Transcoding vendors assess key investment criteria for operators including premises vs cloud; hardware vs software; and integration with MAM
Operators face a daunting task: there is a bewildering array of devices to which they are expected to deliver media in addition to their traditional broadcast outputs – ranging from smartphones to set-top boxes, to smart TVs, UHD TVs and beyond. This is a significant increase in operational complexity – but for several of these outlets, the monetisation model is not yet fully formed, so the additional complexity is not necessarily matched by a commensurate increase in revenue. In short, operators – the clients of transcoding kit vendors – have to do more work for not a lot more money.
It all boils down to invisibility for Bruce Devlin, chief media scientist at Dalet. Essentially, transcoding is becoming an enterprise-invisible business process, he says. It’s industrialised, and a modern transcoder not only has to deliver great output content, but also management interfaces and controls to allow the entire farm to be run in an almost invisible way. Devlin says operators need transcoding systems that can create all of the output formats that their new business model requires, but with a level of automation that allows them to do this without a huge increase in staff. “Automation not only allows operators to do more with their existing staff, but also allows the system to be self-monitoring, self-adjusting and in some cases self-correcting,” explains Paul Turner, VP enterprise product management, Telestream.
On-premise, cloud or hybrid?
One vital business decision is whether to adopt an on-premise, cloud-based, or a hybrid approach to the operation. Each has cost variables. “An operator with UHD master files transcoding for OTT will have a very different set of cost models to an operator who only transcodes SD content in-house for proxies,” outlines Devlin.
Hardware-based versus software-based encoding
The prevailing technology narrative across the industry is from dedicated hardware to software, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the encoding/transcoding field. Yet, the answer is not as simple as you’d think. Of course, opinions vary depending on the vendor’s software or hardware-based product. It can’t be doubted, though, that Moore’s law and the development of GPU assist has meant that standard computer platforms can now match, and in many cases exceed, the speed of their hardware counterparts.
Multi-platform consumption is causing an explosion in the one-to-many ratio of file-based workflows, resulting in a constantly increasing number of distribution derivatives from each master asset. Tight interaction with the asset management system is critical for a successful file-based transcoding workflow.
Telestream is focusing on the creation of VoD assets with support for DAI (Dynamic Ad Insertion) which, claims Turner, “is a direct monetisation play for our customers, allowing them to create VoD assets in such a way that they can be customised via DAI and therefore monetised.” This hasn’t been possible to date, as all of the necessary pieces weren’t in place. Harmonic is also showing improved ingest support for camera file formats to increase its reach into production workflows.
Ericsson is highlighting Virtualized Encoding, described as the industry’s first software solution for intelligent utilisation of multiple encoding resources (regardless of technology) and speaking more about this product in the context of TV Anywhere. Another key topic for the company at NAB is likely to be bandwidth efficiency and the effects of mezzanine links on compression performance. “We will show the considerable improvements this can have on broadcast distribution and delivery to the home, and set the scene for wider discussions on compression performance, and how it underlines everything that Ericsson does,”