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Multi-format Encoding: No Sweat for FlipFactory

Encoding in multiple formats at several bit rates each entails the kind of gymnastics best left to an industrial-strength transcoder. There are now several transcoder choices — so which one is it going to be? Intended for the media sweatshop, Telestream's FlipFactory 1.2 is a universal format translator with a job scheduler that converts digital media from one codec format to another, in batch or on-demand, for all kinds of workflows and in all kinds of environments. And, as a software-only transcoder that does not use hardware accelerators, it can just as easily sit on top of a broadcast server as on a streaming server. It’s powerful and flexible — but can it turn the laborious task of multi-format encoding into a routine exercise?

FlipFactory Put to the Test

To find out, we got acquainted with the FlipFactory Pro, v1.2 general release, pre-installed on a Dell PowerEdge 6350/550 server (with dual Xeon 550MHz Pentium III processors and 1GB of RAM) sent to us by Telestream. Immediately, we could see that the software's network capabilities are impressive. FlipFactory can receive and send media via FTP, HTTP or SMTP, and it can generate redirector links for the major streaming formats in metafile format (.ram, .smil or .asx). It can reside on broadcast servers, dedicated streaming servers and content distribution systems. And, given its XML architecture, it can plug into or take a plug-in from workflow environments such as Virage, and even be customized for others (by purchasing an SDK), although we didn’t test this XML extensibility.

The base price for FlipFactory is $10,000 per server license, which includes encoding and processing options for output to QuickTime, as well as all the latest RealVideo, Windows Media (.wmv, .wma, .asf), and MP3 and WAV formats. For another $6,500 you can upgrade to the Pro package, which includes an MPEG output option (MPEG-2 or MPEG-1), plus your choice of one broadcast server transcoder module. Telestream has transport plug-ins for all of the major broadcast servers: Sony, Grass Valley Group (GXF), SeaChange, Omneon, Pinnacle MediaStream and Leitch. Broadcasters can submit transcoded media processed by FlipFactory directly to broadcast servers and integrate transcoding with asset management, content indexing and other media production functions. Naturally, and perhaps more commonly, data can go from broadcast production systems into FlipFactory – it’s the bidirectionality that’s special.

Hardware is not included, of course. The minimum setup Telestream recommends for FlipFactory is a dual-Pentium III Xeon with 2MB of Level 2 cache and 512MB of RAM, particularly if you’re going to set up separate accounts for simultaneous users. We installed it on our Windows 2000, 500MHz Pentium III server, just to try out the installation routine. We barely registered a pulse during installation — it was that uneventful. The only notable event was when we checked to see if we had already installed Windows 2000 Internet Information Services (IIS) on our server (FlipFactory needs these services installed on the server for Web access).

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