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Streams of Thought: Gettin' High (Def) in Amsterdam

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Other companies have been demonstrating high availability via robust turnkey systems. Adobe announced—alongside the Flash Media 3 server which it will roll out to its CDN partners in late Q4 2007—an impending tie-in to Cisco’s Content Delivery System (CDS). The CDS is a high-availability system with distributed storage and load balancing/redundancy across multiple servers. Cisco says that its CDS is one of its cornerstones as it moves into video as a core competency, creating a three-screen opportunity. While the companies differ on their approach to standard versus proprietary content, with Cisco leaning more toward H.264 than toward Adobe’s Flash Video 8 (although the Flash Player now supports H.264, too), both acknowledge that the Flash Media Server 3 integration into CDS benefits their customers.

"Cisco and Adobe share a common vision of delivering any content, anywhere, anytime, to any device," said Paul Bosco, VP of video and broadband initiatives for Cisco. "Support for Adobe Flash Media Server 3 streaming on the CDS platform will greatly enhance our customers’ ability to deliver any stream to any of the wired, wireless, and mobile devices in our connected lives—including an increasingly consistent user experience. We want to address the ten-foot [TV], three-foot [computer] and one-foot [mobile] screens in a single integrated solution."

Adobe also demonstrated the high efficiency of its Live Flash live streaming encoding and delivery software, which integrates into Flash Media Server 3, which Jim Guerard, VP and general manager of Adobe’s dynamic media division, said must meet 24/7 uptime requirements in order to even be considered by broadcasters.

High efficiency
As high-definition content continues to be generated, whether in graphics, video, or upcoming HD radio, broadcasters are seeking out ways to increase efficiencies and reduce workflow bottlenecks—those times at which the computing takes longer than the human interaction. Beyond the need for high availability, then, the additional stress that transcoding HD content down to streaming bandwidths puts on a workflow infrastructure opens the door for vendors to tout high-efficiency products.

There are two ways to create high efficiency. The one with the most appeal to the broadcast world, at least those engineers who have been around for quite some time, is to actively pursue black-box solutions—those boxes that move away from the use of general CPUs and toward dedicated devices that focus on doing one thing well. Several options exist, including boxes that use DSPs from companies such as Texas Instruments, as well as custom silicon that can be integrated into PC-looking black boxes but run real-time operating systems that are lean and honed toward a particular task.

One such custom silicon company, Tarari, showed off the Tarari Encoder Accelerator for Windows Media as part of Microsoft’s rollout of its VC-1 encoding SDK. Tarari claims encoding speeds 3 to 18 times faster than software alone, which significantly shortens the time frame to move from traditional broadcast production to streaming delivery formats—and to simultaneously encode multiple bitrates for use in streaming and next-generation DVDs. On a related note, Tarari announced recently that it has signed a definitive agreement to be acquired by another custom silicon maker, LSI, for $85 million in cash.

Adobe’s Flash Server 3, said Guerard on a recent conference call, will also exhibit enhanced efficiency to meet customer demands for number of streams encoded, streamed, and delivered via download. "Flash Media Server 3 will be twice as efficient as the current version of Flash Media Server," Guerard said. "Our customers are continually asking for ways to improve server stream ratios, and we’re helping to meet the challenge by continuing to optimize the server."

In conclusion, 2007 continues to be the year of HD, with additional pressure put on the companies that create these HD products to help broadcasters find solutions that will maintain a consistent user experience on the TV, the desktop, or the mobile screen. Achieving this goal, though, requires a set of tools that are familiar to those in the world of databases, email, and web servers, but have been slow to migrate into the world of video and audio, due in part to both the previous assessment of the non-mission-critical nature of video on the web as well as to the fact that video and audio are data- and storage-intensive file types that put a strain on even the best high-availability systems. Fortunately, IBC 2007 appears to have started a positive movement toward merging the three highs together in a way that should yield robust new products at NAB 2008 in Las Vegas in April.

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