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October 2009 | Volume 12 / Number 10
Feature Story

Transcoding Tools Help Video Go Mobile

By: Paula Bernier (News - Alert)

Better, faster, cheaper. These three words describe what customers want no matter what product or business vertical is at issue. Transcoding for mobile video is no exception.

As video moves beyond our televisions and large-room videoconferencing systems and onto desktop computers, laptops and mobile devices, that content needs to be converted into the proper format for the endpoints on which it will be consumed. Companies like Multicast Media, RipCode and Telestream offer the tools to enable TV and movie studios, other content creators, post-production houses and network-based service providers to do just that – and to do it in a manner that takes into consideration the growing amount of video content to be processed and the timeline in which it needs to be handled.

“We’re in an age where video is proliferating not only in terms of the number of clips that are online but in the number of devices where this video can be viewed from,” says Steve Vonder Haar, research director of Interactive Media Strategies. “In this environment transcoding becomes hugely important in streamlining the process of making sure that your content reaches all the segments of the audience that you need to reach.”

Better

Brendon Mills, CEO and president of RipCode, says traditional transcoding has become a commodity, so his company offers a set of features and applications that allow for transcoding at wire speed and makes the process almost an autonomous network function.

Traditionally, transcoding entailed putting files into a batch server, “and they’re done when they’re done,” says Mills. But the volume of files and types of screens on which some RipCode customers want to present their content prevents them from doing transcoding offline, he says. So the company developed the RipCode TransAct Platform to allow for transcoding in a more transactional way, adding that customers have the option to do things like ad insertion and progressive download through its systems as well.


Faster

The need for speed is clearly growing in importance for Telestream customers, says

Anna Greco, director of product marketing and business development for the company, which provides both hardware- and software-based transcoding solutions to such customers as AT&T, the BBC, Ericsson (News - Alert) and MobiTV.

Greco says customers want to do more, and they want to process it faster. Of course, employing faster and more CPUs helps with that, she says, but it’s also important to optimize transcoding applications so they can take advantage of that added horsepower. Telestream’s Episode Encoder has a “split-and-stitch” capability, which divides a file into pieces to allow many servers to work on one file simultaneously. According to Greco, this feature is an important differentiator for the company.

Adds Greco, one aspect of mobile that makes it a bit different than other transcoding applications is the sheer number of endpoints for which content conversion may be required. She says Telestream has seen a significant increase in demand for mobile transcoding, and the number of platforms involved is “mind boggling.”

Cheaper

While most of the players in mobile video transcoding offer solutions for sale or license, the space is also beginning to see some software-as-a-service-based offers.

Multicast Media provides its solution exclusively through the SaaS (News - Alert) model.

“SaaS is the lightest when it comes to engagement,” says Jim Byrne, vice president of solutions engineering at Multicast Media.

One alternative to using the SaaS model is for a business or other organization to use software on the desktop through a license deal, says Byrne, but that requires patches and updates, and limited throughput for processing bulk files. It can also entail a lot of training.

A second option is to use a transcoding appliance, which means the customer has to purchase and maintain a box. That means the customer should have knowledge about connectivity and appliance optimization. According to Byrne, the biggest downsides to the appliance model for customers are scaling problems and cost.

Telestream’s Greco says while she’s seen a bit of interest from customers in the SaaS model, it’s been very limited. And while Telestream keeps an eye on where the market is headed, she says the company has no plans to embrace the SaaS model.

One problem with the SaaS model, from Greco’s perspective, is the time involved in sending massive video files across the Internet to the SaaS provider. Another sticking point, she continues, is some content is proprietary, so content owners may not be comfortable with it traversing the Internet before it’s completely processed.

Whatever the model, however, it looks like the demand for mobile video transcoding will continue its ascent given the strong interest in online and social videos; new, higher-data-rate mobile networks coming online; and the introduction of a video camera on the iPhone (News - Alert). IT

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