The State of Transcoding Solutions 2015

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“Use of high-resolution profiles being on consumer TV screens means that image quality is becoming more important and, particularly when it comes to valuable content such as sports, the step from 25–30 frames per second to 50–60 frames per second makes a dramatic difference to the viewing experience,” Jones says.

He contends that as the number of people viewing content via adaptive bitrate (ABR) formats increases, the importance to and expectations of those consumers for multiscreen services increases. “As consumers start using the ABR service as their primary source of TV viewing on larger screens than mobile devices, we’re seeing expectations grow more demanding, and greater pressure put upon TV service providers than before,” Jones says. “This trend is particularly pronounced in the U.S., where use of HDMI dongles has penetrated the most.”

With ABR becoming a more common consumption method, particularly on big screens, greater emphasis is being placed on the video quality provided by encoding/ transcoding solutions.

“Many operators are combining ABR and broadcast encoding/transcoding systems (as these are the most stable with respect to standards and configuration) and leveraging a separate ABR packaging and origin stage to manage the volatility of standards and devices on the consumption side,” says Tom Lattie, VP, market management and development, Video Products at Harmonic.

A main preoccupation for transcode vendors at NAB 2015 will be multiscreen, as operators tug in opposite directions when it comes to hardware or software encoding and transcoding. It’s a perennial theme, but two fundamental differences remain—hardware encoding has lower latency, and software encoding can more readily be tweaked for higher quality.

“For operators trying to reach any screen, a few hundred milliseconds of extra latency at the encoder is rarely an issue, while the need for quality increases as the video capabilities of our playback devices continue to improve,” Knowlton says.

He argues that software-based encoding is more flexible in three key ways. First, operators can continue to upgrade the encoding software as standards evolve and algorithms become more efficient, thus providing a level of future-proofing not typically available with hardware. Second, software typically provides much more granular control, allowing one to fine-tune the look or playback characteristics of the streams as needed. Third, software doesn’t tie you to a specific location, allowing you to spin up transcoder instances wherever you need them, whether on-prem or in the cloud.

Of course, there is a hybrid solution, which is to run transcoding software on computers containing video acceleration chipsets or GPUs from companies such as Intel and NVIDIA, respectively. Wowza executives predict significant improvements in these technologies will make it possible to combine the benefits of software encoding with performance and quality similar to hardware encoders.

“With cloud infrastructure providers, such as Amazon Web Services, providing hardware-based video acceleration in some of their compute instances, it’s getting easier to get great transcoding results without buying hardware,” Knowlton says.

[This article appears in the 2015 Streaming Media Industry Sourcebook as The State of Transcoding Solutions.]

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