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Navigating the Sea of Encoding Solutions

Live video streaming is growing ever more popular across an expanding array of businesses and organizations. It is an ideal fit for many applications because it does not require the extensive and costly infrastructure traditionally associated with broadcasting. For those with the technical expertise to deploy, configure and maintain IP networks within an IT environment, live video streaming offers a cost-effective means of making live AV content available to a much broader audience.

While some of this content is provided via video sharing platforms such as YouTube, Dailymotion and Vimeo, more and more of it is being offered directly from the company or organization that created it, with a content delivery network (CDN) often facilitating the Internet distribution of live video. This method of live video delivery has become valuable not only for the purposes of entertainment, such as live sports coverage, themed web TV services, video broadcasts of radio talk shows and even electronic gaming events, but also for corporate marketing and communications, government hearings and meetings, worship services and programs, health and fitness programs, and educational programs and e-learning initiatives.

Despite the embrace of live streaming by many different markets, the complexity of the requisite encoding equipment has continued to be a barrier for those businesses and organizations with little or no expertise in managing video or IT and networking. Users with the technical know-how could integrate a video capture card and encoding software into a PC and subsequently define the encoding profiles for target CDNs and viewing devices.

However, organizations without such technical resources had little choice but to invest in a costly professional encoder, along with the service and support necessary to get it running and to make updates as the requirements of distribution platforms evolve. Thus, whether as a result of the technical demands of implementing a live streaming solution or as a consequence of pricey professional systems, cost has also proved a significant barrier to broader adoption.

Pascal Malgouyard, product marketing manager, Digigram

The complexity of encoding systems and their cost have been prohibitive in establishing live streaming capabilities, and additional considerations such as the quality of encoding and effective use of bandwidth also have presented challenges to successful live video streaming. Fortunately, the market is adapting to all of these realities, and new solutions feature the characteristics and capabilities essential to widespread use.

Meeting the needs of most users, these encoding systems are plug-and-play solutions that can be dropped into existing environments with ease; connected to cameras, the mixer and IP infrastructure quickly; and brought online within just minutes. Out of the box, such live streaming solutions already support the profile parameters, redundant connections and multiple container formats required by the most popular CDNs. Designed to automate as much of the process as possible, these live streaming solutions make it easy for users to take live video to the Internet and, in turn, realize a rapid ROI. Because they are networked systems built on software technology, these encoders can be updated over time to address changes in required profiles and to accommodate any new players in the content delivery space.

From the user’s perspective, the complex parameters and settings associated with IP-based video delivery are invisible, hidden by an intuitive web-based interface that offers simple configuration parameters. Behind this interface, the encoder automatically processes raw video according to the profile suitable for the user’s own IP distribution system or for the CDN. To assure the high ratio of quality to bandwidth that is imperative for effective streaming, encoders today support high-quality outputs up to 720p at 6 Mb/s. Encoders that automatically adjust video parameters in order to optimize video quality offer the benefits of reducing not only the complexity of system operation, but also the need for extensive monitoring tools.

Support for formats including Apple HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) and Adobe Real-Time Messaging Protocol (RTMP) has become a standard, as has support for MPEG transport stream (MPEG-TS). Beyond H.264 encoding, the most widely available technology of the moment, an encoder installed now should have the flexibility to quickly adapt to most CDN connection protocols.

Simple, flexible, affordable encoding systems boasting high-quality processing are changing how live video is distributed—and extending the number and type of users with the ability to distribute it. With such solutions, virtually any organization with audio and video to share can quickly and easily connect to a major CDN and stream live broadcast-quality video to PC, Mac, smartphone and tablet users worldwide.

Pascal Malgouyard is product marketing manager at Digigram, based in Montbonnot, France.