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Transforming Transcoders for Multiscreen Delivery

Harmonic ProMedia Capture

HAMILTON, N.J.—As the broadcast industry’s need for transcoding grows exponentially, end users struggle to keep pace and vendors face the daunting challenge of continually expanding their transcoding capacity to keep up with industry demands.

Within a decade, transcoders have adopted multistream architectures capable of processing a scalable number of media streams in an ever-broader array of video formats, media wrappers, streaming codecs, and more. Many tasks like editing, asset management, and news production depend heavily on transcoding.

This arduous R&D is fueled by file-based workflows that prepare, repurpose, and distribute media content via many channels, including DTV, VOD, webcasting, tablets and smartphones. For end users, setting up and running enterprise transcoding farms and networks at a facility can be extremely costly and complex, requiring substantial capital investment and IT expertise. With the rapid, almost frenetic pace of growth and change, vendors and end-users are looking for better, more efficient transcoding solutions to help get a handle on this vitally important part of the broadcast workflow.

In 2006, Front Porch Digital stopped developing its own transcoding software to complement its DIVArchive Content Storage Management (CSM) system. “We decided to discontinue our own transcoding development because it was very difficult to keep up with all the different formats, flavors, wrappers, and resolutions,” said Brian Campanotti, chief technical officer for Front Porch Digital in Louisville, Colo.

“Instead we partnered with Telestream to integrate their transcoding technology in DIVArchive as well as our new Lynx cloud-based CSM,” said Campanotti. “Our Lynx customers pay for transcoding on a transactional basis, so rather than a capital expense to implement it within their facility, it’s an operating expense and less technically demanding on them. The cloud-based service also scales up easily to meet peak demand.”

At Telestream, where the core competence is transcoding, staying on the cutting edge requires continual R&D. When its popular Flip Factory began to feel its age, Telestream launched a next-gen transcoding platform called Vantage.

“With transcoding, there’s always a tradeoff between quality and speed, where you must spend more time to get better quality,” said Jim Duval, director of new products and strategy for Telestream, in Nevada City, Calif. “With Vantage, we made that tradeoff less obvious because end users can get better quality in far less time than before due to advanced parallel processing. Today’s multiscreen distribution environment also requires a powerful system administration layer to prioritize jobs and ensure sufficient capacity as well as seamless interface with automation systems.”

While Elemental Technologies is a relative newcomer, top media companies, including ABC News, PBS, and the NBA have adopted its technology. HBO uses Elemental Server for file-based transcoding to deliver HBO shows to online and mobile screens via its “HBO Go” service, while ESPN uses it for its ESPN Score Center App that sends sports clips to iPhones, iPads and other mobile devices. Comcast also uses Elemental Server to transcode video for on-demand delivery via its and the Xfinity TV app serving iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch mobile devices.
Elemental Technologies servers
“We’re able to preserve image quality, and readily scale our products to meet market demands because we write all our software in-house,” said Keith Wymbs, vice president of marketing for the Portland, Ore.-based company. “Our systems can process multiple video streams simultaneously by supplementing CPU processing with the parallel processing power of Nvidia graphics processing units [GPUs].” Elemental Server is a file-based video processing system that performs faster than realtime format conversion, while Elemental Live performs real-time content conversion for live streaming to new media platforms.

At IBC 2012, the company unveiled Elemental Cloud, a purpose-built platform for securely managing high-volume, enterprise-class video solutions on Amazon Web Services (AWS), and Elemental Server Cloud Edition (CE), a file-based solution for high-speed, multi-format video conversion in the cloud.

“By controlling the ‘software stack’ in-house, we’re able to respond quickly to changing market trends, such as solutions for high-speed, multiformat video conversion in the cloud,” Wymbs said.

CLOUD ADVANTAGES In today’s dynamic broadcasting business, it may be difficult to predict how much content you will need to transcode. Mark Darlow, senior portfolio product manager, Automation and Digital Asset Management at Harris Broadcast Communications, suggests that buying a transcoder and then supplementing that with a cloud-based transcoding service may make good business sense for certain media organizations.

“It’s all about capital investment versus operational investment and striking the right balance between the two,” said Darlow. “If the transcoding volume tends to fluctuate, facilities can invest in a basic level of transcoding at their facilities and then turn to cloud-based services to manage surges in volume.”

For example, if a media organization offers a VOD movie service, the need for transcoding movies might surge at the end of the month when content is prepared for the next month’s window. If the facility expands its transcoding to handle peak demand, there might be times where that equipment sits idle and the cost isn’t being offset by productivity. “Choose a company that offers the right transcoder for your facility as well as a cloud-based service based on the same technology for consistency,” Darlow said. 

With respect to the Harris Invenio asset management system, Darlow said the FIMS standard yet in development would make it easier for vendors like Harris to interface workflow components, like MAM and automation systems with third-party transcoders for a more efficient workflow.

Avid Interplay media services job statusENABLING EDITING WORKFLOW
At Avid Technology, transcoding can reside within the Avid system, such as the Media Composer for editing or Interplay Production for content creation, or it can be provided by a third party transcoder in the workflow—or a combination of the two.

“One of the key distinctions is whether the application is for realtime or non-realtime workflow,” said Jim Frantzreb, senior segment manager for broadcast at Avid in Burlington, Mass. “Since our Avid Interplay Production system is designed to support live and time-critical production environments, Avid offers its own realtime transcoding system as an integrated option to ensure that the entire workflow is optimized for speed and reliable for realtime production.”

Frantzreb adds that Avid Interplay MAM, which focuses on media asset management, is a wider ranging non-realtime environment where there is time to prepare, transcode, and finish content for distribution. “With that system, transcoding is handled by a third-party transcoder of the customer’s choosing,” he said.

Avid also incorporates its own native realtime transcoding within its editing systems so that clips dropped into the timeline are converted on the fly to the desired format, and the editor can just start editing with it. Frantzreb added that conversion into proxy or other user-determined formats for browsing or versions for review can be provided through Interplay or AirSpeed video servers.

New platforms such as smartphones and tablets, game consoles, OTT, YouTube and VOD, represent opportunities for stations to generate new revenue streams. Today’s multiscreen seachange means that the same content stations produce for air can be repurposed and delivered to a new audience, even viewers outside the coverage area. Besides reinforcing the station’s brand equity and credibility, program content can be prepared with new or different ads for greater revenue.

According to Moore Macauley, director of product line management for converged video platforms at Harmonic, “Broadcasters need to take advantage of these new marketing opportunities. But to do so, they need enabling technology that complements their existing workflow while managing the repurposing and delivery of content to new platforms in a simplified, cost-effective manner.”

Harmonic’s ProMedia suite of products, such as ProMedia Capture, ProMedia Carbon and ProMedia Origin, form a seamless, end-to-end workflow that handles transcoding at every stage of the broadcast workflow from ingest to playout. ProMedia Xpress then enables faster than real-time transcoding of broadcast quality video into codecs like H.264 for new distribution platforms.

“Stations don’t have to add personnel or greatly expand their plant to handle this new ‘fulfillment’ workflow,” Macauley said. “While the capital costs are small, this expanded workflow gives them practical tools to monetize their content and profit from today’s exciting new market opportunities.”

Dalet Digital Media Systems is another vendor that integrates its own transcoding engine within its MAM systems, such as Dalet Galaxy. “Integrated transcoding ensures that our MAM system users have immediate access to media, even while it is being ingested,” said Raoul Cospen, Dalet’s director of marketing.

“Also, low-res proxies are promptly created so they can begin browsing and editing video with virtually no delay. This immediacy is beneficial in breaking news situations,” Cospen added. “But our MAM systems also interface to third party transcoding products, from vendors like Harmonic and Telestream, which handle conversion of the media to the right formats for broadcast or distribution via the Internet, mobile, Playstation, and other platforms. When it comes to transcoders, our goal is to give our customers flexibility and choice and automate the technical tasks throughout the workflow.”