In separate announcements at IBC, Brightcove announced two new products from its recent acquisition of Zencoder — Instant Play and LIve Cloud Transcoding — and the availability of Widevine DRM encryption and packaging within its Video Cloud platform. All three announcements are significant, although they impact different market segments.
By way of background, Brightcove acquired Zencoder in August, 2012. In addition to providing cloud-transcoding services, Zencoder is also the developer of Video.js, an open source HTML5 video player used on more than 24,000 websites. According to the press release, “Brightcove plans to continue to develop, operate, support, and promote the Zencoder service in their current form as distinct product offerings.” Brightcove will also make these services available within their own Video Cloud online video platform.
Live Cloud Transcoding
Live Cloud Transcoding from Zencoder should impact the live event market in the short term. All live event producers face two significant issues; the cost of encoding resources to produce the required streams, which has increased with the emergence of adaptive streaming, and securing the necessary outbound bandwidth to deliver the encoded streams to the streaming server. Live Cloud Transcoding helps resolve both issues.
With Live Cloud Transcoding, event producers can send a single high-quality RTMP H.264 stream to the service, which will transrate the stream into multiple RTMP streams for delivery via Flash Dynamic Streaming and/or transmux the streams to the HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) format for Apple or Android devices. The streams are then sent to the appropriate server for delivery.
Encoding-related latency within the service is expected to be below 30 seconds at launch. Users will be able to monitor stream status in real time, and arrange for failover should the primary stream fail for any reason. The service will be offered as a separate product by Zencoder but will be available to Brightcove customers within the Video Cloud platform.
The service will be priced using the Zencoder model for existing file transcoding, which starts at $.05 per minute of output video and drops as low as $.02 per minute for those committing to 100,000 minutes per month or more. Even at $.05 pricing, transcoding a single one-hour stream into eight separate files — four each for delivery to Flash and iOS devices — would cost a paltry $24.
Zencoder isn’t the first with this type of service. Haivision, for example, offers HyperStream Live transcoding as an Amazon EC2 web service, and you can buy or rent the Wowza Transcoder add-in to the Wowza Media Server to perform the same functions. Both offer more output formats than Zencoder will at launch, most importantly HTTP Dynamic Streaming (HDS), which Zencoder plans to add in the near future. But Zencoder’s service should quickly gain market share with existing Zencoder and Brightcove customers, and it’s priced aggressively.
Like all such services, Live Cloud Transcoding carries some quality risks, since producing multiple lower-bitrate streams from a 1-2 Mbps source won’t deliver the same quality as producing streams from the original source. For this reason, truly premium services and events will probably stick with the multiple-stream encoder/dedicated output bandwidth approach used today. For many producers below this top tier, however, live cloud transcoding is the only way to serve multiple target platforms with adaptive streams, so any quality loss will be inconsequential.
The service is available today in limited beta.
The applicability of the other new Zencoder service, Instant Play, is a bit harder to grasp at first glance. Instant Play starts encoding content as it’s being uploaded, and makes the encoded video available immediately, not when the file is finished uploading and encoding. The service will support HLS output at launch with RTMP to follow.
This sounds nice, but if you’re uploading via a slow connection, most users would probably rather wait until the video is finished uploading than watching it in dribs and drabs. And if you have a fast connection, the benefit lasts only during the duration of the upload, which would be transient. So, where’s the beef?
The beef is actually in previously uploaded content that’s not been transcoded into HLS format. In essence, Instant Play lets you make this content available on-demand without pre-transcoding. If you have a library of 5,000 videos, transcoding on-demand spreads the transcoding cost over time and ensures that you only transcode the content requested in that particular format. As new formats come to the fore, a content owner can use Instant Play to support them all immediately, without incurring a huge transcoding expense. As more and more content owners park their content in the cloud, this capability will become immensely valuable.
Instant Play is in public beta and is available to anyone with a Zencoder account. Check Zencoder’s pricing page for cost and details.
Widevine DRM Encryption
Finally, Brightcove announced the commercial availability of Widevine packaging and encryption in the Video Cloud media ingestion process. This allows Video Cloud customers to securely distribute content to the 539 million consumer electronics (CE) devices supported by Google’s Widevine digital rights management (DRM) technology.
DRM technologies like Adobe Flash Access and HLS encryption protect content streamed to computers or connected devices, but don’t support CE devices like Blu-ray players or connected TVs, which are favored viewing platforms for premium content like movies and TV shows. There are multiple DRM technologies that can protect content delivered to CE devices, including Widevine, Rovi’s DivX, and Microsoft PlayReady. Brightcove originally announced that it would support Widevine at NAB in April, 2012, and is now making the service available.
Brightcove is demonstrating all three services at IBC in Amsterdam in Hall 5 at booth 5.C20.