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2011 Editors' Picks for the Best in Streaming Video
What do the Apple iPad, BitTorrent, and the Roku XDS have in common? They're all winners in our book.
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Viewed from the outside, 2010 was the best year yet for online video, with all the relevant numbers—of time spent viewing, of advertising dollars spent, of compelling new content offerings—going in the right direction. But viewed from the trenches, it was … well, let’s just say it was as if the industry was struck by that old Chinese curse (which is neither that old nor at all Chinese, but that’s another story): “May you live in interesting times.”

So when the Streaming Media editorial team sat down to come up with our annual Editors’ Picks, we were struck not only by the number of clear “must haves” (the iPad, anyone?) but more so by the fact that two technology concerns—the HTML5 <video> tag and Google’s introduction of WebM and subsequent partial rejection of H.264—overshadowed all else, and not necessarily for the better. Not necessarily for the worse either. But it’s still too soon to tell if HTML5 and the somewhat related fact that we’re living in a two-codec world will result in unprecedented innovation or will merely cause unprecedented headaches for technologists, content publishers, and hardware and software vendors.

Still, even though the iPad, HTML5, and WebM dominated the news, there were plenty of other advances in technology that deserve praise without reservation. So here are the 2010 Streaming Media Editors’ Picks—the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Adobe Mercury Playback Engine

Adobe Mercury Playback EngineWhile not a stand-alone product that you can buy outside of the Adobe Premiere Pro/Adobe Media Encoder bundle, the Mercury Playback Engine from Adobe will make life so much easier for those chained to the edit suite desk. It currently has limited functionality on laptops. But for desktop machines equipped with specific NVIDIA graphics cards, Mercury will use the GPU to allow real-time playback of up to four streams of native RED files. It will also speed up transcoding times when the edit is complete—or if you just have a few files you want to throw at Adobe Media Encoder. Hopefully this same feature will arrive in Adobe After Effects in the near future. 

—Tim Siglin

Apple iPad

Apple iPadSometimes, Apple lives up to even its own hype, and the iPad is perhaps the most revolutionary device the company has ever produced. Taking the app-based approach that Apple first introduced with the iPhone and pushing it even further, the iPad fundamentally changed the way that people consume media. More importantly, it’s changed the way that content publishers deliver media. Not just video services like Netflix, either; the apps from newspapers such as The Wall Street Journal, magazines such as Wired, and aggregators such as The Huffington Post integrate video seamlessly into their mostly text content for the closest thing you can get to an immersive experience on a device that you hold in your hands.

—Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen

BitTorrent

At the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, BitTorrent began unveiling a major change to the file-sharing platform. Dubbed Project Chrysalis, it radically changes the BitTorrent interface, simplifying or removing the more techie elements and focusing instead on presenting a simple app-based approach. Users can tap apps to discover a catalog of promoted content, or they can use a standard torrent search to find other available files. Once content is downloaded, users will be able to play it within the application. Project Chrysalis will also offer a rating feature and integration with social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. For content owners, it will deliver opportunities for selling content, a BitTorrent first. But that’s only one part of BitTorrent’s plans. It’s also creating a home ecosystem, where content downloaded on BitTorrent can easily be sent to a compatible television or mobile device. For content providers, Project Chrysalis represents the best way yet to harness the power of BitTorrent’s peer-to-peer streaming. With home networking and the ability to sell content, it could make a huge splash when it’s finally released.

—Troy Dreier

BitTorrent

Elemental Live

One year after the company showed off its file-based transcoding system, Elemental Server, the company is back with its GPU-based live encoding solution named, aptly, Elemental Live. In tests done in mid- to late 2010, the Elemental Live solution was able to handle a sizable number of profiles—from IPTV to mobile to web—on a single unit so well that it sets a standard for digital signal processing and general purpose computing-based encoding systems to match. 

—Tim Siglin

Elemental Live

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