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NAB 2007: Real-Time H.264 Compression Options Abound at NAB

With HD-DVD, Blu-ray, and digital broadcasting all embracing H.264 as one of the key formats for the next several years, it’s no surprise that this week’s National Association of Broadcasters show has several key players—and a few upstarts—hawking their H.264 wares. While H.264 was available last year, few companies were able to demonstrate real-time encoding of H.264—a critical need for traditional broadcasters who want to go directly to air without waiting for non-real time encoding—but this year’s offerings mark 2007 as the year that H.264 finally delivers the promise of "better than MPEG-2 without the wait."

Digital Rapids
Digital Rapids, a Canadian company that makes hardware-software encoders for the broadcast industry, announced today that it is launching its Studio AVC Encoder. This module is optimized for delivering MPEG-4 AVC/H.264-encoded media files for traditional broadcasting, multiplexing the H.264 elementary video and audio streams (including AAC and MPEG Layer 2 audio) into MPEG-2 transport stream files. This is due in part to the new multiplexing software architecture that is an outcome of Digital Rapids’ partnership with Manzanita Systems, whose technology allows text and graphics embedding for VOD, digital ad insertion, and streaming video applications.

"Digital Rapids encoders are well established at major studios and post facilities for VOD encoding," said Brick Eksten, president of Digital Rapids Corporation. "With the Digital Rapids Studio AVC Encoder, our customers can now combine the benefits of our solutions with the efficiency and quality advantages of H.264—all while conforming to the strict specifications demanded by set-top boxes and advanced delivery platforms"

The encoder is available for Digital Rapids’ StreamZ line of solutions as well as the company’s Stream Transcode Manager, a piece of distributed transcoding software. The AVC Encoder is based on the ATEME H.264 codec, which supports baseline, main, and high profiles. In addition to audio and video elementary streams, closed caption data can also be embedded in the H.264 elementary stream. The new AVC encoder can also support "trick play" modes for random access viewing features during set-top box playback.

Envivio Inc., a perennial player in the MPEG-4 encoding appliance market, announced a new multi-channel encoder, the 4Caster C4. The unit, which is 1U in height, provides four channels of H.264 real-time encoding. Intended to increase encoder density and reduce rack usage, the 4Caster C4 supports MPEG-2 Transport Stream over IP input, MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 video and AAC audio encoding, and configurable output resolutions. The type of service and available bandwidth can be matched with a variety of rate control choices such as constant, available or capped variable bit rates (CBR, AVR, and VBR) to create the most efficient compression schemes.

Envivio also announced a more robust encoding engine, which aims to improve the quality of real-time encodes by throwing significant horsepower at the encoding process. Dubbed the "ultra high-compression Extreme Encoding Core" or XEC, Envivio’s goal is to "improve video quality and provides an expanded compression toolset for IPTV, mobile TV, Internet TV, HDTV and broadcast applications."

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