Encoders and transcoders have been in use in for many years, and manufacturers have worked to ensure that the functionality of those devices has kept pace with changing needs; but now those devices are seen as key to a growing revolution in interactive communication.
Cutting-edge transcoders are expected to become even more essential, as video and audio originating within computer networks is increasingly made available over the Internet to a broad array of devices simultaneously. Those devices include smartphones, tablets and laptops, which use various formats and bitrates. In addition, live transcoding using the “cloud” will push the envelope further; and that is where the market is headed.
A particularly interesting and important use of encoders is in unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, used by military, homeland security and law enforcement agencies. As part of those operations a remote pilot might be hundreds or thousand miles from the UAV, yet because the operator needs complete control of the UAV, it is essential that he or she see real-time images and react with split-second precision. That requires encoders with latency so low as to eliminate humanly detectable delay.
Avitech’s Seneca E.264 MPEG-4 AVC Encoder However, big advances in technology are not confined to military and law enforcement use. The evolution of encoding and transcoding is driven more by changes in viewer content consumption habits and the devices they use, said Mike Nann, the director of marketing and communications for Digital Rapids. “What was acceptable for video quality online a few years ago is much less acceptable today,” he said.
Among the latest encoders and transcoders available are:
For those in need of a video encoder that is “versatile and cost-effective,” Avitech offers the Seneca E.264 MPEG-4 AVC high-performance, high-definition and standard-definition video encoder. The Seneca can encode a video and a MPEG-1 Layer II audio pair in SD format, according to Avitech. Output is over asynchronous serial interface (ASI) and Internet protocol interfaces individually or simultaneously. Each unit encodes and simultaneously streams up to two HD/SD video services, the company says. Transmissions in high broadcast quality are made more reliable through forward error correction and direct processing.
Digital Rapids considers the StreamZHD its flagship piece of gear. It is a combined encoding and transcoding solution that promises advanced hardware and potent software for future-proof expansion. The expandable StreamZHD supports dozens of formats and all types of encoding and transcoding jobs and can output to multiple formats, resolutions and bitrates.
Digital Rapids’ StreamZHD The StreamZ HD supports live-to-file, file-to-file and live-to-live applications for encoding to files or live streams from live sources or decks and transcoding from existing media files. The encoder/transcoder also features extensive automation of integration of video production and distribution workflow. Its “batch encoding” mode can capture to an uncompressed media file in real time and automatically transcode it to multiple formats without user intervention.
Nann suggests that those looking for encoding and transcoding equipment should consider its support for different formats needed to reach a target audience, an efficient workflow for producing content in multiple formats simultaneously and high-quality output.
In June, EMCORE Corp. unveiled the Opticomm-EMCORE NV Series JPEG 2000 of products, which the company says provides broadcast and audiovisual professionals “with the highest quality and lowest latency real-time HD video distribution” over IP systems.
EMCORE Corp.’s Opticomm-EMCORE NV Series JPEG 2000 The NV Series of products takes “multiple video and audio signals and converts them to IP for local area networks as well as streaming over the Ethernet,” said Chris Kubashack, EMCORE’s regional sales manager.
The NV Series sends out high-resolution 3G HD, HDMI or DVI signals to HD monitors in one or multiple locations, using IP infrastructures. The technology can be used to distribute HD digital content from multiple sources to almost unlimited displays over a local area network.
When the NV Series is combined with a compatible managed Ethernet switch setup, the most flexible HD matrix switching distribution system can be created. The NV series enables users to move from “matrix switch” to “managed-Ethernet switch” by cascading multiple switches, so that numerous displays may be located long distances from their sources while sustaining consistent 1080p video and sound quality.
The applications would include broadcasts from remote sites to broadcast stations, or for educational facilities to stream video to various classrooms, Kubashack said.
Ensemble Designs’ BrightEye 90 is a versatile up/down/cross converter or aspect ratio converter for use with analog and digital video signals, the firm says. The unit “is great for taking high-definition or standard-definition signals and either up converting the standard definition to high definition, the reverse, or cross between the high-definition standards if there was a need to go from a 1080i to a 720p,” said John Pichitino, the company’s technology evangelist.
Ensemble Designs’ BrightEye 90 The BrightEye 90 will accommodate whatever input is connected, including analog composite, SD SDI or HD SDI, the company says. After setting the output standard, BrightEye 90 automatically converts the selected input to the correct standard for your facility. The unit will up convert, down convert, cross convert, or act as an audio return channel (ARC) as needed, the company says. The built-in frame synchronizer enables users to feed asynchronous signals to the BrightEye 90. All vertical interval data and closed captioning is faithfully passed.
The unit also has an HDMI output directly from the back of the BrightEye 90, so a user can go directly to a flat-screen display, according to Pichitino. “Where we’ve gotten high marks with this product is its ease of use. If we set the output of the product to whatever format or standard the conversion to be made to, then simply plug in the inputs and the BrightEye 90 automatically senses what it is…if it’s a standard def, or high def, will automatically convert it at that point to the correct format,” he said.
Exterity’s E3635 Encoder Exterity offers its video stream E3635 Encoder, which fits into the existing modular hardware architecture used by Exterity, said Dave Allan, the company’s product manager. The E3635 Encoder is “plug compatible” with all of Exterity’s older products, thereby fostering flexibility in creating Internet protocol television streams, he said. That compatibility enables users to connect a personal computer to encode and distribute video from the PC to anywhere within an organization, he said.
The E3635 has the ability to change and adapt the video located in a PC and place it exactly into the format needed for the endpoints, Allan said. “It has the ability to do either MPEG 2 or H.264 encoding,” he said.
Haivision’s Makito From the classroom to the electronic battlefield, Haivision’s Makito and Makito Air encoders are deployed by the military in Predator drone operations centers. “We are putting all these together into what will eventually be a seamless workflow,” says Peter Forman, Haivision’s vice president of business development.
The Makito Air incorporates the performance features of the Makito HD H.264 encoder in a sturdier chassis. That is combined with “curser on target” (CoT) metadata, developed for airborne target acquisition and tracking, independently of the key-length-value (KLV) data encoding standard. That is often used to embed information in video feeds developed for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) video. Haivision encoders convert CoT to KLV in real time and then multiplex the KLV metadata.
Haivison’s Makito Air The Makito Air addresses ISR challenges by delivering H.264 from standard definition up to 1080p60 video with metadata to IP and as low as 55 milliseconds of latency (H.264 is the standard for video compression and is perhaps best known for being one of the codecs used for Blu-ray discs). In addition, Haivision says it is the only company to achieve the military’s Joint Interoperability Test Command (JITC) certification for 1080p high-definition performance.
Media Excel’s HERO Media Excel’s HERO, a multi-core embedded processor-based transcoder offers multi-screen HD quality. It is deployed in military UAVs and transcodes HD digital streams encoded by UAVs into lower-resolution formats and bit rates so users with handheld devices, PCs and notebooks can view proceedings. The HERO features 16 HD channels and eight adaptive screen rates through live and file transcoding.
“These images are streamed to people who are considered to be bandwidth-challenged,” said James Meeker, Media Excel’s North America vice president of sales. Media Excel has answered the Department of Defense’s mandate to leverage virtual machines, because the DoD wants to minimize expenditures on specialized hardware.
The HERO is also capable of aiding law enforcement and border protection operations by transcoding security camera images for viewing by field commanders on smartphones.
Telestream’s Vantage LightSpeed Telestream’s Vantage LightSpeed transcoder is outfitted with multiple features, according to the company. Vantage integrates into a workflow engine which enables users to combine analysis with transcoding, automate decision-making and reduce manual labor, said John Pallet, Telestream’s director of marketing for enterprise products. “If you have thousands of files, Vantage can use analysis to sort out which ones are standard definition and which are HD, which ones have letterboxing and what their relative sizes are.” The information is used to generate encode profiles on the outside.
THE ‘HOLY GRAIL’
The Holy Grail for equipment makers is the ability to find a single set of encoding parameters that can be viewed on all platforms, from tablets and smartphones to PCs and smart televisions, Nann said. Each brand and model of mobile device may have different requirements for stream type, compression format, frame size and bit rate.
“The cliché that ‘the great thing about standards is that there are so many of them’ is fully applicable here,” Nann notes.
However, the video format of the future will be MPEG Dash (dynamic adaptive streaming), said Forman, and video will continue to be encoded in the H.264 standard. That is likely to move manufacturers closer to the “Holy Grail,” because the industry is moving from proprietary video wrappers to the MPEG Dash standard, he said. The video wrapper is a metafile format, the specifications of which describe how different data elements and metadata exist in a single computer file.
“In terms of being able to stream to all devices, it’s not that difficult,” said Forman, who added that work is underway to standardize the codec and the video wrapper.