2008 Streaming Media Editors' Picks
This article appears in the 2008 Streaming Media Industry Sourcebook, which is free with a subscription to Streaming Media magazine. Click here to register .
This is the fourth edition of the Streaming Media Editors’ Picks, our annual list of the most notable products and services of the last year, and it was harder than ever to settle on which of the multitude of new products—and improvements to familiar ones—merited a spot on the list. As usual, we polled all of our regular writers for their input, but unlike years past, there was nothing resembling a consensus on more than one of our eventual picks.
The funny thing was that that particular pick—Apple’s iPhone—is only partially a streaming media device; nonetheless, it was the one product that almost everyone agreed just had to be on the list, even if it’s as much for what it represents and portends for the future as it is for what it does now.
For the rest of our list, we had no hard and fast criteria, since "streaming media" is such a big tent these days. Rather, we tried to pick the best from a cross-section of entertainment and enterprise, deep technology and consumer gadget, and production and playback. So, without further ado (or equivocation), the 2007 Editors’ Picks.
Accordent Media Management System
Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? Accordent introduced its Media Management System in 2006, immediately boasting a roster of big-name customers like HP and JPMorganChase. In 2007, though, the system really came into its own, furthering the move toward enterprise video convergence in spring by announcing integration with Tandberg, Polycom, and other videoconferencing systems, and then again in the fall by adding support for the Tandberg Content Server and Flash presentations. Add to that more robust tracking and reporting capabilities, and you’ve got an enterprise powerhouse that just keeps getting better.
Adobe Media Player
Back in April 2007, I got a last-minute, late Friday afternoon briefing from Adobe (hastily called, no doubt, when word spread that Microsoft was going to unleash Silverlight at NAB) about the company’s new media player. It sounded so cool I decided to break the nondisclosure agreement I signed and tell my 17-year-old son about it (after telling him I’d have to kill him if he told his buddies or logged on to E*TRADE in search of Adobe shares). Like any self-respecting teenager, he’d whiled away countless hours watching stupid human tricks on YouTube but thought the fact that he couldn’t save Flash Video clips onto his hard drive was pretty lame. When I told him that Adobe Media Player would let him do just that, he responded with the ultimate teenage sign of approval: "Sweeeeeet."
Of course, letting teenagers do cool things doesn’t pay the bills, but I’d venture that content publishers and advertisers had much the same response when they found out that the AMP featured digital rights management and would let them collect metrics even when the content was viewed offline. And by taking the Flash Player experience up several notches, Adobe created a media playback environment that makes all other players look, well, pretty lame.
Is there anything left to say about the iPhone? Perhaps not, but that only proves the point that it’s quite simply the most revolutionary gadget to come down the technology pike since that other iThing was unveiled in late 2001. Except for downloading music directly from the iTunes store over Wi-Fi, the iPhone doesn’t actually do anything that other devices can’t. It just does those things—browsing the web, reading email, texting, checking voice mail, and yes, watching video—better than any of its competitors. All of which makes it possible to overlook its shortcomings, such as the fact that it doesn’t support Flash or Flash Video (its YouTube feature only plays back H.264, although despite Steve Jobs' insistence that Flash isn't robust enough, Adobe announced this week that they are, indeed, working on a version of it that'll be iPhone-compatible) and runs only on AT&T’s slow Edge network.
So it’s revolutionary, but it’s not perfect. But what it does better than any of its competitors is prove that yes, you can watch video on a hand-held device, and yes, it’s easy, and yes, it looks absolutely gorgeous. Apple has always known that, when it comes to technology, beauty is more than skin deep, and from the sleek, intuitive design to the video playback quality, the iPhone is a beaut.
If you’re still not a believer, we’d guess you’ve never actually used one. At the Streaming Media Europe show in London in October, one of our regular writers and resident skeptics was railing against the iPhone, bemoaning all of its faults. "I just don’t get why people are so crazy about it," he said. Then someone handed him one. He was speechless for a few seconds, after which a big smile came across his face and he said, simply, "Oh, I get it."
I get as sick of "year of … " statements—as in, "2007 was the year of HD," "2008 will be the year of mobile video"—as anybody. That said, it’s a pretty good bet that as we look back on 2007 in years to come, we’ll see the emergence of H.264 as the closest thing to a standard as the online video world is likely to agree upon (the "format of convergence," as Digital Fountain’s Charlie Oppenheimer called it). Which means that, from a mass-market standpoint, it’s the one video format that consumers most often find themselves wanting or needing to use on their various devices. This ingenious little device from Elgato, which also makes the equally impressive EyeTV video converter/TV tuner boxes, puts hardware encoding in a tiny USB drive. Not only does that take the encoding load off of the CPU (Mac-only, sorry to say), but it also does it much faster than software-only encoding in QuickTime.