Buyers' Guide to Live Transcoding 2019
However, some events, like those involving wagering or auctions, require much lower latency. It’s also a “nice to have” feature for other events, though low latency may come with some negative aspects, like less robust playback, the inability to scale, or much higher costs. If you need or really want low latency, make this one of the first items you check on your shopping list, as it’s not available (or affordable) from all services.
After the most important features listed above, here are some other platform-related considerations.
If you already have a platform for VOD video, check whether that service also provides live transcoding services. Using a common service for both will simplify content management, integrate analytics for live and VOD, and likely simplify the learning curve.
Finally, some platforms, like Livestream, Facebook Live, Periscope, and YouTube Live, offer the ability to acquire new eyeballs, while most others simply provide a live video player you can embed into your own website. In the latter case, you’re in charge of getting fannies in the seats. If you have active Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube communities, you may want to stream live to these sites, either directly or via syndication.
Categories of Service Providers
The best way to start is to sort through the features table and identify the ongoing and event-specific features you’ll need. This will help point you toward a specific category and distinguish between the options within each category.
Here are the categories of providers. As always, the lines between categories may be blurry for some companies, and vendor listings are not meant to be exhaustive. If your company isn’t listed, please add it to a comment on the Streaming Media website.
BARE METAL SERVICE PROVIDERS
Bare metal providers are cloud services like AWS, Google Cloud, and similar providers that allow you to rent cloud computers for transcoding. If you have the necessary technical resources, this can literally drop the computing cost for a 2-hour event to less than a cup of coffee at Starbucks. Of course, as the table shows, you’re in charge of every aspect of the production, making this an option only for the most technical of companies and users.
Server providers offer the transcoding server and potentially other features. Prominent providers in this class are Wowza (Streaming Engine) and Softvelum. These products are a great option for developers seeking to plug encoding into an existing workflow, or a new workflow pieced together using other third-party products or services. As an example, if you’ve created your own player for VOD, or have a relationship with a CDN, it should be simple to use both while transcoding in the cloud, which typically is very affordable. Or, if you’re building a custom product or service that needs transcoding, this is your category.
Be advised that ease of use isn’t as simple as other categories, and that you really are buying primarily transcoding services, so if you’re looking for a home for all of your VOD and live content, you should look elsewhere.
There are a number of services that supply live transcoding ancillary to another service, whether a CDN (Akamai, Limelight), Online Video Platform (Brightcove, Kaltura, Ooyala, JW Player), or standalone encoding services (AWS Elemental Live, Bitmovin, Encoding.com, Mux Video). Certainly, if you have a relationship with an OVP or CDN, you should strongly consider its live transcoding services, particularly if this will unify your platform for VOD and live content.
Ease of use in this category may be more challenging than for live-streaming service providers or social media vendors, and costs may be higher as well, since companies in this class are more focused on serving larger customers for the long term than on earning $100 for a single live event. Features will typically be more robust and broadcast centric; if you have advanced needs for captioning, DRM, or monetization, you’re more likely to find providers that supply them in this group.
LIVE-STREAMING SERVICE PROVIDERS
Companies in this category include Bambuser, BoxCast, DaCast, IBM (formerly Ustream), Livestream (now owned by Vimeo), StreamShark (formerly MetaCDN), and Wowza (Streaming Cloud), and they specialize in helping the relatively nontechnical marketing or training person produce and deliver a polished live event to a chosen few or to the masses, usually with syndication to a single or to multiple social media sites as an option. Typically, they are one-stop shops that can service every aspect of the event; if you’re looking to plug in your own player or preferred CDN, this may not be possible.
If you’re looking for advanced features like monetization, DRM, or other content protection, or low latency, check early because they may not be available from all vendors. These companies are used to dealing with relatively nontechnical users, so support shouldn’t be an issue. The quid-quo-pro will be price, which may be higher than any other category on a per-event basis.
Easy Live is a relatively new addition to this category, and it’s a service that functions like a video mixer in the cloud. You can send single or multiple feeds to Easy Live; switch between multiple feeds; add graphics, live scoreboards, and other overlays; and publish the feed on multiple sites.
Social media services get you a robust platform and eyeballs at no cost, but lack features like monetization and content protection—and most importantly, they lack live technical support. Even if you’re producing an event solely for distribution on these platforms, the best approach might be to produce to another platform that can syndicate to your selected social media sites. That way, if you experience any issues, you’ll have support options.
If you’re looking primarily to stream via one or multiple social media sites, one service to consider is Switchboard Live, which was designed specifically to syndicate content to multiple sites, social media and otherwise. Switchboard Live can be particularly useful for those seeking to distribute through multiple Facebook sites since it features a simple approval process that doesn’t require sharing login credentials.
Choose What’s Best for You
As I mentioned at the top, those readers seeking to transcode live streams in the cloud have lots of options. Hopefully, this Buyers’ Guide will help you choose the best option for your event.
[This article appears in the March 2019 issue of Streaming Media Magazine as "Live Transcoding."]
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