Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Workflow SNAFU - Akamai HD Network

[Updates (4): first HD, then "HD quality" and then silence. The stages of grief (denial, anger, etc) were all at play, but we made it to resolution and acceptance thanks to a key player within Akamai and a dedicated third-party vendor. Details below the original post. Issue resolved.]

For such a simple press conference, there certainly are a number of unanswered questions.  I like reporting the news, but every so often a claim is made ("first ever, only, etc") that has to be challenged.

An article I wrote on Tuesday, September 29, for StreamingMedia.com includes a link to an on-demand version of an Akamai press conference that had been streamed live that day (the on-demand version had a much cleaner playback quality than the actual live playback, which can be seen in the screenshot posted here).



Akamai was announcing their Akamai HD Network, hosted by Paul Sagan, CEO, and Tom Leighton, Co-founder and Chief Scientist. I have nothing against Akamai in particular, but unfortunately some of the claims made can't be substantiated.

One in particular struck me as key to the whole press conference. Leighton claimed (from 10 minutes 35 seconds to 10 minutes 58 seconds in the on-demand version)

 "Today there's [sic] 50 million homes that have connected gaming consoles - or other devices - that capable of displaying HD video, of getting it and displaying it into the home. Also, there's [sic] 45 million iPhones out there today capable of displaying HD video."

Let's take a look at the facts:

a). No one else has ever claimed that the 1st gen iPhone or even the iPhone 3G is capable of HD playback, which is the only way to get to the 45 million iPhone number.

b) Even the claims that the iPhone 3GS is capable of displaying HD content are conjecture, as Apple does not allow HD playback on the iPhone 3GS (even 480p content can't be played back).

c) While everyone is doing "higher definition" for live streams to desktop Flash and Silverlight players, many are doing HTTP streams, and a few are doing true HD (480, 720, 1080i/p) to these same players, there are a limited number of companies doing true HD live streams via HTTP, which is where Akamai wants to tell its story. None are doing it to the iPhone, however.

The reason I say it is key to the whole press conference is this: if all Akamai is claiming is "higher definition" as its term for HD, there's no story here, since others are doing it. If they're claiming HD for the iPhone, there's a story here but not one they can support.


When I heard that claim about the 45 million HD-capable iPhones, I immediately posted a question on the webcast, which was not read during the live event; I've also written twice to the PR contact, who was helpful with a question about one of the speaker's names, but has also been silent on the misstatement by Leighton.

Oh, and I can't even get the on-demand version of the press conference to play on my iPhone 3GS, as the debugger tags a ton of issues with the iphone.akamai.com page in Safari, although I was able to get it to play on another iPhone 3GS.


[Update, Sep 30, 2pm Eastern: Akamai's press contact has sent a copy of a document called "Akamai HD for iPhone Encoding Best Practices" that states, on page 5, the best practice is to encode at  a maximum size of 400x224 and a maximum bit rate of 864 kbps. Which one of these settings qualifies as HD content? You're right if you answered "none of them" as content encoded at this rate / size would be considered unacceptable on the desktop, and further undermines Akamai's claim of its HD network providing content owners with the ability to encode once and play out to multiple platforms / players]


[Update 2, Sep 30, 5pm Eastern: Akamai is now claiming that their clients send HD 'quality' to the iPhone, with the 'quality' being, well, the qualifier. Akamai has promised to send a direct link to an HD stream, but as of yet they have not been able to produce one. Did some more digging on Mr. Leighton's quoted 45 million iPhones and I now can say with certainty that number is also wrong; the iPhone 3GS is the only one capable of above standard-definition playback, and that feature is not even supported by Apple (see main post). There are less than 5 million of these 3GS units in the market, so Mr. Leighton is off by 40 million units. Another data point: the total number of all iPhone sold to date, as of September 30, 2009, according to consensus is less than 33 million, which means more than 85% of all iPhones are either 3G or first generation, which aren't capable of even playing standard-defiinition content at 640x480, let alone aspiring to play HD content at the lowest HD standard of 480p  that the 3GS might be able to play one day if Apple allows it (which they currently do not).]


[Update 3, Sep 30, 8pm Eastern: Akamai is now claiming that Tom Leighton meant to include all the iPod touch units when he said 45 million iPhones could play HD content. I was being generous, giving Akamai the benefit of the doubt about the 5 million iPhone 3GS units in the main blog post. I should have said it more plainly: exactly ZERO iPhone or iPod units on the market today are capable of displaying HD content. Akamai then changed course and claimed that its streamed content is considered HD when it starts from an HD source!  


I've heard this before: I did a previous article interview where the CDN client told me on the call they were streaming in HD; when I questioned that, the CDN client said "well, we're editing in HD on Final Cut" at which point the CDN representative interrupted and clarified. Like Akamai, they were starting with an HD source, and were claiming HD delivery . Like Akamai, they were streaming to an iPhone. Unlike Akamai, they admitted, when asked about the claim, that interviewee had misspoken. End of story, no mention in the article, other than to say it was edited in HD, but delivered in something lower than HD.


Akamai, on the other hand, says that as long as it's above 700 kbps and starts as an HD source, it can be considered HD. So the house of cards of the iPhone claims in the rollout of the Akamai HD Network rests on HD 'quality' that's below that of today's average standard-definition stream.


To make sure I'd not been projecting on to yesterday's webcast press call a minutia about the HD-capable iPhones, I listened again to Paul Sagan's introduction to the whole webcast. He stated in his prepared remarks: "The era of HD broadband is here. Producers and distributors are starting to offer the highest quality video to their audiences over the Internet. Internet video  that matches the television quality consumers are used to watching in their living rooms."


It certainly sounds good, much better than "We take an HD stream and compress the bejesus out of it, and deliver it to you at lower quality than the old standard-definition television that became obsolete earlier this year."]


[Update 4, Oct 16, 2pm Greenwich (London): Akamai's Suzanne Johnson, who will be appearing on my panel at Streaming Media Europe 2009 later today, has confirmed that a more accurate version of Tom Leighton's "45 million iPhones capable of playing HD content" statement should have been stated as this:

"By year's end, as part of the Akamai HD Network, up to 45 million iPhones and iPod touches will be capable of displaying high-quality video encoded from HD source content."

She also stated that Akamai understand that "the iPhone does not display true HD by definition but can offer consumers an HD-like high quality video experience that complements what they get on TV."



Issue resolved.]

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Site is up

Still having an issue with the workflow of images between applications, mainly the desktop app and the online blogging site, but the issue has been identified and a workaround is in place. Having said that, there's no reason not to launch the site itself, in rudimentary form; please check out www.workflowed.com

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Workflow SNAFU - Adobe Elements

Braintrust Digital has an article at Bit of Tech on the new features in Adobe's Elements 8 series (Photoshop Elements for Windows and Macintosh, Premiere Elements for Windows) that were demonstrated during a pre-release conference call on the 21st.

While much has been written today, the Elements 8 launch day, about the features, little has been written about a perplexing workflow snafu: Adobe's decision to forgo Premiere Elements 8 on the Mac platform. So we'll cover it here.


let’s address the missing Element on the Macintosh platform. While Photoshop Elements 8 is a welcome return to the Mac (Elements 7 was a Windows-only program), the fact that Adobe is staking its Elements re-introduction on Photoshop is a bit perplexing for three reasons.

First, Adobe is taking on iPhoto with Photoshop Elements, but ignoring iMovie (the closest equivalent on the Mac to Premiere Elements). This is odd, given the fact that few Mac users complain about the lack of features in iPhoto, and Photoshop Elements only adds a few differentiators, but there have been numerous complaints over the past two years regarding iMovie’s transmogrificaiton to an almost unusable program.  In other words, the low-hanging fruit's in a decent low-end video application.

Second, to properly use Elements, Adobe stores content in the Elements Organizer. The company went out of its way to demonstrate how Organizer is equally at home with still images and video clips, even demonstrating the use of video tags on a scene-by-scene basis. The justification for a more robust Organizer was that customer feedback showed that users were shooting both still images and video on their capture devices (eg, disk- or chip-based camcorders, point-and-shoot or even newer D-SLR cameras).

Third, while iPhoto and iMovie have access to the system-wide media library (derived from iTunes, iPhoto and iMovie working together), Organizer is a walled-garden approach to content. This means that any content put into Organizer is available to the Elements programs, but not necessarily available to other programs, such as iPhoto or iMovie.

Adobe’s Photoshop Elements-only approach on the Mac means that Mac users must put their still image content in Organizer while putting their video content into iMovie / iTunes. This intentional splitting of content types across different media libraries means that Mac users of Photoshop Elements must work extra hard to use Organizer to segment content from the combination capture devices mentioned above, and the end result will be an inability to use both types of content between Adobe and non-Adobe programs. In other words, more work for less overall benefit. That’s a value proposition!

Adobe touts Elements as a “complete end-to-end solutions: organize, edit, create, share.”  Following the logic, though, not shipping Premiere Elements 8 for the Mac must mean Adobe must feel that don't want a decent video program, that Mac users still segment their still and video capture devices and that Mac users are willing to do more work for less benefit.

It’s almost as if someone forgot to mention to Adobe that the iPhone 3GS has been out for months and has been hugely popular because it shoots both still images and video!

Sadly, a lack of uptake in Photoshop Elements 8 for the Mac, based on Mac users questioning the validity of the walled-garden approach for one type of media, may lead Adobe to the conclusion that the Mac platform is hostile to non-Apple photo or video applications. The conclusion would be wrong, if only because Adobe's current approach is providing less than half a solution to the underlying problem.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

IBC Companies of Interest

Finishing up IBC, the international broadcasting show held in Amsterdam each year. Found a few companies of interest that are related to the digital media and streaming spaces. There were several more, which I'll comment on in more detail in future posts:

Abit  Hall 8, stand 8.A28a. Playout automation specialist, Abit Ltd, will show its new, cost effective, ‘compact’ automation system for the first time at IBC this year. The system takes 17 years development knowledge and delivers it in a small platform capable of providing workflow and playout automation for up to three transmission channels.

Accedo Broadband Hall 12 Stand IP621.  Provider of interactive content and applications for IPTV and Connected TV. At IBC, Accedo will be launching a range of social media applications, as well as some History Channel-based applications. As well as this they will be presenting new game features, including the world's first Full HD gaming and 3D components using SVG technology.

Advanced Digital Broadcast Hall 5, Stand 5.B48  Advanced Digital Broadcast will show how it is helping its customers to meet the challenges of delivering an enhanced consumer TV experience with linear and on-demand entertainment services across hybrid networks. Operators are challenged to bring together more content from more places, making programs and services easy to find, and presenting multimedia in new and exciting ways. In its booth at IBC, ADB will show a number of demonstrations of how it is enabling television, Internet and personal content to converge and be accessible where consumers enjoy it most: on their flat screen TV. Approximately 70% of ADB’s workforce is dedicated to engineering; developing products across all the digital television technology platforms including cable, Internet Protocol (IP), satellite and terrestrial. The company is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland with its main Research and Development facility in Zielona Gora, Poland and Operations division in Taipei, Taiwan. ADB has local representation in Australia, Italy, Singapore, Spain, the Ukraine, the United States and the United Kingdom.


AmberFin iCR v5 now supports a few additional tools for ingest into Avid systems, including JPEG 2000 (for intermediate mastering format for high quality content such as movies, offering superior image quality with 10 bits of information for each pixel), closed captioning (applies closed captioning seamlessly for US and European broadcast delivery content and conversion), MXF AS02 (includes highly efficient new MXF application designed for streamlined New Media Factory operations and Avid interplay: AmberFin iCR (streamlining the process when working in an AVID editing environment, offering instant interoperability in delivery preparation, freeing up critical edit suites to deliver value for editing workflows).


Broadcast International CE-1000 is designed for IPTV, satellite and Telco service providers and delivers a very cost effective way to solve their bandwidth crisis. It’s a software-based encoder featuring Broadcast International’s highly efficient, fully compliant H.264 codec.


Envivio Hall 1, stand, 1.D72. Envivio's new iLiveTV solution for the Apple iPhone and SilverLiveTV for Microsoft Silverlight. We will also bring you up to date information about ongoing deployments around the world, such as the recent announcement of new Mobile TV service launched by Digita Oy, which is owned by France’s TDF. Finland’s leading distributor of radio and television services, Digita is using Envivio to deliver ten channels of high quality, DVB-H encoded, free-to-air and pay-tv mobile television to be offered by mobile operators in Finland’s top markets.


Ross Video  XPression, an all-in-one real-time 3D Character Generator and Motion Graphics System. Fully Unicode compliant directly supporting a wide variety of languages. Developed by a team with a long background as on-air graphics operators, it plays well with industry leading graphics file formats like Photoshop™ and 3D Studio Max™ files to generate a compelling and sophisticated graphic look. XPression offers individual control of up to 7 templates of graphics on a single channel – eliminating the need for costly additional channels and systems. It can accommodate a variety of workflows from fully manual playback stand-alone setups to distributed configurations controlled by custom applications and newsroom systems. This makes XPression the perfect solution for news, production studio and outside broadcast productions.


SatStream – SatStream is Europe's largest bespoke broadcast-standards facility specifically designed for content acquisition from Satellite and broadcast by Streaming via the Internet. SatStream's facilities have been enjoyed by a wide mix of broadcasters, events management, production, and content companies, including Microsoft, Endemol, BBC, CNN, France 24, and Euronews.  SatStream recently streamed three Manchester City matches. The matches were part of the Vodacom challenge, a pre-season football event now in its tenth year, hosted in South Africa. 

Softron Hall 3 at 3.A48  Multi-channel H.264 recording compliance (MovieRecorder Express) and a new version of MovieRecorder (edit during ingest software tool): MovieRecorder 2.0 supports multiple SD and HD formats, either compressed or uncompressed.  It allows video clips being captured to be stored to multiple locations simultaneously. Ingests can be scheduled over time or can be manually triggered.  Pro option now allows the capture of proxy clips.  These proxy clips are low bit rate versions of the actual material, significantly smaller in size and can be edited in Final Cut Pro. Editing on a proxy file is ideal for use on notebook computers or over local area networks. It also accelerates the rendering process and enables more real time editing. Edit-while-ingest also works with proxy files, which means that you can start editing in Final Cut Pro on your laptop on a Local Area Network, while it’s capturing. 

TrustedOpinion social recommendation platform delivers recommendations for any variety of products, services, and content. The company drives consumer confidence by generating personalized recommendations based on the opinions of your network of friends. Since public launch in Feb’07, TrustedOpinion.com has attracted over a million members and is growing. TrustedOpinion is based in San Francisco, CA.

TXT Polymedia Polymedia Live acquires video content and encodes them into multiple output formats; Polymedia Show is the advanced video player combining standard PC player functionalities with those of Polymedia MAM to easily and quickly manage video content, its related advertising inputs together with e-commerce innovative functions. Also, a demonstration of the IBC 2009 Innovation Awards shortlisted project “Smart content repurposing system for Linear & VOD Tv Programmes services” developed for the customer Mediaset, is also available at stand. The project represents a multi-screen approach application that provides Mediaset with a complete workflow enabling efficient video content repurposing in new media. 

V4x Hall 2 – Stand 2.B31 V4x Debuts Interactive "Social Radio" Player for the Web and iPhone (including Interactivity, Chat, Quizzes, Contests and Video improve monetization for Radio Streaming Channels).  V4x is focused on providing high-quality interactive OnAir Widgets for web and mobile services. Offers webcasters new revenue opportunities through social networking, at the IBC Exhibition held in Amsterdam from September 11-15, 2009.  The V4x interactive web player provides a customized interface that extends the user experience, allowing users to fully participate in the streamcast – beyond traditional programming – with interactive widgets like live, moderated chat; quizzes and polls; animated banners, even live in-studio videos or channel events. 

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Workflow - Trimming and Saving video clips in iPhone 3.1

For those with the iPhone 3GS, the new iPhone 3.1 software adds a much-requested option to its video recording and trimming capabilities.

Whereas iPhone 3.0 would permanently trim a clip (the "trim original" option) and erase the portions of the clip that were outside of the parameters of the trim bar, which made for some harrying moments if one weren't paying close attention to the trimmed clip, iPhone 3.1 adds a "save as new clip" option that creates a separate file while leaving the original video file intact.

We tested the feature on a 32GB iPhone 3GS, using clips shot both before and after the upgrade to iPhone 3.1, to see what surprises were in store.

First, let's start with trimming. The ability to trim video within the iPhone 3GS window is very intuitive: select either end of the clip and begin to dragging the trim bar towards the center. The bar will turn from gray to yellow to emphasize the fact that you've chosen to trim. Lift a finger and the trim bar stays where you placed it, and the process can then be repeated for the other end of the clip (assuming you want to trim both the beginning and the end of the clip).

Keeping a finger on the trim bar, anywhere other than the beginning or end of the clip, will result in the video automatically lengthening out beyond the end of the screen. Don't be frightened, as this is intentional: the lengthening is Apple's way of allowing fine-tuned trimming, especially handy for long clips that may be trimmed to 10-20% of their original length.

A note for those frustrated users: 9 times out of 10 during our tests, when we chose to start trimming from the in point, the positioning slider was selected instead of the trim bar, due to the fact that they're both in the same location. The 10th time we actually ended up hitting the "camera roll" button. We suggest turning the iPhone sideways, although this still resulted in numerous touches to the positioning slider, so we also suggest starting the trim from the end of the clip, which makes the positioning slider disappear.

Once the clip is trimmed to your liking, choose the yellow "trim" button to access the two saving options. Choose "trim original" to discard all the remaining video (both before and after your trim points) or "save as new clip" to just save a copy of the trimmed portion while leaving the original clip intact.

It's also worth noting that the new clip will be saved with the current time and date, while the "trim original" clips are saved with the original time and date. While this is understandable, it makes using the iPhone 3GS less effective for multi-shot recordings (such as a short film or news reporting) since one has to search for the original and new clips in different areas (especially if iPhoto, Apple's program of choice for importing still images and video clips from the iPhone, has the "auto split events after import" box checked for splitting imports by different dates).

Finally, while we assume this workflow also works for the new iPod nano's video recording capabilities, we've been unable to test with the new nano and don't yet know which version of the iPod software it uses.

Workflow - Aggregate and Export QuickTime Movies in Snow Leopard

This workflow may be better titled "getting around Apple's QuickTime Player X limitations" in a nod to a recent Bit of Tech review that notes the new version of QuickTime, named QuickTime X and completely rewritten for Intel Macs, is a bit lacking when compared to the Pro options in the old QuickTime Player 7.

In fact, compared to QT Player 7's Pro options, such as aggregating movie clips together (appending a second clip on to the end of another in basic "cuts only" editing) and the extensive list of export options, the QuickTime X player is a step backwards.

Fortunately, for those who upgraded to Snow Leopard (10.6) from the Leopard (10.5) operating system, Apple left QuickTime Player 7 intact, including the Pro version, if Pro was already installed on the old Leopard system. Whether this is an oversight, or a nod to the fact that QuickTime X was shipped too early, the fact that QuickTime Player 7 is still functional is welcome news.

The work-around workflow, then, for aggregating clips and exporting content to more than just an Apple TV, iPhone, iPod or Macintosh computer, is to use QuickTime Player 7 with Pro options.

If you've already upgraded and didn't have Pro installed at the time, you'll need to downgrade to Leopard, or find an alternate paid application, until such a time as Apple chooses to add back the functionality it stripped from QuickTime Player.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Metaphorically Invincible Armada?

Today's news from IBC brings an interesting workflow enhancement from Inlet Technologies, the company started by the late Neal Page and his partners.

In this first IBC without Neal in the CEO slot, Inlet has cranked out an enhanced version of its Armada workflow, which was launched at the National Association of Broadcasters' show in mid-2008.

Like the name implies, Armada consists of a grouping of stand-alone products intended to create an invincible gestalt of speed and quality benefits.

Spinnaker, the company's encoding devices, form the core of the live ingest portion of Armada.

Semaphore, the quality control software tool used to identify out-of-range portions of an encoded file, including errors, can also be used to re-encode problem areas.

A third aspect, part of Armada 3, is Inlet's tie-in to the Apple Segmenter, which is necessary to allow adaptive bitrate HTTP streaming to the iPhone, either via WiFi or EDGE/3G. Inlet showcased this integration at Apple's Worldwide Developer's Conference (WWDC) back in June and - with Apple's release of Snow Leopard a week ago - the WWDC demonstrations will now be shown at this week's IBC.

We'll post more about Armada enhancements when an overview workflow becomes available.


iPhoned

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Workflow - PDF with OCR - NeatWorks 2.1.7 for Mac

Workflow - Business Productivity - NeatWorks 2.1.7 Mac

A lot has been written recently about the NeatWorks software for Macintosh and its ease of creating PDF documentation of receipts for reimbursement. David Pogue, for instance, in The New York Times gave it rave reviews for its multi-page PDF generation capabilities.

While the program can be used for many more options, such as creating records of receipts, complete with subtotals, sales tax and aggregated totals, the Windows version does a much better job than the Mac version for these tasks. The accuracy (or inaccuracy, to be precise) of the Mac version means that the practical use as a Mac replacement to the Windows version is severely limited for the time being until both applications are brought to parity (more details on this in a separate product review can be found at www.bitoftech.com).

Despite the Mac version's shortcomings, though, we've found it to be a timesaver for some of the simpler scanning-to-PDF processes that we go through for scanning phone bills, receipts and other reimbursements that we don't need a permanent record of. In fact, we've found it cuts out numerous steps for both single- and multi-page PDFs, complete with optical character recognition (OCR) when compared to the built-in solution for Apple Mac desktops and laptops, mainly Image Capture.

The NeatWorks Mobile Scanner (we have the 2008 version to test) can scan both to Image Capture and to NeatWorks.

So the primary question is, can you scan to PDF without opening Neatworks? The short answer is NO, for two reasons.

1. Due to an error in Snow Leopard Image Capture, PDF files scanned with Image Capture and the Neat Mobile Scanner 2008 generate a file that won't open up in Preview or Acrobat Pro, even though QuickLook shows the image.

The files, when opening is attempted in Preview, generate an error message stating:

The file "name.pdf" could not be opened. It may be damaged or use a file format that Preview doesn’t recognize.

In Acrobat Pro, the error message states:

Acrobat could not open 'name.pdf' because it is either not a supported file type or because the file has been damaged (for example, it was sent as an email attachment and wasn't correctly decoded).

To create an Adobe PDF document, go to the source application. Then print the document to Adobe PDF.


2. Acrobat Pro 9.0, another potential timesaving application for scanning to PDF, does not recognize the NeatWorks Mobile 2008 as a valid scanner, eliminating its 2-step process to multi-page scans (and significantly reduced file sizes of more than 66% when compared to both Image Capture and NeatWorks).

Before stepping through the workflows for single- and multi-page PDFs from NeatWorks and Image Capture, it's important to note the button settings on the top of the NeatWorks Mobile 2008 scanner. On the top of the scanner are two buttons, Scan and PDF. These buttons are considered "soft" buttons as they can be reassigned to a variety of options.

For instance, Scan can be assigned to scan in color or black and white, or to scan to PDF in color or black and white. The PDF button can be set for the same PDF settings or to "scan extra page". While this last command would be very helpful for scanning multiple pages directly to PDF, it only works within the NeatWorks database, so to scan a multi-page PDF requires launching NeatWorks, scanning into the database and then exporting to a PDF. A long process, to be sure, with room for improvement, but it still beats the Image Capture workflow by at least four steps.

WORKFLOW 1: Single Page PDF with OCR



WORKFLOW 2: Multi-Page PDF with OCR



A final note about Image Capture and Snow Leopard (OS X 10.6). Snow Leopard's Image Capture is also a bit spotty; while it will scan JP2 (JPEG2000) files, which will open in Preview, the same error message is generated in Acrobat for JP2 files as is generated for PDF files scanned via the NeatWorks Mobile 2008 scanner in Image Capture. We put this down to an Image Capture issue, but further testing will be needed to determine whether Snow Leopard's Image Capture via other scanners result in JP2 and PDF files that Acrobat can open.