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The Streaming Toolbox: FILMIC Pro, Bitcentral FUEL, Touchstream VirtualNOC

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The new work environment has changed a lot of things and we have three products which can offer some much-needed remote control. First up is an app called Filmic Pro which provides cinema controls to mobile devices. Bitcentral shows off FUEL for coordinating advertising with news content (hint: no pre-rolls are involved), and finally we have Touchstream's Virtual NOC, to ensure stream output is going out in the network operations center without problems.

Filmic Pro

Filmic Pro is an iOS and Android app that provides gives mobile devices the advanced manual controls found on cinema cameras for live streaming. The latest release has the ability to output clean HDMI, stripping any software interface controls off of the device output.

The app can be installed on multiple mobile devices. To have cameras recognized as webcam output requires purchase something like a Blackmagic Atem Mini, which supports up to four HDMI inputs or the El Gato Cam link 4 K for single-camera support.

There's the ability to set the ISO, shutter speed and define a specific focus area. On the interface, the circle reticle is for exposure, the square is for focus. Tapping either will lock the setting in.

White balance control is available, and presets can be used on multiple devices to tune in the exact temperature for professional lights. "We give the user complete control over their white balance, which you would want in a live studio environment, and unique to Filmic Pro is we have a log gamma curves and flat gamma curve," says product manager Eliot Fitzroy, Product Manager. 

Output settings on mobile devices are limited to whatever hardware the device supports. 4K is supported from devices that have the capacity.

"We give the user full manual control complete with live analytics," says Fitzroy. "So if I use the manual focus you see that nicer focus peaking that is found on high end cameras. We do the same thing with zebra overlays for exposure tools (red is over exposed), which makes it very easy for the user to visualize focus and exposure using all the standard scopes, whether it's false color maps, clipping overlays, or focus peaking to our ensure that focus is perfect," he says.

Filmic allows users to access up to two extra stops of dynamic range over the native iPhone camera, which gives shooters a lot more flexibility in post to grade and match to things. 

Filmic offers a companion app called Filmic Remote that can be used to remotely control the mobile device, but it's not required. Using the Filmic Remote app, you can wirelessly control any of the four cameras within your setup. "What makes this incredibly powerful, is rather than have me get up, walk around the desk, trip over the cables, to get behind the camera and make an adjustment on myself which is near impossible, from here I can wirelessly tap into any of my camera," says Fitzroy. "In effect I can dial everything in without having to get up." 

The apps were simple to use, and I was up and running with everything very quickly. They have gimbal support, Bluetooth microphone input for lossless or lossy and more details here, filmicpro.com. 

Pricing: $14.99 Filmic Pro App, $9.99 Filmic Remote App from iOS and Android app stores.

Filmic Pro

Filmic Pro now offers clean HDMI output.

Bitcentral

Bitcentral created FUEL, a video platform to simplify the workflow for getting broadcast content online and configured with digital ads. The company found there was almost 30% more ad views on content streamed with ad pods within content opposed to pre-roll. "We're taking that live feed that's going on to television and we're able to stream that out on all the digital platforms and do server side ad insertion to replace the ads that were in the original broadcast and insert digital ads," says senior product manager David Hemingway.

There is no playlist management; rather, the system builds dynamic channels. The customers need to get content into the system and make sure the right metadata is associated so they can build these dynamic channels. When content comes into the platform, it is assigned to client-defined categories and custom tags, and the content builds channels based on these tags. "We're taking pieces that are separate and stitching that together, so it looks like television and will continue to play and insert ads into this continuous linear stream," says Hemingway.

Bitcentral has the ability to create ad pods at whenever interval a publisher wants, and claims this can generate more ad avails per hour of consumption than a pre-roll (A/B and third party publishing tests saw a 29% drop off with pre-roll).   

FUEL features a clipping tool that uses IBM Watson to create a full-text video transcript. "It provides the ability for a non-editor professional editor to come in and do a really effective, efficient job to be able to get content clip from source content and get it out the door," Hemingway says. 

FUEL can create both live and on-demand channels. The non-stop live feature provides easy access to either live or catch-up viewing."If you're 15 minutes late for the newscast, why should you be penelized from seeing the top stories that are always at the beginning of the newscast?," says Hemingway. FUEL can insert live programing into on-demand content, prioritize showing unwatched content, and has the ability to set embargo and expiration dates to coordinate when rights expire. 

I like the idea of what they're doing and the platform looks straightforward, easy to use and well thought out. However, I only sa a demo and did not use it myself, so I have no insight into actual functionality either of the platform or the ad serving technology. Bitcentral does not publish pricing.

Bitcentral Fuel

Bicentral's FUEL builds dynamic channels using server-side ad insertion.

Touchstream 

Touchstream offers Virtual NOC (Network Operations Center), a product to aggregate metrics from their own CDN and origin monitoring, as well as other vendors' encoding, audience, and ad insertion metrics. "What we're trying to do is visualize the NOC in a virtual way, so that you don't have to be in that big room with lots of screens everywhere," says CEO and cofounder Brenton Ough.

Network operation centers can use this 6-month old product to monitor hundreds of channels. Problematic channels are shown first on the dashboard, using red for outage, green for good, and yellow and orange for in-between states. All thresholds are configurable, with the ability to filter by product, format, CDN, or channel name. All the same metrics are also available using Touchstream's API.

Virtual NOC coordinates and displays data gathered by other product's probes. "With the telemetry API you can get the concurrency, the channel name, the program name, etc. We try to be agnostic to every tool," says head of OTT monitoring and development Pedro Tavanez. "I write a script that queries an API or SNT endpoint or webpage, I gather all that information, build a JSON format and send to our API."

"We do audience monitoring, from Conviva, Mux, Nice People at Work, and integrate that data and bring it into a view," says Ough. "We have a whole bunch of hardware-based plugins. We've got one for Elemental encoders, Harmonic encoders … we even developed a plugin for our competitor, Telestream." 

The audience measurements report details on how many active users (to see how many people are impacted by a problem), total plays, unique users, average play time, EPG, buffer ratio, total errors. For encoding they measure when transcoders drop frame and bandwidth usage.

Virtual NOC monitors ad services to see if ads are being delivered, looking at the error codes for things like success count, prefetch count, and fill limit exceeded. "We are parsing the ad breaks and entries which come in the manifest, according to SCTE 35," Ough says.

For CDNs, Virtual NOC measures average speed, the amount of time it takes to download and play (the higher the value, the more problematic delivery is, indicating video will start to buffer because the fragment is taking too long to download). "We collect a lot of headers from the master manifest, and we have the response that will point to each resolution we are monitoring," says Tavanez. "We can sign a request with a particular key for customers that have security."  The CDN tools have been in the market for seven years. They also mange reporting from homegrown systems. There's automated email notification for any error, with a configurable repeat function until the problem is cleared.

"When something goes wrong in live streaming, you just look [to see] how far back did it go red?" says Ough. "The idea is to be able to rapidly identify the root cause in a very visual way and then give the operator. embed links to other tools [management pages]." I did not have the ability to demo this tool myself. Pricing is monthly and annual, and is not published.

Touchstream's Virtual NOC monitors content delivery networks, encoding, and other data, using a color-coded system to quickly identify problems.

 

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