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.]

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