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Grass Valley Group Goes Streaming

Since 1959, Grass Valley Group (www.grassvalleygroup.com) has been in the broadcasting arena, making hardware and software that helps deliver and manage audio and video. The company claims that its products and equipment touch 80 percent of the world's TV signals. Now, GVG is looking to stake its claim in streaming, by releasing its new Aqua Internet Encoder, which promises to automate the process of encoding content.

The Aqua is a hardware/software rack-mounted encoder that supports all three streaming formats (Real, QuickTime and Microsoft). It can generate multiple bit rate videos in real time.

Screen shot of Aqua encoderGVG has made friends with Microsoft, incorporating its latest codec into Aqua. "The Grass Valley Group's Aqua Internet encoder promises the kind of high-quality experience that broadcasters and other premier content providers need to make broadband content delivery and commerce a success," said Dave Fester, general manager, Digital Media Division at Microsoft.

GVG's Long History

Grass Valley Group's core products are digital servers, software, routers, switchers and newsroom editing suites that are used by the top broadcasters. According to the company, its products are used by 3,000 companies all over the world, including all of the major television networks, as well as CNN, HBO, Echostar, DISH TV, USA Cable, ESPN, the BBC, B-Sky-B, and many others.

"We've made the transition from B&W TV to color and from analog to digital," said Ross Summers, director of Internet Business Development. He said the next step is streaming.

"Broadcast is a finite market. We believe we have something of value to offer to the Internet," he said.

Summers said that the Aqua is ideal for broadcast companies, especially those that want to re-purpose their content to the Internet. The company has also targeted other markets, including streaming companies, encoding labs, ISPs and even producers. Among the companies that are looking closely at the Aqua are iBEAM, e-Media, Loudeye, Convera and Enron.

"Tools Not Toys"

Summers said that current solutions come from the dot-com and streaming worlds and don't have the technical sophistication that broadcasters need. Products like Pinnacle's StreamGenie, or Anystream's Agility encoders, focus on just a small part of the solution, he said. Essentially, GVG believes it can leverage its position in the offline world, tapping into existing workflows.

"What's available now are toys," said Summers, "but people are looking for professional tools."

Aqua supports the latest streaming formats from Microsoft (version 8 codecs), RealNetworks, and Apple, and comes with the Grass Valley Group's signal processing technology to clean up signals as they're coming in. It includes color correction, noise reduction, artifact removal and de-interlacing features. Aqua encodes simultaneous formats in real-time, in different bit rates (from 28.8 Kbps to 2 Mbps) and outputs a maximum of 12 streams. It also lets users cut videos into shorter clips, with basic video editing.

Summers said that the Aqua can be used as a mass "compressionist," "With the batch processing, you can lock it in a room," he said.

The Aqua encoder operates in three modes: lights on (when a user is operating the interface), lights out (when the encoder is operating in batch mode), or crash encode (when it is being used in a pre-emptive mode for applications such as breaking news).

In terms of space, the encoder is bulky: it takes up 12 rack units. But it's a networked device, and can be controlled simply through a browser. But GVG says that it can be hooked up to other applications to take care of digital rights management systems, e-commerce and more.

Right Time for Streaming

So is GVG late to the party? "Not really," said Summers. "In terms of making money and the ability to make a real business, companies are coming to us for advice." He said that there are trends suggesting that the time is right to get into streaming: more bandwidth, better infrastructure, better streaming and more availability of content.

He also points out that GVG introduced its WebAble product a year ago, which allows broadcasters to re-purpose video content through GVG's Profile XP digital video server.

In all, Summers said that GVG has a competitive advantage over competitors because of its integration into established workflows. "The other solutions have a workflow for IT, rather than broadcast," he said.

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