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Multi-format Encoding: No Sweat for FlipFactory


Flipping Out

We ran most of the tests on the pre-configured Dell server sent to us by Telestream. We set up encoding sessions for simultaneously encoding — or "flipping" — a single source file into multiple streaming formats, each with a variety of bit rates. RealVideo 8, Windows Media 8, QuickTime (Sorenson Video 2, with support for SV3.1 expected in January, 2002 at no cost to FlipFactory owners), MP3, DV, MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 were among our options. We then had FlipFactory cache the files on our server, but we could also have sent them to other destination servers, cache networks or e-mail addresses. We got the hang of FlipFactory terminology right away. The term "factory" is used to describe a session; in our case, simultaneously flipping video into several formats. It helped to think of finished goods coming off a factory production line.

You can start with practically any source, from broadcast-quality MPEG media to archived .rm or .asf files, or digital capture formats used in pro cameras, although we didn’t try them all. We based all our testing on .avi and MPEG sources, and some video and other animation files. You can specify the source at the front end of a session, or at the end while preparing to do encoding en mass. We set up all encoders in one sitting, determining their bit rates and any desired filtering.

FlipFactory v1.2 comes with options for setting frame rate conversion, temporal and spatial quality, color correction and cropping. Also, it includes an overlay option to composite any PNG, JPEG, GIF or other graphic overlay onto a frame, but our attempts to get a JPEG to overlay onto a video frame consistently failed, even after talking to the vendor several times and trying various settings. Apparently, the overlay file needs to share the same network path as the original media, something not mentioned in the documentation (an inconvenience that Telestream claims has been removed from the upcoming FlipFactory 2.0). We tried this, but to no avail. In all fairness, it could have been operator error — or a bug. Automatic redirector file generation (.ram, .asx, etc.) — an important part of comprehensive delivery automation in most scenarios — was facilitated here as well.

All the Factory settings are stored in a SQL 7.0 database for recall at any time. This is not a full-blown Microsoft SQL Server, but a light version for programmers to embed into applications. It worked fine.

One nifty new feature is a split-screen preview showing content before and after processing prior to kicking off a transcoding session. We expected to be able to preview any source file we cared to pull up, but unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. We could preview only those sources residing on our FlipFactory server itself — though we were able to view those from the Web client. This earned FlipFactory a minor strike against it as a network-friendly transcoder, but Telestream claims this will be resolved in the next software release (version 2.0).

Also, we were told that version 1.2 is 15 to 40 percent faster than v1.1 due to greater optimization of application code. Though we had no way of testing this improvement claim, we were able to test how fast this software-only transcoder can flip. It took a little over a minute for FlipFactory to flip a 16-second .avi animation simultaneously into three WMV bit rates. Since FlipFactory uses vendor encoding libraries, we didn’t dwell on performance much — it’s the vendors and not Telestream that drive software performance where it matters most.

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