Friday, April 30, 2010

Invitations sent out for professional transcoding and live encoding comparison

As mentioned in yesterday's blog post, a series of email invitations were to be sent out today, highlighting an invitation to a comparative test bed for professional transcoding and live encoding solutions.

The first wave of invitations went out at 2pm Eastern. Response has been solid and immediate, in keeping with the conversations at NAB. Two companies are already signed on, there's a verbal commitment from a third, and strong interest from the two others that have responded.

Invited companies, in alphabetical order, include: Ateme, Elemental, Envivio, Inlet Technologies, Media Excel, Optibase, Ripcode, Telestream, Viewcast. Many of these companies are well-known to readers, but a few have new product offerings that should make testing rather competitive.

The deadline for commitment to testing is May 6, so we'll let you know which companies chose to brave the comparison workflows.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

It's Begun - Comparative Test Bed for Live Encoding and Transcoding

Earlier this week, I wrote an article for entitled "Back to Basics: Hardware Acceleration" in which I discussed the often-misunderstood four areas where hardware acceleration is used for streaming media content: ingest, content creation, output (compression) and playback.

In the article, I mentioned:

Since ingest is the realm of specialized appliances such as Envivio's C4, Inlet's Spinnaker, or Elemental's Live appliance, I'm not going to spend a lot of time on it other than to say I'll be digging into this topic in more depth with the Transitions consulting team-and a few key colleagues-over the next few weeks for an in-depth comparison of select hardware-accelerated live ingest and transcoding boxes.

That time has come.

More than a year ago, I realized that the streaming market, especially the market for professional appliances that did pro-level transcoding and live encoding, was ripe for a comparative study. Through Transitions, the consulting firm I co-founded almost a decade ago, I'd been involved in similar test bed comparisons for videoconferencing. While that project, like this one, was a private venture, it wound up getting a significant amount of press coverage, including NetworkWorld coverage.

While my personal code of writing ethics won't let me craft an article about Streaming Media or any other paid publication about a report Transitions generates, I still thought a comparative study of transcoding and live encoding solutions had merit, so I approached several companies last August about a methodical test bed approach, measuring a combination of speed / quality / ease of use to compare major transcoding and live encoding products against one another.

All were open to the idea, but the timing wasn't right for a variety of reasons. I talked to a few of these same companies - plus a few new ones - at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) show in Las Vegas last week, and all expressed increased interest.

On Monday, I put together a presentation capturing the key thoughts; over the past two days, it's been shown to a few companies, asking for feedback and also suggestions on others who should be invited to join one or both of the tests - the first being transcoding, to establish a quality baseline, and the second being live encoding, to look at speed's effect on overall quality and timeliness of delivery.

What I didn't expect, when I tossed out the ideas this week on CPU, DSP, GPU and other processor types to test, was that I'd get the first two signed contracts before even sending the official invitation out to participant companies.

The invitation is set to be sent out on April 30, and on May 7, the day after invitation commitments are due back to Transitions, we'll be doing the first on-site analysis of a transcoding solution in sunny Portland.

Apparently there's more interest in this than I anticipated. . . .

I'll post the generic test criteria PDF tomorrow, along with the invite list for each test. [Update: the initial invite list has been posted, with scrubbed test criteria to follow, after invited companies have a chance to review the versions sent to each.]

Friday, April 9, 2010

iPad - Dead End for Flash?

[Update: It's getting ugly, as an Adobe rep responds.]

Between the launch of the iPad, on April 3, and the introduction of Apple's iPhone software version 4, on April 8, a significant amount of buzz was generated about CS5 Flash Professional's role in the iPad ecosystem.

The ability for Flash Pro to generate iPhone "packages" which allow some Flash content to play on the iPhone was first highlighted in October at Adobe MAX 2009 in Los Angeles.

I wrote about this "workaround" at the time, but interest in this topic was fairly low - until the iPad was announced without Flash support.

Between the sans-Flash iPad and the ongoing HTML5 video tag discussion, Apple continued to blow on the embers of its HTML5-CSS-JavaScript preference for iPad and iPhone delivery as the iPad launch date approached.

Based on the hype surrounding this "working around the web" from a Flash-iPad integration standpoint,  I wrote another article, positing on how Adobe could make Flash Pro relevant to the larger HTML5 development audience.

This week, the embers being fanned by Apple burst into a full-blown firefight. Apple's iPhone software version 4 has a modified licensing agreement, that states in part:

"Applications must be originally written in Objective-C, C, C++, or JavaScript as executed by the iPhone OS WebKit engine, and only code written in C, C++, and Objective-C may compile and directly link against the Documented APIs."

In other words, Apple's saying it's not how an iPad or iPhone package is compiled but also how it's written. Apple adds an example in its licensing agreement, directly following the portion noted above.

"(e.g., Applications that link to Documented APIs through an intermediary translation or compatibility layer or tool are prohibited)."

Jon Gruber at DaringFireball picked up on this with the title: iPhone Agreement Bans Flash Compiler that lists out a few integrated development environments (IDEs) that may cross the line Apple has drawn in the sand, but he saves the bulk of his blog post for the implications to Adobe:

"Wonder what Adobe does now? CS5 is this close to release and the iPhone compiler is the flagship feature in this version of Flash."

Going to be an interesting week at NAB, with the roll-out of CS5, discussion of the iPad's personal media consumption coup and the clash of the tech titans that is now beyond its flashpoint.

Update: AppleInsider notes that the issue here may be pre-emptive, since it only relates to iPhone software version 4.0, which will ship later this year, and that it also may be intended to address multi-tasking (although combining pre-emptive and multi-tasking in this case would be a misnomer).