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The 2007 Streaming Media Readers' Choice Awards Winners

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Encoding Hardware
ViewCast Osprey Video Capture Cards
First runner-up: Digital Rapids DRC-Stream Cards
Second runner-up: Streambox Portable Video Transport, Rugged Version
The words "video capture card" and "Osprey" are practically synonymous. That’s not to say that ViewCast doesn’t have plenty of competition—most notably runners-up Digital Rapids and Streambox—but Osprey’s been at the forefront since the first card hit the shelves in 1997. The company looked to be slipping a bit, lagging behind when it came to embracing high-definition video capture, but that all changed this year with the introduction of the Osprey 700-HD—demo’d at NAB and shipped around the time of IBC—which encodes both SD and HD, with resolutions of 1080p, 1080i, and 720p. Of course, the entire line of Osprey cards is what our readers honored, from the analog-only, videoblog/surveillance-level Osprey-100 to the Pro Series (aimed at webcasting and mobile streaming apps) and the Studio Series (which offer hardware decoding and broadcast-quality input/output).

Figure 5

Encoding Software
Sorenson Squeeze
First runner-up: ViewCast Niagara SCX
Second runner-up: RealNetworks RealProducer and Helix Mobile Producer
"If you’re producing in multiple streaming formats, or producing the same file to multiple encoding parameters, Squeeze is the clear winner." So wrote Jan Ozer in his review of Sorenson Squeeze 4.5, and evidently Streaming Media readers concur. New features in the latest version include batch-encoding files to multiple formats (Real, Windows Media, QuickTime, Flash, MPEG, and others), VBR encoding of Flash Video, and batch-encoding of files to different encoding parameters. Add that with video quality that, in the case of QuickTime and Windows Media, bested that produced by those formats’ "native" encoders, as well as advances in speed that Ozer called "startling, almost incredible," and this already feature-rich tool became a must-have for large shops that need to be able to move from format to format with ease. Sure, other encoding tools might beat it for particular applications—such as first runner-up ViewCast Niagara SCX for live encoding or second runner-up RealNetworks RealProducer and Helix Mobile Producer for the obvious outputs—but for all-around, multi-purpose encoding software that won’t break the bank, Sorenson Squeeze is hard to beat.

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Global Content Delivery Network
Akamai Technologies
First runner-up: RealNetworks Real Broadcast Network
Second runner-up (tie): Limelight Networks, Mirror Image, PowerStream
From CEO Paul Sagan’s appearance on the cover of Forbes, accompanying a story so flattering it bordered on sycophantic, to a second-quarter net loss of $1.7 million and the inevitable "sky-is-falling" rhetoric from financial analysts that came with it, it’s been a heckuva year for Akamai. By any reasonable account, the CDN is still the market leader, though by how much is virtually anybody’s guess (which is why we’ll refrain from quoting market research firms that are as much as 20% apart in terms of how much of the market they claim Akamai owns), and customers include Fox Interactive, E.W. Scripps, Clear Channel, and Internet Broadcasting. All of which means that Akamai is now beginning to suffer a bit from Microsoft syndrome, taking hits just because they’re the biggest kid on the block. But none of that mattered much to Streaming Media readers, who picked it as the #1 global CDN by a wide margin, which means Akamai must be doing something right. And so, it must be said, is first runner-up RealNetworks, which even though it’s no longer a dominant player in the media and entertainment field is still a force to be reckoned with in the enterprise and (especially) education markets. We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the three-way tie for second runner-up, which found Limelight Networks, Mirror Image Internet, and PowerStream all making strong showings in an ever-more crowded field.

Figure 7

IPTV Hardware
VBrick EthernetTVFirst runner-up: Digital Rapids StreamZ Media Encoding Systems
Second runner-up: Sling Media SlingCatcher
VBrick founder Rich Mavrogeanes was one of streaming’s earliest and most vocal champions. "Rich has been saying that online video is the next big thing for years," I remember a colleague saying back in 2002, when I worked on the optical media trade magazine EMedia. "Maybe one of these years he’ll be right." Little did we know then just how right he would be, or just how much of a mainstay his company’s flagship product—the VBrick Appliance—would become in the world of enterprise and surveillance video. VBrick EthernetTV is a much more ambitious undertaking, consisting not of a single appliance but a complete package of hardware and software that can be configured for virtually any IPTV application, whether small-business or enterprise-level in scope, unicast or multicast, live, or on-demand. Rich, we never doubted you for a minute.

First runner-up Digital Rapids StreamZ falls squarely within the same application set as does EthernetTV, but we second runner-up Sling Media’s SlingCatcher—a decidedly consumer product, a set-top box that beat Apple TV to the punch by making it easy to stream video from the PC to the TV—wasn’t what we had in mind for the IPTV category. Its strong showing serves to show not just how popular the appliance has become, but also to prove once again that, despite its buzzword status, "IPTV" still means different things to different people.

Figure 8

IPTV Software
SlingMedia SlingPlayer Mobile
First runner-up: LEAD Technologies Inc. LEADTOOLS Multimedia SDK
Second runner-up: VectorMAX TVAnywhere
Like I was saying about "IPTV" . . . Sling Media’s SlingPlayer Mobile wasn’t exactly what we were thinking when we envisioned the IPTV Software category, but when the nominations came in and were all over the map in terms of what this stuff actually does, we decided that, until this space shakes itself out, it was important to be as inclusive as possible. That said, SlingPlayer Mobile is yet another in Sling Media’s very cool line of time- and placeshifting tools, letting users access their Slingbox content from anywhere on their Palm OS device or Windows Media Smartphone or Pocket PC over 3G cellular service (or, closer to home, via Bluetooth). In another "they just don’t get it" moment, Major League Baseball cried "foul" over the technology, claiming it allowed viewers to violate the league’s blackout rule by watching games in markets where they’d otherwise be inaccessible.

While second runner-up VectorMAX has long been a prominent name in the enterprise IPTV space (as anyone who’s visited their massive booth at Streaming Media West knows), LEAD Technologies’ LEADTOOLS Multimedia SDK took us by surprise. But one look at this flexible multimedia capture and conversion software—it supports one of the most comprehensive lists of video and audio formats we’ve seen—made it clear that it’s something we need to get to know better.
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