a game have high ping times and slow performance.

CDN costs also scale with a game’s popularity, so even a gaming developer on a budget can integrate a CDN’s infrastructure. With a CDN, developers will immediately see performance improvements without adding expensive components to network design.

 

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Why a CDN Takes the Guesswork Out of Gaming Server Placement

Gaming developers have the unique responsibility of providing around-the-click lightning quick speed for gamers who will quickly leave a game should performance wane. Gamers don’t stick to a game for long if graphics are poor and ping times are too high. Gaming ping times determine user experience, and it’s one of the only industries in the development market that mean more than most other metrics. To reduce ping times, gaming developers must seriously consider the way they build infrastructure for their game’s launch.

Using CDNs in Gaming Infrastructure

In some infrastructure designs, the first idea is to build a powerhouse of servers and network appliances on-site. While this type of build could be sufficient for a game with small traffic and userbase, it won’t be sufficient for a global, worldwide audience with millions of gaming subscribers.

The alternative – and possibly more cost efficient – option is leveraging infrastructure of a CDN. A good CDN has data centers and point of presence (PoP) locations that cover the globe. These PoPs are strategically placed on each continent so that a CDN’s customers can support users from any country.

With a CDN, the gaming developer no longer needs to design infrastructure or find the right appliances. Finding the right performance infrastructure can be trial-and-error for developers who aren’t experienced with building the right gaming network. A CDN already has infrastructure designed, provisioned and tested so that a gaming developer doesn’t need to spend the money to find the right support.

How a CDN Speeds Up Gaming

A gaming developer starts with an origin server, and a CDN is configured to pull content from cached resources located on edge servers. Since these edge servers are located across the globe, the developer doesn’t need to find the right locations for content delivery.

When a gamer requests content, a CDN’s edge server within the closest geographic location responds. Since the content is cached and the server is closer than the developer’s origin server to the gamer, the content is delivered faster. This provides a good user experience for the gamer, and the developer can avoid complaints of high ping times from frustrated customers.

Ping times rely on the gamer’s network as well. If the gamer uses Wi-Fi or has a slow network connection, high ping times aren’t always avoidable. The gamer’s computer resources could also be the reason for poor game performance. Although the gaming developer can’t avoid these issues, they can ensure gamers that content is delivered as fast as possible from the gaming servers.

CDNs aren’t only for online games either. Boxed games that release downloadable content in the future can leverage CDNs on launch days. Instead of thousands of gamers attempting to download content from one location, you can distribute traffic across global data centers. This reduces the chance of slow downloads and crashed servers due to overworked resources.

Using a CDN for gaming infrastructure has numerous advantages, and it’s relatively inexpensive to get started. CDN costs scale with your game popularity, so a CDN can keep initial costs low during development and beta testing.

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Preventing Player Lag and High-Ping Times with a CDN

A developer’s player base can be a delicate asset especially when competitor games are similar. Gamers are demanding when it comes to their favorite MMO. High-ping times cause lag that then cause frustration. Players need quick response times to win, and they can’t win if they go up against another player with superior resources. It’s the gaming developer’s job to create infrastructure and software that’s optimized for the best player experience, and a CDN can relieve much of the overhead supporting users across the globe.

MMOs and Lag

Massive multi-player online games (MMOs) require infrastructure unlike a traditional public-facing web server. With some luck and marketing, an MMO can go from a userbase of only a few thousand to millions of players across the globe. Take Blizzard’s Warcraft MMO released in 2004.  At its high, Warcraft had 12 million subscribers. The game was a success, but in early years any expansion releases were plagued with extreme lag and long login wait times.

To combat wait times and lag, Blizzard changed its infrastructure including the addition of a CDN. Warcraft has subscribers all over the world, so leveraging data centers at key geographic locations distributed customer authentication and content delivery. Instead of users connecting to one central location, they downloaded content and authenticated with servers closer to their play station.

Fast Content Delivery and Lower Ping Times

Anyone who remembers the old Blizzard launch days knows that it could take hours to log into a server during initial release of an expansion. Mists of Pandaria was especially difficult for players due to the massive popularity of the new release. After spending hours waiting to log into a Warcraft server, players then had massive lag that created frustration. This frustration led to abandoning the game until traffic died down.

Blizzard could retain players even with laggy launch days, but new developers aren’t as lucky. Poor performance and gameplay lead to incredibly bad reviews from all of the popular critics including gamers. When word gets out that gaming performance is poor, a new game’s player base will dwindle. For this reason, good infrastructure is just as important as good code.

Gaming developers can avoid this critical mistake by adding a CD to infrastructure proactively in the design phase. CDNs are incredibly easy to integrate into current infrastructure, and performance is guaranteed to improve.

CDNs aren’t just for MMO developers either. They can improve speeds for boxed games when developers release new downloadable content for gamers to purchase. Instead of downloading from a central server, gamers can download new content from an CDN edge server that caches content. Cached content is pulled from the developer’s main origin server but cached for faster processing and delivery. Gamers get a faster download without waiting for others first.

Whether a gaming developer serves a few hundred users or several million, a CDN is guaranteed to improve performance with faster servers, data center locations, and cached content ready for transfer to gamers.

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How CDNs Make Augmented Reality Games Faster and Reliable

Augmented reality (AR) games are unique from other games due to the amount of dynamic content displayed to the user. Google Ingress and Pokemon Go are two examples of popular AR games that have millions of subscribers. These games display an overly in front of a GPS location view that shows the user game elements. These elements are dynamically created a long with the environment view, and without a CDN they can suffer from performance degradation easily.

Dynamic Content Delivered Across the Globe

AR games are in a class of their own. They aren’t fully virtual reality where the entire environment is computer generated. But they are more than just the GPS location and image from your location. These AR games are a combination of both virtual elements and actual reality elements.

When you look at an AR game, you see the image of your GPS location but a character displays over it. Pokemon Go looks more like the real geographic location image, but Google Ingress has much more digital overlays that make it look like a space environment. AR developers can place as many overlays as they need to make the game interesting.

Because these games are based on the user’s geographic location, content is constantly changing. Input is frequently sent to the main server, and output is sent back to the user’s device. These games also update data to users in the surrounding area.

Another issue AR developers face is that even if a user starts playing in one location does not mean this location is the player’s permanent location. Players move around, sometimes between continents. The game must be able to download content quickly if, for instance, a player got off a plane in a distant geographic location for the original play environment. This can be done with a CDN.

CDNs Speed Up AR Dynamic Downloads

Because of the constant data sent to and from the main AR game server, developers need a way to dynamically update content without ruining performance. With AR games, a cluster of users are found in big cities while fewer data requests would be found in small, rural towns. To distribute the load across servers, an AR game developer can leverage a CDN and its data centers.

CDNs cache data at data centers and deliver content based on the player’s location. The nearest edge server delivers the dynamic content and handles data requests as the user moves in the games augmented reality.

Even with users clustered in one location, a CDN has load balancers and failover to keep performance at its best during spikes in traffic. As the user moves, a CDN sends updated location data and overlays. Because of a CDN’s infrastructure, updates are fast keeping the player environment constantly updated without any skipping or lag.

Integrating a CDN into infrastructure scales with the game. Costs start low when the game is first released, and only increase as more users subscribe to the game. Even when a game is new, AR game developers should implement a CDN to keep performance high and avoid gaming lag.

 

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Questions Gaming Developers Should Ask a CDN Provider

Gaming performance is a primary concern for most developers. New gaming developers can have the best code and gameplay on the market, but without performance a game will lose its subscribers as soon as lag and high ping times are part of the experience. Poor game performance is a killer for any application, but for an online game it can mean the end of success. A CDN can alleviate many of the performance hurdles during launch and gameplay, but developers should do their research and ensure that the CDN can offer what’s needed in a successful, fast online game.

Can the CDN Handle a Traffic Surge?

Online games regularly experience huge traffic spikes during initial release or patch days. A gaming developer could potentially have thousands of subscribers request content from a server at the same time. Not only could there be high traffic spikes, but downloads are usually several gigabytes, which also puts a high load on servers.

A CDN provides infrastructure to handle these spikes in traffic including floods of packets due to a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack. Traditional origin servers can buckle when traffic exhausts resources and bandwidth limits.

Will a Traffic Surge Destroy Performance?

Because a CDN is mainly used for performance, gaming developers should look for a CDN that can handle traffic spikes without compromising performance. Online games that suffer performance issues are the first to lose subscribers, and word travels fast in the gaming community.

A CDN with a true global presence will be able to handle traffic spikes, because content is distributed and cached across edge servers. Gaming subscribers request content from the nearest data center within a geographic location. CDNs use data centers at precise locations to preserve performance whether it’s for a gamer close to the developer’s office or thousands of miles on another continent.

How is Pricing?

New gaming developers have a strict budget, and a CDN should provide the right pricing tiers to handle tight IT budgets. These prices should scale with the number of subscribers. Initially, the gaming developer has few subscribers, so pricing is low due to the small amount of bandwidth usage. As the game becomes more popular, a developer will have higher costs, but these costs also scale with the number of paying subscribers.

What about Security?

Any company that has an Internet presence should take cyber security precautions against attackers including gaming developers. To protect resources and customer data privacy, the gaming developer should use only a CDN that has the right security infrastructure in place.

The right CDN can withstand many of the current attacks including a DDoS, which is one of the most common attacks that flood services until servers crash and the game no longer functions. These attacks are difficult to detect, because there is no warning before the flood occurs. Developers that don’t have the right resources can’t stop the attack alone, but a CDN can help with defense and mitigation.

Any gaming developer that needs to support global clients should investigate CDN providers. Just ensure that the one you choose has the right resources, a global presence, and cyber security defenses.

 

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